Dependency Theory vs Modernization Theory: Difference and Comparison

Several developmental theories attempt to understand the process of changes that happen in society. Each development theory has presented a unique change process and draws on a range of social science approaches and disciplines.

Dependency theory and modernization theory are two famous approaches with distinguished thinking that differentiated them.

Key Takeaways

  1. Dependency theory posits that underdeveloped countries remain poor due to their reliance on developed countries, which exploit them for resources and labor. In contrast, modernization theory asserts that countries can achieve development through industrialization, urbanization, and cultural change.
  2. Dependency theory focuses on global economic systems and power dynamics as barriers to development, whereas modernization theory emphasizes internal factors and adopting Western progress models.
  3. Both theories attempt to explain the disparities between developed and underdeveloped countries but offer differing perspectives on the causes and potential solutions for global inequality.

Dependency Theory vs Modernization Theory

Dependency Theory suggests that global economic systems allow wealthy countries to develop at the expense of poorer ones, leading to inequality. Modernization Theory posits that all societies progress through similar stages of development and that today’s underdeveloped areas are thus in a similar situation to that of today’s developed areas at some point in the past.

Dependency Theory vs Modernization Theory

Dependency theory refers to a study that attempts to understand the world principle. According to the idea, richer countries enhance wealth by exploiting poorer countries for the relationship between economics and other factors.

In the late 1950s, the Argentine statesman and economist Raul Prebisch proposed the dependency theory. This theory gained popularity in the 60s and 70s. 

Modernization theory attempted to understand the development process of societies and social evolution.

There are mainly two analysis levels in classical modernization theory- macroeconomic evolution of modernization that focuses on the manifest process and empirical trajectories of the modernization of the countries and their polities, societies, and economies.

The other one is the microeconomic evolutions of modernization, emphasising social modernization’s componential elements.

Comparison Table

Parameters of Comparison Dependency TheoryModernization Theory
OriginBy enhancing technology, every country can be wealthy and poor countries need to follow the path of modernized, richer countries. The ideas of Max Weber, a German sociologist (1864 to 1920).
Core concept More prosperous nations bring solutions to all poverty issues. It was developed to criticize the modernization theory.    
Main focus Underdeveloped or poor countries.     Developed and rich countries.
TimelineIt was developed in the late 50s. The developed countries support them.
Rich countries  Rich nations are blamed for creating global poverty.     They are supported by third-world countries.    
SupportThe developed countries support them. Supported by the developed countries.

What is Dependency Theory?

The foundations of the dependency theory emerged in the 1950s by the Argentine statesman and economist Raul Prebisch.

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This theory differs from any other development theory as it originated from a third-world country instead of a developed, first-world country.

The dependency thinkers of third-world countries were concerned about the unjust and unequal situation in which their countries found themselves. Their main focus was finding the reason for inequality. 

The main propositions of this theory are-

  • Third-world countries do not exist in isolation. The political events in third-world countries are related to the first-world countries’ political affairs.
  • First-world countries’ economic and political events highly affect the economics and politics of third-world countries. Still, third-world countries’ economic and political events affect the economy and politics of first-world countries.
  • Economics and politics are correlated, and economic trade increases the gap between developed and developing nations instead of decreasing it.
  • Developed countries are the reason for the underdevelopment in third-world countries.
  • As long as capitalism remains in world politics and economics, the situation of developed and developing countries will not change.

The thinkers of dependency theory also gave some advice to solve their main concern, ‘inequality’. They suggested forming common trading blocs, markets, or cartels.

Third-world countries will be leveraged by forming a common front of the core. They also suggested the elites of the third-world countries take responsibility for confronting their country’s dependency condition.

The elites were suggested to invest in the national literary programs or construction projects rather than in the luxurious good manufacturing industries.

What is Modernization Theory?

By World War II’s end, many countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa were exposed to capitalism, but they failed to develop and remained poor. In this context, modernization theory was developed in the late 40s of the 20th century. 

This theory aimed to give non-communist poverty solutions to third-world countries. Its major aim was to develop a specifically capitalist, industrialized development model by promoting democratic Western values.

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There are two major aspects of this theory- it explains the reason behind the underdevelopment in third-world countries and suggests a solution.

According to modernized thinkers, third-world countries are developing and yet to be developed because they have several cultural barriers which hold them back from following the path of the developed countries. 

They suggested that third-world countries need to follow the developed countries’ path, take their cultural values, and emerge their economy through industrialization.

To do so, they need help from the Western developed countries through investment and aid. 

This theory supports an industrial-capitalist model of development. Modernized thinkers believed that capitalism motivates efficient production through industrialization, a process of developing a factory-based production system.

Main Differences Between Dependency Theory and Modernization Theory

  1. Dependency theory was first proposed In the late 1950s by the Argentine statesman and economist Raul Prebisch. On the other hand, the origin of the modernization theory is the ideas of Max Weber, a German sociologist.
  2. According to the dependency theory, some countries became rich by exploiting other weak countries, especially through colonization. Modernization theory, on the other hand, expresses that by enhancing technology, every country can be wealthy and poor countries need to follow the path of modernized, richer countries.
  3. The main focus of the dependency theory is the underdeveloped poor countries. On the contrary, the main focus of the modernization theory is the developed and rich countries.
  4. Dependency theory was developed later than modernized theory, which was developed during the 1940s. Dependency theory was developed as the action of the modernization theory.
  5. Dependency theory blames developed rich countries for global poverty, whereas modernized theory blames third world underdeveloped poor countries for their poverty.

Last Updated : 25 July, 2023

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