Difference Between Dependency Theory and Modernization Theory

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


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Dependency theory and modernization theory are two of the famous theories which have distinguished thinking that differentiated them.

Dependency Theory vs Modernization Theory

The difference between dependency theory and modernization theory is that dependency theory mainly emphasizes individual nations and their role as suppliers of cheap labor, markets, and raw materials for expensive goods compared to industrialized countries, on the other hand, modernization theory focuses on sources and internal forces of socio-economic developments like the market-based economy, secular and democratic political structure, and education.

Dependency Theory vs Modernization Theory

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

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

Modernization theory attempted to understand the process of the development 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 that emphasize social modernization’s componential elements.

Comparison Table

Parameters of Comparison Dependency TheoryModernization Theory
OriginIn the late 1950s by the Argentine statesman and economist Raul Prebisch.     The ideas of Max Weber, a German sociologist (1864 to 1920).
Core concept Some countries became rich by exploiting other weak countries, especially through colonization.     By enhancing technology every country can be wealthy and poor countries need to follow the path of the modernized, richer countries.
Main focus Underdeveloped or poor countries.     Developed and rich countries.
TimelineDeveloped to criticize the modernization theory.     Developed in the late 50s.
Rich countries  Rich nations are blamed for creating global poverty.     Richer nations bring solutions to all the poverty issues.
SupportSupported by third-world countries.     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.

This theory differs from any other development theory as it originated from the third-word country, instead of the 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 that happened in third-world countries are related to the first-world countries’ political events.
  • The economic and political events of first-world countries highly affect the economics and politics of the third-world countries, but the economic and political events of the third-world countries affect a little on the economy and politics of the 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.

By forming a common front of the core the third-world countries will be leveraged. They also suggested the elites of the third-world countries take responsibility to confront 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 the end of World War II, many of the 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 through the promotional of democratic, western values.

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

According to the 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 path of the developed countries and take their cultural values and emerge their economy through industrialization.

For doing so, they need help from the western developed countries in the form of investment and aid. 

This theory supports an industrial-capitalist model of development. Modernized thinkers believed that capitalism motivates efficient production through industrialization which is 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, expressed that by enhancing the 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 in 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.
  1. https://www.proquest.com/openview/4039da2e926a00f581534e12d7421167/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=47510
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00220387108421356
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