Week Two: Early Theories of Development

I found week two particularly  hard to follow as I was down with malaria throughout last week, but hey life must go on.Basically from the  first lecture Tom’s previous lecture, and further readings. Development theories serves as a guide to identifying  the basis for the “WHATs” “WHYs and the “HOWs TO MOVE FORWARD”in development studies.

I learnt, development theories refers to the sets of ostensibly logical propositions, which aims to explain how development has occurred in the past and or how it should occur in the future. (Potter, 2000:61). These propositions form perspectives and values of what should constitute the state of “good change” in a desirable society. As social values differs from one society to another (Toye, 1995:43) and can be shaped through social interactions, different points of views exist and can be formed.

These theories are normative in nature as it always attempt to propose better methodology and strategies in which “good change” should occur.  Development theories aim to change the existing economic and social structure to formulate policies and structures that can be aimed towards a desirable society.  (Hettne, 1995)

In effect, development theories and strategies tend to have diverse goals and objectives reflecting vital factors of development such as economic, social, political, cultural, ethnical, ecological and religious values. The goal of development agenda is to clearly define the scopes and dimension of such process. (Hettne, 1995) These theories, strategies and methodology sums up the paradigm of discourse in development, thus in determining how development should occur these factors needs to be evaluated in order to understand what “good change” is and what it should look like.

There are mainly two type of theories that cover a large spectrum of development framework; (1)Modernization and (2) Dependency theory. These two theories offer valid and fair explanations for development and underdevelopment of the present day society. There are notable similarities in  both approaches but there are also many differences and neither escape criticisms.

Modernization theory:  is concerned with the process of  social change where developing, or “poor” countries acquire characteristics common in modern society. (Lerner 1972: 386) Modernization theory leans on internal dynamics while referring to social and cultural structures and the adaptation of new technologies. Modernization theory  is based on four main assumptions; (a) Western societies are the most advanced in terms of technological, social and political term, (b) countries go through  similar stages through to development (c) this path is a ‘natural’ form of development and there must be something preventing them from doing this and finally,(d)Modernity claims that poorer nations can experience drastic changes leading to development without  changes in  their financial status and their trading patterns.

Dependency Theory: emerged in the 1970s, drawing on a Marxian analysis of the global economy, and as a direct challenge to the free market economic policies of the post-War era.The theory arose in the 1970s as a result of the reaction/critique of modernization theory. Dependency theory mainly rests on the notion that poorer countries need to focus on their own needs rather than being influenced by external factors. Development theory seemed to have led much of the developing world to the brink of economic collapse.

 Modernization Versus Dependency Theory:

Modernization emphasizes the essence of establishing relationships between developed and developing nations, while dependency theory proposes such relationships as manipulative and harmless. (De Soto 1990:107). The notion of such relationships raises questions as to the motives behind them. A very recent perfect example is America’s bid to modernize Libya and the late Libyan President accusing America of being interested in the Libyan  wealth(oil) .

One of the main disadvantages of modernization theory is its failure to consider the culture and social values of the poorer countries. Hoogvelt, (1997: 35) refers to modernity as  the “how to develop” manual for poorer countries. This idea  assumes that all countries have to pass through stereotypical stages  ranging from technology to free market in order to attain development.

The critique of modernization laid emphasis on modernity’s assumptions that all societies had a similar path to follow through their development, and that today’s underdeveloped areas are thus in a similar situation to that of today’s developed areas at some time in the past, and that therefore the task in helping the underdeveloped areas out of poverty is to lead them through the common path to development through factors such as investment, new technology, and gaining more access to the world market.

By contrast dependency theory argues that  poorer countries will do better if left alone to navigate their way and also, that modernization theory breeds dependency as time goes on. Wealthy countries are able to use their wealth, knowledge, edge and experience to further influence developing nations into adopting policies that increase the wealth of the wealthy nations, even at their own expense. At the same time, they are able to protect themselves from being turned on by the developing nations, making their system more and more secure as time passes. Capital continues to migrate from the developing nations to the developed nations, causing the developing nations to experience a lack of wealth, which forces them to take out larger loans from the developed nations, further indebting them.

Furthermore, dependency theory suggests that alternative uses of resources are preferable to the resource usage patterns imposed by dominant states. There is no clear definition of what these preferred patterns might be, but some criteria are invoked. For example, one of the dominant state practices most often criticized by dependency theorists is export agriculture and  the discovery of other resources such as gold and diamonds from South Africa and copper in Katanga, Zambia. Samir et al, in an article about this situation in southern Africa noted that discovery at the prime of capitalism inspired a particular form of colonization of the reserves. Samir, et al. (1987:2)

Andre Gunder Frank, “development of underdevelopment”proposed an interesting take on industrial economies manufacturing  very little or nothing, yet rich, while poorer countries manufacturing as a result of external interface yet still poor.  The criticism is that many poor countries experience rather high food scarcity even though they produce great amounts of food for export. Alot of  dependency theorists would argue that those agricultural lands should be used for domestic food production in order to reduce the rates of malnutrition. Frank believes that the west is actually making under-developed countries poorer. Andre G. Frank, (2009).

I feel, development theory formations, critique, analysis and frameworks are imperative to understanding the challenges and different perspectives of the approach taken in development theories.  The common theme here is change or progression as the case maybe. Although each varies from another, two thing are sure; these theories are not the same and each of them are a progression of the other mostly seeking to gain advantage by correcting what the previous was discredited for.

I find, that in the last 50 years development theories and hypothesis have raised very interesting questions that have indeed improved the study of development, and the theory of the day seems to always align with the trend of the moment focusing on the language or current situation of the societies. i.e. terrorism- peace-keeping forces, human rights, empowerment and more recently using technology to enhance development in poorer countries. Nowadays the development trend is pluralistic in that it lays great emphasis on human development and essence of the south-south relationship, thus I believe due to the evolving nature of  development theories and all the criticism that often follows, I do not think that development theories have reached a consensus in the past five decades or will do so anytime soon.

In conclusion, I believe both modernization and dependency theory have contributed immensely to the  framework of development studies however,  the major challenges lay in the evolving nature of hypothesis and conclusions drawn as different theorists always reach diverse conclusions in their claims, explanations and predictions of future events.

Key References

Hewitt, T. (2000)  “Half a Century of Development.”  In Allen, T., Thomas, A. (eds)Poverty and Development into the 21st Century.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

Hewitt, T. and Nunan, F. (2011) Critical Approaches to Development-2011.  Birmingham:  University of Birmingham.

Andre  Frank, (2009?) The development of underdevelopment. New England.   University of New England Free-press.

Sumner, A. and Tribe, M. (2008)  International Development Studies:  Theories and Methods in Research Practice.  Los Angeles:  SAGE.  pp. 81-97.

Hulme, D. and Turner, M. (2007) Challenging global inequality: development theory and practice in the 21stcentury. London: Palgrave Macmillan.


About rebeccaidd

Fun, passionate, inquisitive exploring development
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