Frank, Andre Gunder

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Frank, Andre Gunder 1929-2005


Andre Gunder Frank was born in Berlin on February 24, 1929. His parents first took refuge from the Nazis in Switzerland (1933), then later in the United States (1941). Frank obtained his undergraduate degree from Swarthmore (1950), and his PhD in economics from the University of Chicago (1957) under the supervision of Milton Friedman, whose neoclassical and monetarist development theory he would criticize throughout his academic life.

Initially a specialist in the economics of Soviet agriculture at Michigan State University (19571961), he soon left the United States for Latin America. While in Brazil, he influenced many economists, such as Theotonio dos Santos and Fernando Henrique Cardoso. After the coup détat there in 1964, he went to Chile, where he joined the Center for Socioeconomic Studies at the University of Chiles School of Economics. It was in Chile that Frank met his wife, Marta Fuenteswith whom he coauthored numerous publicationsand where he developed his first series of books on socioeconomic conditions in Latin America.

In studies such as Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (1967), Frank argued both against the widely influential orthodox Marxist theorywhich characterized Latin America as being in a semifeudal stageand the Western-centric modernization theory, which considered the lack of development in the so-called Third World as a consequence of incomplete modernization and insufficient or backward capitalist institutions. Franks thesis of development of under-development essentially argued that since its very origins, Latin America had been exploited as a periphery by major colonial powers within the context of capitalist development across the Atlantic. By the early 1970s, Frank had become one of the predominant intellectuals articulating dependency theory, which claimed that external influences (e.g., political, economic, and cultural) on national development policies could explain why the third world, and Latin America in particular, had been and remained subordinate to Western interests (see, for example, Franks World Accumulation, 14921789, 1978).

Frank and others used the historical condition of dependency to explain why economic growth in the West does not translate into economic growth in the periphery: Even after colonies had gained nominal independence, colonial policies still linked the periphery to the world market by commodity chains, often through the export of single commodities with a low added value (raw materials). The metropolitan/satellite relationship between colonizer and colonized was an aspect of world-scale capitalist dynamics, not simply precapitalist imperialist history, and this relationship continues to impoverish the third world long after formal independence due to the existence of a local lumpenbourgeoisie, making it impossible for former colonies to catch up with the West. The latter then reinforces this neocolonization through its use of debt.

The military coup against President Allendes socialist government (1973) drove Frank out of Chile. After returning to his native Germany to work at the Max Planck Institute (19731978), Frank subsequently accepted a position as professor of Development Studies in Social Change at the University of East Anglia (19781983), and then became professor of Development Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Amsterdam (19831994). It was during this period that he became affiliated with the world-system school and coauthored several studies with Immanuel Wallerstein, Samir Amin, and others on the dynamics of social crisis and social movements in the world system.

From the 1990s onward Frank adopted a revisionist approach to world history, rejecting world-system theory as well as most mainstream historical and theoretical interpretations as profoundly Eurocentric. Drawing on his previous studies of long-term economic cycles, Frank analyzed a 5,000-year-old trading system and argued, most notably in his influential ReOrient (1998), that the world economy had been Asia-centered for thousands of years and was now moving back in that direction. In the last years of his life, Frank claimed that the recent rise of the West was a short-lived phenomenon due to a temporary decline of the East and that the analytical concept of capitalism had become meaningless.

When Frank died in Luxembourg on April 23, 2005, he had published over thirty-five books and hundreds of articles in dozens of languages. His contributions to the field of dependency theory and world-system theory influenced many in anthropology, sociology, political economy, and to a certain degree even liberation theology. His last interdisciplinary research agenda, cut short by his death, was an ambitious attempt to undermine Eurocentrism in both the field of history and in contemporary social theory. As much a social activist as an academic iconoclast, Frank was an intellectual who never quite received the recognition he deservedyet his studies will continue to inspire many debates in the social sciences for decades to come.

SEE ALSO Accumulation of Capital; Allende, Salvador; Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.; Chicago School; Colonialism; Dependency Theory; Friedman, Milton; Imperialism; Luxemburg, Rosa; Modernization; North and South, The (Global); North-South Models; Third World; World-System


Frank, A. G. 1967. Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America: Historical Studies of Chile and Brazil. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Frank, A. G. 1971. Sociology of Development and Underdevelopment of Sociology. London: Pluto.

Frank, A. G. 1978. World Accumulation, 14921789. London: Macmillan.

Frank, A. G. 1998. ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Simon, Lawrence, and David Ruccio. 1986. A Methodological Analysis of Dependency Theory: Explanation in Andre Gunder Frank. World Development 14: 195209.

So, Alvin. 1990. Social Change and Development. London: Sage.

Eric Mielants