Session 2: Early Theories of Development


Events in history, introduced new areas of studies in the world of development.  The Cold War and the wave of decolonization that hit Africa and other colonized countries led to the rise of early theories in development. The issue at hand was how these poorer independent countries were to beef up their   economies to become rich.  Modernization and dependency theories as well as the world system analysis were some of the proposed ways to lift these countries from their poor undeveloped state to being rich and developed.

 I found these theories interesting in the way they proposed the poor states address their progress from poverty to wealth. Modernization theorists advocated the path chartered by developed societies looking more at the social, cultural, political and economic interactions of the poor states in ‘acquiring characteristics common to more developed societies’ as Lerner puts it. Proponents of the dependency theory, which emerged as a critique of the modernization theory emphasised on the economic development of the state based on exogenous forces, ‘…. A situation in which the economy of a certain group of countries is conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy, to which their own is subjected’ says Theotonio Dos Santos.  A shift towards a more structural approach was seen in the world system analysis developed by Immanuel Wallerstein in the 1970’s, where he proposed that the world systems is made up of core, semi-periphery and periphery countries. In this system however, the wealthy core countries dominate and exploit the poor peripheral countries.

In a bid to solve the problems of poverty and inequality it is interesting to note how one theory emerged out of the other, this gives the impression that there is no consensus in solution to the problem, but rather a divided front. The focus here though is not on the emergence of different theories but whether these theories are viable.  The modernisation and dependency theories have proved workable to a certain extent, with the modernisation theory having more bearing on the current state of affairs in the world. Influences of the modernization theory can be seen in the technological advances and provision of international aid to poorer countries. One country in Africa that has made remarkable progress is South Africa, its development has been rapid and now ranks as an emerging market, it was least affected by the recession and predicted by analysts to become a developed country by the second half of the 21st century.  In Asia, Taiwan also stands out in its development. There are indeed some exceptions, but for those countries that have made progressive advances, was is solely on the modernization or dependency models or there were other factors involved? (This will have to be the subject of a new blog). Modernization theory rides on the back of capitalism, which in itself has many evils. The question here is, is it truly modernization? Or is it westernization? Are the poorer countries ever going to catch up with the richer ones?  Is the one cap fit all style of development working? Answers to these questions are some of the flaws which critiques have identified with the modernization theory.

The simplicity of the modernization process is rather intriguing and one wonders if that is all it takes to get there, ‘if you want to get to where we are then you need to do the things we did to get there’ more like a copy and paste process, obviously attention was focused on what society should be (end product) the West, making the west superior, than what it really is (current state) so that any other factor that would impair this process was not really considered. It was presented as a straight progress without weighing any impediments or any obstacles in the countries that fell under the third world. The results are obvious, inequality and poverty gap is not closing and poor and developing countries are nowhere near developed.

It is sad to see the world in this state, it is clear that the one cap fit all strategy is not working for the development of poorer states, not that these  poor states are not developing, but the pace of development is horrifically slow. More saddening, when you find yourself on the developing side and count the cost of ‘interference’ from the ‘west’ without viable solutions to the issues at hand, then it is almost convincing that the West is not helping at all but rather compounding the problems of these poor states .

In looking at why Africa is not developing at it should, I came across this interesting analysis from views on why Africa is not developing, a layman’s point of view on African development ‘Africa exists for the most part in a state of neo-colonialism, every part of Africa is set up by outsiders, Africa serves outsiders better than itself, the outsiders get the resources, they get rich of the resources, until this changes nothing will change in Africa.’ Drusilla (2006) if the ordinary man is thinking this way then obviously all is not adding up. This set me thinking on the dependency theory and its effect. Dependency and the influence of capitalism resulted in the periphery countries strengthening the economies of the core countries at their own expense ‘resulting in stagnation and lack of sustainable development’ in Third World. Idumange (2010). Will the ‘West’ allow peripheral countries to develop? It is indeed convincing that the state of undeveloped countries is suitable for the developed ‘West’ in keeping them rich and developed.

Did these theories really fail? Not totally I would stay, they have their short falls, in that they cannot be used as the yard stick for all poor/underdeveloped/third world countries but to an extent they have served a good purpose. At the time of their emergence, these countries did not have any other alternative so to imitate seemed the good way to go. Some aspects of the theories have been useful in shedding light in some areas of development, how growth and poverty can coexist can be understood from the structural nature of the dependency theory whilst the modernization theory brings in cultural dimensions in development research. All in all these theories will lay the foundation for future development studies.

I found the study of these early theories of development quiet relevant to my existing knowledge, finding myself living in a developing country and originating from another developing country and having travelled several times to some parts of the developed world I am now able to piece together the origins of the current state of development in the world and this has helped immensely in answering some mind boggling questions. Why some countries are more developed than others? Why some depend on others for grants, loans and aid? And why institutions like the IMF and World Bank exist and the role they play in the developing world. I am now confident, that I will be able to think from a better informed perspective and critically analyse the impact of developmental issues in the world. (To some extent of course, since I am just a few weeks into the course).

From the study of this unit, I have also come to the conclusion that in proposing solutions to problems, the one cap fits all strategy is not best practice. There is the need to understand the problem and identify specific solutions to address it, this does not only apply to the world stage of modernisation and development, but in everyday life and every problem solving environment, across board solutions does not work for different problems. If the modernization theorists had taken time to understand the unique problems of poor nations they would not have proposed so simplistic a process of development.

In general unit 2 has been more interesting than I thought, there were so many lines of discussions and relevant issues and current affairs worth talking about, that at a point, I wished I had taken the course full time to participate and enjoy  lecture room and group discussions.


Agreen, I., (2010) The Global Crisis of Capitalism: Myth or Reality? [Accessed October 18th 2011]

Drusilla, (2006), Why Africa is not developing?, [Accessed October 20th 2011]

Grieg, A., Hulme, D. and Turner, M. (2007) Challenging Global Inequality: Development Theory and Practice in the 21st. Century. Basingstoe: Palgrave Macmillan

Hearn, J., ‘Foreign Aid, Democratisation and Civil Society in Africa: A study of South Africa, Ghana and Uganda.  [Accessed October 21st 2011]

Hewitt, T. (2000), ‘Half a Century  of Development’, in Poverty and  Development into the 21st Century, Allen, T., Thomas, A. (eds), Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Martinez – Vela, C., (2001) ‘World Systems Theory’ System.pdf  [Accessed October 20th 2011]

Mehta S. (2009) [Accessed October 21st 2011)

Schuster, M., Modernization Theory and Dependencia: Why did they Fail? [Accessed October 21st 2011]


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