Dependency Theory in Sociology: Definition & Examples

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Not all countries have reached the level of industrialization of the United States and Europe. Dependency theory offers an explanation of this phenomenon. Though out of favor with modern scholars, this theory still helps fill in the gaps between competing theories.

Dependency Theory

A common term used in the news and social media today is the 'developing world'. This term is used to indicate countries that are less economically developed than the United States or European nations. The term is an odd one, isn't it? It suggests that there is a process that leads to economic development, and the expectation is that eventually all countries will become industrialized. A number of sociologists and economists, however, believe that this is not the case, and instead they developed dependency theory. Nevertheless, due to some of the major objections to dependency theory, it has fallen out of favor among today's sociologists and economists. Still, elements of dependency theory exist today, and it may prove useful in an understanding of current social trends.

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  • 0:01 Dependency Theory
  • 0:49 Definition
  • 2:16 Frameworks & Problems
  • 3:54 Example: Brazil
  • 4:49 Example: North & South Korea
  • 5:57 Lesson Summary
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Dependency theory is a sociological theory which holds that economic events in history have encouraged developing countries to depend upon the support of more advanced nations. This dependence prevents developing nations from fully creating institutions and infrastructure necessary for their full transition into industrial nations. This process can take many forms for the developing country. However, it might be better to talk about dependency theories, as there are a variety of different theories with similar themes.

In a historical sense, dependency theory looks at the unequal power relations that have developed as a result of colonialism. In the colonial period, newly industrialized colonial nations expanded into areas that were unclaimed by other colonial powers. The result was that the natural resources of less-developed nations were used to fuel the colonial nations' factories. The methods used by imperial powers often involved direct military and political control.

Colonialism collapsed after the Second World War, but its legacy continued in the form of neocolonialism. International finance and capitalism became the preferred methods of control over developing nations. As a result, many underdeveloped countries now owe developed nations a significant amount of money and cannot shake that debt. Others suffer from a reliance on importing finished goods and exporting natural resources.

Frameworks and Problems

Issues are found with nearly every theory, and dependency theory is no exception. As we discussed a moment ago, one of the major issues with dependency theory is that its adherents rely upon different theoretical frameworks. Some rely upon Marxist critiques of capitalism. From the Marxist view, the inequality of wealth distribution is part of the function of capitalist business. This makes development partly reliant upon global events.

Other dependency theorists rely upon Latin American structuralist approaches, like those of the ECLA (Economic Commission of Latin America). Through this type of analysis, it is the developing nation's lack of infrastructure and other mechanisms for distributing wealth that are responsible for the economic state of dependency.

In both situations, the government of the developing country is urged to take greater control of commerce. This leads us to the objections that most economists have with the theory, objections to government control over business. Detractors argue that government control tends to lead to corruption in business, which has costs in terms of productivity and sustainability. The fall of communism at the end of the 20th century led to government-centered solutions falling out of favor with many economists. The development of other theories, such as neoliberal and statist approaches, have caused dependency theory to fall out of favor as well. In order to better understand these rather abstract theoretical frameworks and perspectives, and dependency theory in general, let's discuss some examples of the theory in action.

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