Issues surrounding development have accelerated in recent years with the growth of technologies and global economies that have made countries not only more accessible, but more dependent on one another. The economies of wealthier nations have seen the economic potential in the development of larger nations, and these nations have also felt the benefit from being included in this expanding global environment. As a result, the world is changing faster than it ever has before. Countries like China and India are growing rapidly, both from innovation and confidence from within the countries and with economic and strategic resources and assistance from developed nations. As the world changes, so do theories of development. Two key theories that helped shape the future but have since been discarded for competing theories shed light on the course of development in the 20th century and helps to understand where development stands in the first decade of the 21st century.
This essay will discuss the history and ideas behind two theories of development: Modernization Theory and Dependency Theory. Each will be discussed in terms of why they evolved, what problems arose from them, and what light they shed on the future of development. The central argument will be made that development theories arise out of necessity for the countries in power at the time: That though development theory is achieved often through independent thinking, development is implemented in large part by these powers in order for these countries to prosper financially or maintain national security. It will be proposed that while the understanding of issues and global relations change as theories are tested and debunked, the two influential theories laid out have declined in influence in part because the global climate – and thus the objectives for developed nations, or means to meeting those objectives – have shifted. Understanding the rise and fall of each of these theories sheds great light onto the deeper process of development and in understanding – or changing – its future evolution.
Central Issues surrounding Modernization Theory
“Modernization is a process of human development, in which economic development gives rise to cultural changes that make individual autonomy, gender equality, and democracy increasingly likely,” (Inglehart and Welzel, 2005, p. 15). The theory assumes that all societies develop in the same ways and thus underdeveloped nations need the same modern advances found in richer states in order to evolve. The authors argue here that even though the Communist view of modernization that was formed by Marx and Weber might not have been correct, the underlying notions of it were: Namely, that economic success is tied to social progress and even to the foundations of a democracy.
After WWII two competing Modernization Theories developed resulting in the Cold War. While Capitalism and Communism possesses very different ideologies, they both committed themselves to modern growth as their respective sources of strength. They both believed that the developed world would look to modernization either through communism or capitalism, and thus the two sides competed for influence in developing states. In this period a version of modernization theory emerged “that viewed underdevelopment as a direct consequence of a country’s internal characteristics, especially its traditional economies, traditional psychological and cultural traits, and traditional institutions,” (Inglehart and Welzel, 2005, p. 17). From the Modernization point of view, the internal nature of an underdeveloped society is what holds it back, and thus such a society is in need of assistance from richer ones. Rostow’s 5 Stages of Economic Growth outlined such a point of view that was limited to the development of Northern countries over time. In Rostow’s view, a traditional subsistence society gains the pre-conditions for take off, which leads to an overcoming of any resistance to steady growth. A drive to maturity accomplished by steady levels of investment and reduction in imports leads to the final step, an age of mass consumption (defined by a skilled workforce, luxury goods and social welfare). Implicit is the linear view of universal time; that all societies evolved from traditional societies to those of mass consumption in a standard progression. Explicit is a sense of cultural imperialism, and in today’s globalized climate such ideas seem rather out-dated, and even racist. While certain modernization is perhaps necessary for an underdeveloped nation to join the modern world, prevailing ideas today are that structures that improve the standard of living for nations, and their contribution to a prosperous and peaceful globe, can be implemented without losing the nation’s cultural context. As will be discussed later in this essay, the ability for a development to adapt to the national cultural context is instrumental to the success of development generally.
Obviously many societies aren’t held back from developing simply by a lack of means (and it is important to remember that the concept of a ‘developed nation’ is defined in many ways but the cultural and political landscape of developed nations, many of which might not be relevant to ‘underdeveloped’ nations). Gilbert Rist writes:
“This implies that such societies should gratefully welcome the technological means that allow them to produce more. For those who are happy to have a lot, it may seem logical enough that those how have little should wish to have more. But the anthropological evidence shows that is has not always been so. In many societies, it is not low productivity but a rejection of accumulation which is the factor limiting production,” (Rist, 2002, p. 96).
A flaw in such a development theory is the fact that the society itself may not wish to, or even be capable of, adapting to Western ideas of progress and development. It is problematic to assert western notions of modernity onto other societies, and in many cases could be plain ineffective in dealing with the realities that exist deep within the traditions of the culture and the self-identity of the people. While Modernization Theory cannot be easily compared to the world as it stands today, any competing theory that doesn’t have some cultural flexibility will likely be unsuccessful.
An interesting case of this can be seen in the recent development of the Kingdom of Bhutan, where the development policy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) places the happiness of its citizens over blind economic development. One of the last countries to open its doors to the West, it is progressing slowly in trying to keep both its culture and environment in place, while also benefiting from what the modern world has to offer. This is a fine line to traverse. Over 70 percent of Bhutans’ total land area is covered in forest, which supports 165 species of mammals and 770 species of birds (Zurick, 2006). To protect this natural treasure, Bhutan has passed a law that over half of the country has to be covered by forests, and the strict visa requirements prevent too many people from trekking through the land. Thus the country represents both literal and philosophical issues with development in trying to preserve a unique culture and environment virtually untouched by the outside world while opening itself gingerly to it. One might suppose that the success of developing Bhutan would rely on the country finding its own version of what the modern world would implement – and causes one to think of what ‘development’ really means to a people and culture that have been fine without it.
Modernization theory acknowledges the influence of economics to positively affect the standard of living in under-developed civilizations, but lacks the practical and philosophical open-mindedness in valuing what might be a successful approach to development for Southern countries. This theory also underscores the benefits for developed nations in shaping underdeveloped nations based on a Modernization framework.
Central issues surrounding Dependency Theory
Dependency Theory is a critique of Modernization Theory and ended up replacing it as the dominant development theory in the 1960s and 1970s. Based on the Dependency Theory, rich states depended on poor states for their own wealth. It argues that the Third world “depends” on richer Western nations for its economic, social and political structures (Thompson, 1983, p. 204). In addition, developed countries benefit from this relationship economically, for instance selling obsolete materials to the poorer states and benefiting from the consolidation of wealth. In this view, it is of wealthy nations interests, whether directly or indirectly, to keep poorer nations poor. Such a view was not a theory established as a way to achieve development, but rather as a criticism to modernization theories and the felt Western/rich country’s imperialism.
“The cardinal assumption of the dependency school is Hegel’s admonition that the whole has a logic greater than the sum of its parts,” (Thompson, 1983, p. 206). The roots of the Dependency Theory lie in the idea that the subject of individual or national interest must be viewed through all factors that influence the development of that subject. Indeed, Thompson states specifically “the development and wealth of the North and the underdevelopment and poverty of the South are a function of one another,” (Ibid, p. 207). Thus the world order as it stands today is very much based on ideas of exploitation; that this broader Hegelian view blames the developed world for looking at the rest of the globe through glasses heavily tinted by self-interest. In Dependency Theory nations don’t simply thrive independently of third world nations that seemingly exist off the global radar, but instead a wealthy nation’s continued success is very much dependent upon prolonging the underdevelopment of these states.
A direct example of this would be the relationship of Britain with India in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Some scholars such as Paul Baran suggest that Britain undermined every foundation of Indian society, thus withholding from it what might normally have been a quicker pace of development through India’s own economic and politic systems instead of relying on those imposed by Britain (Baran as quoted by Thompson, 1983, p. 211). While Thompson argues that this could be an exaggerated claim, the possibility exists that there could be some truth to this. While instances like The Great Mutiny of 1857 kept British transformation in cheque, the argument is made that over fifty years after independence India may have benefited from British influence. And India’s class system is also widely seen as a roadblock to development. But it is clear that at least to some degree, Britain’s self-interest impeded the growth of India, and that the impact of an India that develops under institutions foreign to her could negatively influence the lives that development intends to support.
The British/Indian dynamic brings up a central notion of Dependency Theory that the world is structured into a notion of core and periphery. The core is made of up rich states, while the poor are on the periphery. Such a theory doesn’t just concern relations between the North and the South, but can include rich/poor and landowner/peasant dynamics within a country. Dependency Theory is one way of understanding the relationship of states to one another in a globalized world. However the danger of it is also that such a theory led to the decreased will of powerful states to take a greater role of developing these nations. Perhaps one event that sheds light on both the faults and insights of the Dependency Theory is the events of 9/11. Such an event – terrorists from an underdeveloped nation attacking the financial center of the western world – suggests that the success of one nation is very much dependent upon the success, to some degree, of other nations. No longer can a rich but immoral nation turn a blind eye to the plights of a poor country while dumping into it old technology and gleaning its natural resources. In an instant, poor and desperate countries became a threat to the developed world, and the remedy to this threat is to lift up those countries. From a Dependency Theory perspective, after 9/11 Northern nations are more dependent on Southern nations for maintaining security. Yet the process of achieving this security means an undoing of the very economic and politic inequalities that Dependency Theory suggests Northern nations require from the developing nations. In such a context this outdated theory seems to lose all significance in 21st Century global dynamics.
Lessons learned for the future
Modernization Theory is still important for today’s thinking about development issues. As has been explicated earlier in this essay, there exists a tendency for the South and North to evolve based on Western models, and with Western influence – even when such influence isn’t necessarily in the best interests of the state. There is still little alternative thinking about what development could mean, specific to the cultures involved. Examples of this might be the US support of dictatorships in Latin America that promised allegiance to Washington and the North. Aside from any moral or ethical approach to development (which though steered by Northern interests, is fueled and run by many humanistic, idealistic people and organizations), such a theory doesn’t work any longer. It has become arcane in its thinking that all societies are the same in their desire to transition from some ‘traditional’ state to that of one which falls into the idea of modernization as defined by western culture, ideas, and needs from a practical standpoint, much less a humanistic one. While is some truth to the notion the economics impacts the ability for nations to fulfill the needs of its people and in providing better lives for them, forcing Northern models onto governments and societies is a less creative approach that doesn’t possess the flexibility, creativity and open-mindedness needed to successfully raise the standard of living across the globe. Such a model also doesn’t maintain – or appreciate – the enormous cultural differences that exist in the world.
Dependency Theory is in a sense more honest to not only what fuels many development motives in general, but the dynamics of the globe generally. Whether on a micro scale or macro, the allocation of great wealth by one party is often based on the lack of wealth by other parties. Dependency succeeded in pointing out the inequalities in the world and also the advantages and disadvantages that both sides have. That wealthy nations are dependent upon poor nations to remain poor, thus not having to share some of the pie, seems valid in a state of fear of the unknown. Development may never be truly achieved unless underdeveloped nations are able to share the global wealth without the major powers being drastically affected by such change. This is an important impact of Dependency Theory, that it opened minds to broader definitions of development and to taking into account local cultures and different historical contexts. Such thinking can lead to better, more effective and more ethical development practices.
Ultimately the factors that shape development today are a tighter global economy and senses of shared national security. Since 9/11 the safety and security of one nation is dependent upon, at the least, the absence of desperation and extreme poverty that fuels the extremism and thus terrorism. And ultimately new development theories will surely include the same interests of those nations controlling global wealth and resources unless a theory can be devised to create a rising tide that lifts all states. The importance of understanding both the theories laid out in the essay are not only to gain a grasp of where development theory has come from, but also to understand the positive and negative factors of development with the goal of reaching toward a development theory that will increase the standard of living for all nations and create a political and economic climate that promotes peace. This can only be achieved by understanding the underlying factors that fuel development theory, which can be understood more clearly upon examination of two of history’s prevailing development theories.