Development theory

Development theory

Development theory is a conglomeration of theories about how desirable change in society is best to be achieved. Such theories draw on a variety of social scientific disciplines and approaches.


Historical development theories

Modernization theory

Modernization Theory is a theory of development which states that the development can be achieved through following the processes of development that were used by the currently developed countries. Scholars such as Walt Rostow and A.F.K. Organski postulated stages of development applying to every country. Samuel Huntington considered development to be a linear process which every country must go through. Modernization Theory, in contrast to Classical Liberalism, viewed the state as a central actor in modernizing "backward" or "underdeveloped" societies. The Action theory of Talcott Parsons defined qualities that distinguished "modern" and "traditional" societies. Education was viewed as key to creating modern individuals. Technology also played a key role in this development theory because it was believed that as technology was introduced to lesser-developed countries it would spur economic growth. Another author who has written on the process of modernization is David S. Landes but not so much as a sheer theory but rather as a set of powerful propositions of the direction of world history.[citation needed]

One key factor in Modernization Theory is the belief that development requires the developed countries to aid developing countries to learn from their own progress. In addition, it was believed that the lesser developed countries could then grow faster than developed countries and catch up; and that it is possible for equal development to be reached.[citation needed]

Dependency theory

While Modernization Theory understood development and underdevelopment as a result from internal conditions that differ between economies, dependency theory understood development and underdevelopment as relational. It saw the world's nations as divided into a core of wealthy nations which dominate a periphery of poor nations whose main function in the system is to provide cheap labour and raw materials to the core. It held that the benefits of this system accrue almost entirely to the rich nations, which become progressively richer and more developed, while the poor nations, which continually have their surplusses drained away to the core, do not advance. Developed in the 1950s, dependency theory shared many points with Rosa Luxembourg's and V.I. Lenin's earlier, Marxist, theories of imperialism; and dependency theory was embraced by many Marxists and neo-Marxists. Dependency theorists held that for underdeveloped nations to develop, they must break their ties with developed nations and pursue internal growth. One type of policy crafted from this insight was Import substitution industrialization. Modernisation theory failed to explain some critical issues patterning the underdeveloped nations such as demographic trends, difference in culture, geographical position, etc.

World systems theory

In response to some of the criticisms of Dependency Theory came World Systems Theory, which the division of periphery and center was further divided into a trimodal system consisting of the core, semi-periphery and periphery. In this system, the semi-periphery lies between the core and periphery and is exploited by the core and exploits the periphery. This division aims to explain the industrialization within lesser developed countries. World Systems Theory was initiated by Immanuel Wallerstein in, among other writings, World Systems Analysis (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2004), and focuses on inequality as a separate entity from growth in development and examines change in the global capitalist system. One distinguishing feature of this theory is a distrust for the state and a view in which the state is seen as a group of elites and that industrialization cannot be equated with development. Out of this theory stem anti-systemic movements which attempt to reverse the terms of the system's inequality through social democratic and labor movements.

State theory

In response to the distrust of the state in World Systems Theory, is state theory. State Theory is based upon the view that the economy is intertwined with politics and therefore the take-off period in development is unique to each country. State Theory emphasized the effects of class relations and the strength and autonomy of the state on historical outcomes. Thus, development involves interactions between the state and social relations because class relations and the nature of the state impact the ability of the state to function. Development is dependent upon state stability and influence externally as well as internally. State Theorists believe that a developmentalist state is required for development by taking control of the development process within one state.[citation needed]

Theory of Uneven and Combined Development

Uneven and combined development is a Marxist concept to describe the overall dynamics of human history. It was originally used by the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky around the turn of the 20th century, when he was analyzing the developmental possibilities that existed for the economy and civilization in the Russian empire, and the likely future of the Tsarist regime in Russia. It was the basis of his political strategy of permanent revolution, which implied a rejection of the idea that a human society inevitably developed through a uni-linear sequence of necessary "stages". At first, Trotsky intended this concept only to describe a characteristic evolutionary pattern in the worldwide expansion of the capitalist mode of production from the 16th century onwards, through the growth of a world market which connected more and more peoples and territories together through trade, migration, and investment. His focus was also initially mainly on the history of the Russian empire, where the most advanced technological and scientific developments co-existed with extremely primitive and superstitious cultures. However, in the 1920s and 1930s, he increasingly generalised the concept of uneven and combined development to the whole of human history, and even to processes of evolutionary biology, as well as the formation of the human personality.

Development economics theories

A number of theories are concerned with how economies develop over time. Some of these theories include:

  • Comparative advantage: Predicts all countries gain if they specialise and trade the goods in which they have a comparative advantage. This is true even if one nation has an absolute advantage over another country.
  • Rostovian take-off model: A linear theory of development that argues that economic modernization occurs in five basic stages of varying length - traditional society, preconditions for take-off, take-off, drive to maturity, and high mass consumption.
  • Harrod–Domar model: Explains an economy's growth rate in terms of the level of saving and productivity of capital.
  • Dual Sector model: Explains the growth of a developing economy in terms of a labour transition between two sectors, a traditional agricultural sector and a modern industrial sector. (Also known as the Lewis model)


Further reading


  • M. P. Cowen and R. W. Shenton, Doctrines of Development, Routledge (1996), ISBN 978-0415125161.
  • Peter W. Preston, Development Theory: An Introduction to the Analysis of Complex Change, Wiley-Blackwell (1996), ISBN 978-0631195559.
  • Peter W. Preston, Rethinking Development, Routledge & Kegan Paul Books Ltd (1988), ISBN 978-0710212634.

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