Practice Question – Critique A.G. Frank’s ‘development of underdevelopment’. [10 Marks] [UPSC 2019]

Approach – Introduction, Explain Frank`s theory of underdevelopment, Bring in views of other thinkers, Criticism of Frank`s theory, Conclusion.



Andre Gunder Frank was a left-wing economist and political activist who wrote widely in the fields of economics, social and political history, development studies and
international relations. A German national, he is best known today for his work on what he called ‘the development of underdevelopment’ or ‘dependency theory’.
He also commented critically on what he called the ‘world system’ of the 1970s and 1980s that maintained inequality in the world.

Frank’s main argument was that in our interconnected, globalised world, some countries are winners, whilst others are losers. According to dependency theory, the people of less-developed countries are not to blame for the failure of their societies to develop. Instead, he suggested that Western nations deliberately failed to develop these countries. He argued that historically, ‘core’ nations such as the USA and UK, who made up the elite ‘metropolis’, exploited ‘peripheral’ nations by keeping them as satellites in a state of dependency and under-development.



In an article entitled ‘The Development of Underdevelopment’ which set out his main thinking, Frank declared:
Underdevelopment is not due to the survival of archaic institutions and the existence of capital shortage in regions that have remained isolated from the stream of world history. On the contrary, underdevelopment was and still is generated by the very same historical process which also generated economic development: the development of capitalism itself.

All resources have their own level of capacity to be used by mankind to grab all its potential for which it has been created. But, there are cases when it is being used only by few countries creating a difference of opinion among nations. This concept has been deeply analyzed by famous sociologist – Andre Gunder Frank to understand the core importance through his theory of underdevelopment. 

Frank based his ideas on a close study of the effects of capitalism in history. For example, in looking at inequality and underdevelopment in Latin America in the 1960s, Frank examined the privileged position of cities in that region that first emerged during the 16th century conquest by Spain and Portugal. The city might seem to be an example of the success of capitalism in the underdeveloped world. But Frank claimed that the city’s function at this time was to economically dominate the indigenous population who lived in surrounding rural communities. He said that the city was the ‘metropole’ that dominated the ‘satellites’ around it. In the same way, these metropoles were themselves satellites to the domination of the European colonising country. Frank said that over the course of history, this chain of exploitation in the form of a ‘metropolis-satellite’ relationship has been maintained, so that resources continue to be taken from satellites and fed back to the dominant metropolis. He said that his study of the history of countries like Chile and Brazil backed up this theory, where the chain of ‘satellite underdevelopment’ was evident in these countries’ relationship with Europe, and within their own domestic economies, where the ‘satellite metropolis ‘relationship existed at various levels so that the most remote area of Latin America were part of a chain that existed to benefit capitalist Western countries.



1. Historical account of the underdeveloped societies.

2. Underdevelopment is a result of their relationship with the developed societies.

3. Development and underdevelopment are the two aspects of the same system.

4. Underdevelopment, dependency and world system are the names of the same theory.

5. This is a theory which presents a historical account of the relationship of dependency of the less developed countries on the rich European ones.



To explain how this theory can be used, theorists argue there are numerous kinds of the nation:

  • The first being core of the core nations: they are the wealthiest and most powerful nations like the USA;
  • The second type can be called the periphery of the core nations: these countries are developed but have less power on the world stage like Canada;
  • The third is the core of periphery nations: these are developing countries that still have a lot of wealth (THE BRICS NATIONS) but not so much international power like China;
  • The fourth is the periphery of the periphery nations: these are the world’s poorest countries with extremely low GDP per capitals like Zimbabwe.

The problem starts with its dependency on other countries. According to the theory, the international system is one where all countries serve the economic interests of the core countries.

  • The periphery of the periphery countries serves the economic interests of all other countries.
  • The core of the periphery countries serves the economic interests of the periphery of the core countries and the core of the core countries.
  • The periphery of the core countries serves the economic interests of the core countries.



Frank was very critical of the theories of sociology of devel­opment and connected processes of modernization and evolution. Hoselitz has used the Parsonian modernization pattern variables to explain the process of development in any country. Frank is convinced that neither developed nor undeveloped societies reveal the characteristics suggested by Hoselitz or, for that matter, by Parsons.

Frank also rejects the theory of diffusion, which suggests that the less developed societies cannot be developed because they are not able to be influenced by the changes in the developed world due to obstacles to development. Economic diffusions, according to Frank, do not bring about changes in the Third World. Frank also criticizes McClelland (1961) and Hagen (1962). He is of the view that these scholars have ignored the fact that historical circumstances lead to the establishment of one world economic system in which the Third World functions to develop the First World. Though Baran originated the theory of dependency but for its popularity the credit may be given to Frank.



Critics of the dependency theory argue that this dependency is exaggerated. They also say that the theory focuses too much on economic factors and does not take into consideration the country’s political, social, cultural and environmental factors that might be contributing to underdevelopment. Critics also argue that dependency theory is very pessimistic and unrealistic. Critics say that the suggestion that a developing country can disconnect from capitalism and go its own way is impossible in our globalised economy. However, Frank’s ideas and the huge volume of writing that he completed continue to be debated.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Contact Us
close slider