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During the 1960s and 1970s, Latin American dependency theorists produced an important challenge to modernization and growth theories of development. Associated with a number of key intellectuals from Latin AmericaAndre Gunder Frank, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Peter Evans in Latin America, Samir Amin and Walter Rodney in Africathe dependentistas turned modernization theory upside down by arguing that contact with Western capitalism created (rather than solved) underdevelopment in the Third World. They challenged the Eurocentric notion that development was a "catch-up game" in which a "backward" Third World, mired in "tradition" (and thus outside modern history), could only become developed (like the West) with the help of Western capitalism.

While significant variations within this perspective would emerge, certain central tenets can be identified. Most notably, the dependentistas rejected the dual approach to development, arguing for a more global approach that examined unequal terms of trade and the role of Western capital in the perpetuation of these inequalities. At the same time, dependency theorists were unable to break completely from the Eurocentric discourse they were challenging. While critiquing the nation-state focus of modernization theory, their policy prescriptions tended to assert the centrality of the nation-state, with particular attention to state structures, technology, and national economic planning, thereby appropriating many of the key elements in mainstream development's toolkit. This limitation has inspired critiques of dependency writings from many different perspectives.

The Intellectual Roots of Dependency Thinking

The dependency challenge grew out of historical and economic analyses grounded in Latin America's colonial and postcolonial experiences. The historical work of Latin American scholars such as Eric Williams highlighted the links between the colonial plantations and Western economic development, particularly the use of plantation profits to bankroll European industrial development. The plantations were not precapitalist remnants of indigenous economies, they argued, but the result of capitalist penetration. This historical work undermined modernization theory's dual conception of Third World economies, arguing instead for a more integrated approach, one that paid attention to global inequalities and their link to uneven development. This argument greatly influenced the thinking of key dependency theorists, most notably Andre Gunder Frank.

The dependency approach was also influenced by a group of Latin American economists working for the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), a United Nations agency established in Santiago, Chile, in 1948. Led by Raul Prebisch, these economists sought to understand why, after years of applying modernization and growth "solutions" to Latin American economies, so little progress had been made. They began to see the world as divided into an industrial core and an agrarian periphery. Rather than accepting modernization theory's premise that "backward" economies would gradually move through stages to mass consumption and industrial development, with help from northern capital and development experts (Rostow), the ECLA economists insisted that the coreperiphery gap was produced (and reproduced) through patterns of unequal world trade. The very system that was supposed to develop the Third World was leading to its underdevelopment.

Prebisch and the ECLA economists thus challenged neoclassical theories of international trade, called for attention to distribution, and warned that the gap between the core/metropole and the periphery would continue unless there were explicit interventions to challenge structures of international capitalism. Yet, they still believed Latin America's development depended on industrialization and that the domestic capitalist class was the natural leader for that development. Hence, they argued for policies that would nurture this class, encourage import substitution industrialization, and put up protective tariffs until local manufacturers were ready to compete in the global economy.

Radical Dependency Theorists

Andre Gunder Frank and other radical dependency theorists drew on some of these ideas as well as the work of the neo-Marxist Paul Baran. Frank's influential English-language publications adopted the global perspective of the latifundia ("large landed estates," "plantations") historians (Williams), as well as Prebisch's focus on unequal terms of trade and his core/periphery model of the world economy. However, Frank rejected the ECLA economists' optimistic assessment of Third World elites. Influenced by Baran, Frank and other radical dependentistas argued that collusion between Third World elites and monopoly capital in the industrialized countries was one of the leading factors causing underdevelopment in the periphery. They also rejected the dual economy assumptions of modernization theory, arguing that capitalism had penetrated all corners of the globe since its emergence in the sixteenth century. The Third World periphery was not a "backward" region that would catch up with the industrialized world; its underdevelopment was necessary for metropole's prosperity. As Frank argued, the core and periphery were not separate entities, but, rather, the logical consequence of an integrated global capitalist system. According to Frank:

A mounting body of evidence suggests that the expansion of the capitalist system over the past centuries effectively and entirely penetrated even the apparently most isolated sectors of the underdeveloped world. Therefore, the economic, political, social, and cultural institutions and relations we now observe there are the products of the historical development of the capitalist system no less than are the seemingly more modern or capitalist features of the national metropoles of these underdeveloped countries. (p. 18)

Frank and his dependentista colleagues challenged the assumption that decolonization had truly liberated the newly independent nations in the Third World. They argued that, in fact, exploitation had intensified, both between nations and within Third World countries, and concluded that Third World elites and their Western capitalist allies could bring nothing but underdevelopment and despair to the periphery. They called for revolutionary action to remove local political elites from power and to establish governments based on socialist ideals and structures. Only then would Third World nations be able to break their bonds of dependency, challenge global capitalist patterns of inequality, and develop as autonomous, self-reliant nations.

Radical dependency theory influenced thinkers outside Latin America as well, particularly in Africa, where it found a welcome audience among intellectuals and many policy-makers. The Guyanese historian Walter Rodney wrote a widely acclaimed analysis blaming Africa's historical underdevelopment on the systemic inequalities resulting from capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism, and Samir Amin, an Egyptian political economist, concluded that Europe had underdeveloped large parts of Africa during the colonial period. This had led to the creation of dependent peripheral economies characterized by weak capitalist sectors focused on a small elite luxury market, with little attention to manufacturing for mass consumption or to promoting links between agriculture and industry. Deeply suspicious of Eurocentric explanations of the world and believing Western capitalist structures inevitably and inherently caused underdevelopment in the periphery, Samir Amin has been an ardent advocate of delinking from the West. Whether this is to be a regional or national project is unclear, but the imperative of delinking is never questioned.

In a similar vein, although skeptical of delinking, Immanuel Wallerstein has drawn on Frank and other radical dependentistas for his own project, analyzing commercial relations since the sixteenth century. His World Systems Theory (WST) expands and complements Frank's ideas, providing a broad global analysis of the way successive emerging cores, their peripheries, and semiperipheries have experienced capitalism over the last few centuries. While seeing capitalism as a zero-sum game, in which winners bring inevitable losers, by advancing the notion of a semiperiphery (rather than a binary world of metropole/periphery) and emphasizing its skepticism toward the benefits of delinking in a global world, World Systems Theory acknowledges the dynamics and dialectics within capitalist development. While many critics find this approach too sweeping, WST continues to have passionate advocates (as well as opponents) around the world.

Reformist Dependency Theory

During the 1970s, the emergence of vibrant economies in some parts of the Third World, especially in countries like South Korea and Taiwan, challenged the radical dependentistas' argument for the inevitability of underdevelopment within the capitalist system. Reformist dependency thinking emerged to deal with these contradictions. In particular, the Brazilian social scientist Fernando Cardoso and his colleague, the sociologist Enzo Faletto, while sympathetic to much of radical dependency thinking, rejected the assertion that peripheral underdevelopment was completely determined by the logic of capital accumulation, and argued that Latin America economies were better understood by looking at "forms of local societies, reactions against imperialism, the political dynamics of local societies, and attempts at alternatives" (pp. xvxvi). Dependency, for them, depended more on local dynamics and the maneuvers of politicians, particularly their willingness to be co-opted by foreign capital, than on the inevitable workings of the world capitalist system. Indeed, they rejected the notion of a world economy, positing instead a world of multiple capitalist systems, with each nation having its own specific social formation and style of capitalism.

Cardoso and Faletto also rejected the radical dependentistas ' blanket hostility to the national bourgeoisie. Their focus on internal factors highlighted the importance of discovering which groups and classes were willing and able to push for national development. This could include the national bourgeoisie as well as labor, peasants, ethnic groups, and civil society. No class or group was inevitably seen as inclined to help or hinder national development. Cardoso (1972) posited three ways that nations in the Global South could attain development: (1) gaining political autonomy and using that power to industrialize; (2) developing an export-oriented economy capable of accumulating enough capital to industrialize; and (3) being assisted by multinational capital investments that would foster technology transfer and eventual industrialization (a dependent form of development, however). While accepting the tendency toward dependent development rather than the achievement of economic and political autonomy in the Gloabal South, the reformist dependency theorists stake out a very different position than their radical colleagues. For Cardoso and other reformists, genuine autonomous development can occur in the South if the correct alignment of internal forces, both structural and cultural/ideological, can be set in place.

Critiques of Dependency

Both radical and reformist dependency thinking soon encountered strong opposition. While openly hostile to the radical dependentistas, mainstream development policy-makers and practitioners increasingly recognized the validity of some of their arguments about the failures of modernization "solutions" to Third World underdevelopment. Organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and some large government aid agencies responded to this challenge by emphasizing the need to pay more attention to basic human needs and poverty. Reassured by the reformist arguments, some mainstream agencies sought to collaborate with more "reasonable" scholars, such as Cardoso and others who were opposed to delinking and believed in the possibility of working for change within the status quo.

Interestingly, the reformists' focus on the national bourgeoisie and class relations resonated with some of the Marxist critics of the radical dependentistas. For example, Ernesto Laclau condemned Frank for focusing on the market rather than class relations, despite his call for a class-based socialist revolution. Bill Warren, in a trenchant, well-researched challenge, questioned the assumption that Third World nations are inevitably caught in a cycle of underdevelopment. Citing various Third World success stories, he argued for a more specific, historical, and class-based analysis of global capitalist relations. Moreover, rather than automatically condemn the national bourgeoisie, he suggested that they could, under the right circumstances, play a crucial role in Third World development. In Africa, some dependentistas, such as Colin Leys, retracted their earlier positions and resurrected the national bourgeoisie as a potential instrument for escape from underdevelopment (see also Kitching).

Some feminists concerned with development issues have applauded dependency theorists for criticizing modernization theory and for grounding their analysis in Southern experiences and problems. However, dependency thinking has paid little attention to gender in general, preferring the broad sweep of global forces. Gender and development analysts have been particularly disturbed by dependency theorists' failure to pay attention to cultural dimensions of domination. This is particularly problematic for those concerned with gender equality issues because cultural attitudes and practices clearly play a crucial role both in reinforcing and strengthening patriarchal power structures. The focus on structures rather than agency and culture are, thus, serious problems for feminists interested in utilizing the insights of dependency theory, whether radical or reformist.

Scholars and practitioners concerned with gender, alternative approaches to development, and postcolonial writings argue that in crucial ways dependency thinking has not freed itself from many of the categories of modernization theory. Development is still conceived largely in terms of economic growth, industrialization, and liberal democracy, as an evolutionary process to be led by the correct elites, whether socialist leaders or committed national bourgeoisies. The ecological implications of this growth-oriented model have been ignored, along with the voices and concerns of marginalized peoples. Agency and difference disappear in a world dominated by powerful global forces. The possibility that hegemony is never complete, that the marginal may influence development practice and thinking, is never considered. Moreover, both the discourse and assumptions of dependency theorists focus on national economic plans, with well-developed national targets. Thus, at the level of discourse and practice, dependency perspectives are based on top-down models of development familiar to the most ardent advocates of modernization.

While there are lessons to be discovered in the writings of dependency theorists, most notably those that pay attention to specific historical forces and their relation to global structures and patterns, the shortcomings of dependency theorists, particularly their inability to move beyond the confines of modernization theory, remain serious impediments for many who are concerned with development questions in an increasingly global/local world. At the same time, the early twenty-first-century conjuncture inevitably raises questions about global forces and the potential of dependency theory's global perspective for understanding the present. Creative, but critical, analysis, drawing on dependency thinking as well as other strands of development thought, may well be possible. Certainly the global focus of the dependentistas has much to say to us as we grapple with financial flows and communication systems of an intensity and speed never envisioned in the past. Perhaps useful syntheses will emerge, and, with them, the possibility of reevaluating and using much of the rich scholarship of the dependency perspective.

See also Capitalism ; Class ; Colonialism ; Corruption in Developed and Developing Countries ; Development ; Globalization ; Human Capital ; Marxism ; Modernization Theory ; Neocolonialism ; Scarcity and Abundance, Latin America ; State, The: The Postcolonial State ; Third World ; World Systems Theory, Latin America .


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Baran, Paul A. The Political Economy of Growth. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1957.

Bergeron, Suzanne. Fragments of Development: Nation, Gender, and the Space of Modernity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Cardoso, Fernando H. "Dependency and Development in Latin America." New Left Review 74 (1972): 8395.

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Chilcote, Ronald H. Theories of Development and Underdevelopment. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1984.

Evans, Peter. Dependent Development: The Alliance of Multinationals, the State, and Local Capital in Brazil. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979.

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Kitching, G. N. Development and Underdevelopment in Historical Perspective: Populism, Nationalism, and Industrialization. London: Methuen, 1982.

Laclau, E. "Feudalism and Capitalism in Latin America." New Left Re v iew (MayJune 1971): 1938.

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Jane L. Parpart

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The term dependency is most commonly used to describe a situation wherein one person relies upon another for help, guidance, reassurance, protection, or emotional support. However, it is also possible for an individual to be dependent upon a substance rather than a person, as in chemical dependency. Other uses of the dependency concept in social science include economic dependency (i.e., one persons reliance on another for financial support), and functional dependency (i.e., one persons reliance on another for physical help, or for assistance in carrying out activities of daily living).


Although different forms of dependency are of interest to economists, sociologists, gerontologists, and others, the dependency concept is most widely used in psychology. In addition to studying chemical dependency, psychologists have devoted considerable effort to understanding the causes and consequences of dependent personality traits. In this context, researchers distinguish interpersonal dependency from pathological dependency. Interpersonal dependency describes the normal help- and reassurance-seeking that most people exhibit in everyday life; individuals with high levels of interpersonal dependency show above-average rates of help- and reassurance-seeking. Pathological dependencywhich when pronounced may warrant a diagnosis of dependent personality disorder describes an extreme form of maladaptive, inflexible dependency characterized by fear of abandonment, feelings of powerlessness and ineffectiveness, and an inability to initiate tasks or make decisions without excessive advice and reassurance from others.

High levels of interpersonal dependency are associated with a predictable array of personality traits including conformity, compliance, suggestibility, introversion, insecurity, interpersonal yielding, and low self-esteem. Among the psychological disorders most commonly found in people with pathological dependency are depression, anxiety disorders (especially social phobia and agoraphobia), and eating disorders (i.e., anorexia and bulimia). Contrary to clinical lore, high levels of pathological dependency do not predispose people to chemical dependency. In fact, studies show that in most cases increases in dependent attitudes and behaviors follow, rather than precede, the onset of addiction.

Although about 30 percent of the variance in level of both interpersonal and pathological dependency is attributable to genetic factors (presumably inherited differences in infantile temperament), parenting plays a key role in the etiology of dependent personality traits. Two parenting styles are particularly important in this context. First, overprotective parenting is associated with high levels of dependency in offspring. In addition, authoritarian (i.e., rigid, inflexible) parenting leads to high levels of dependency later in life. Both parenting styles lead to increased dependency because overprotective and authoritarian parents inadvertently teach children to look to others for guidance, protection, and support, and accede to others demands without question.

Most psychologists conceptualize dependent personality traits as consisting of four major components: (1) cognitive (a perception of oneself as vulnerable and weak, coupled with the belief that other people are comparatively powerful and potent); (2) motivational (a strong desire to obtain and maintain nurturant, supportive relationships); (3) emotional (fear of abandonment and fear of negative evaluation by others); and (4) behavioral (use of various self-presentation strategies to strengthen interpersonal ties). Among the self-presentation strategies most commonly associated with dependency in adults are supplication (appearing weak to elicit caregiving responses from others), and ingratiation (performing favors to create a sense of indebtedness in others). However, when these more common interpersonal strategies prove ineffective, people with pathological dependency may resort to intimidation (e.g., breakdown threats, suicide gestures) in a desperate attempt to preclude abandonment.

Although the cognitive, motivational, emotional, and behavioral features of dependency are relatively stable over time and across situation, dependency is expressed in different ways at different ages. During childhood dependency needs are directed primarily toward parents and other authority figures (e.g., teachers, coaches), but in adolescence the target of dependency strivings often shifts to the peer group. During early and middle adulthood dependency strivings are expressed most commonly around romantic partners, friends, supervisors, and colleagues at work; later in life dependency needs tend to be directed toward caregivers as well as romantic partners and peers.


Despite the fact that dependency in adults is usually regarded as a sign of weakness, dysfunction, and immaturity, dependent personality traits are actually associated with both positive and negative consequences. On the negative side, dependent people tend to overuse health and mental health services, react strongly to even minor relationship conflict, and have difficulty assuming leadership positions. On the positive side, however, dependent people delay less long than nondependent people in seeking medical help following symptom onset, are skilled at deciphering subtle verbal and nonverbal cues, and perform well in collaborative tasks when provided with adequate structure.

On questionnaire and interview measures of interpersonal and pathological dependency women tend to obtain higher scores than men do. These gender differences in self-reported dependency begin by mid-childhood and persist through late adulthood. A very different pattern is obtained when projective measures (e.g., the Rorschach Inkblot Test) are used to assess dependency: When these more subtle measures are administered women and men obtain comparable dependency scores. It appears that women and men have similar levels of underlying dependency needs (as reflected in comparable scores on projective dependency tests). However, men are less willing than women to acknowledge these needs in interviews and on questionnaires.

Like gender, culture affects the expression of interpersonal dependency, with individuals raised in sociocentric cultures (i.e., cultures that emphasize interrelatedness over individual achievement) showing higher self-reported dependency than individuals raised in individualistic cultures (which typically emphasize individuation and achievement over interpersonal connectedness). Studies further suggest that when individuals immigrate and gradually become acculturated to a new society, dependency levels tend to increase or decrease in accordance with the norms and values of that society.


Baltes, Margaret M. 1996. The Many Faces of Dependency in Old Age. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Bornstein, Robert F. 1993. The Dependent Personality. New York: Guilford Press.

Bornstein, Robert F. 2005. The Dependent Patient: A Practitioners Guide. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pincus, Aaron L., and Kelly R. Wilson. 2001. Interpersonal Variability in Dependent Personality. Journal of Personality 69 (2): 223251.

Rusbult, Caryl E., and Paul A. M. Van Lange. 2003. Interdependence, Interaction, and Relationships. Annual Review of Psychology 54: 351375.

Robert F. Bornstein

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de·pend·en·cy / diˈpendənsē/ • n. (pl. -cies) 1. a dependent or subordinate thing, esp. a country or province controlled by another. 2. dependence: the country's dependency on the oil industry.

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dependency. C18 American term for an outbuilding or group of outbuildings on an estate, including quarters for slaves, schools, etc.

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