Dependency Theory Sociology Explained

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Since the Industrial Revolution, there has been a separation in the development of certain nations when compared to Europe and the United States. The dependence theory in sociology attempts to explain this separation. It is a theory that has fallen out of favor since it was proposed, but still provides a relevant conversation regarding why some countries develop slower than others.

Does Unequal Power Create a Need for Dependency?

The world today can be separated into two general categories. We have “developed” nations and “developing” nations. The term “developing” is used to describe a country that does not have the same economic infrastructures that can be found in the US or Europe. It creates a relationship between the two countries where the developed nation must support the developing nation because of the unequal footing if a relationship between the two is going to exist.

Developing countries want what the developed countries have. Developed nations don’t need anything from a developing country, but there do have a “moral” or “ethical” obligation to prevent suffering within those nations. That creates a need for dependency between the two that maintains the status quo.

In the dependency theory for sociology, the developing country grows to depend upon the support it receives from the developed country. Instead of developing its own infrastructure so it can be part of the industrialized world, it continually spends the money and uses the supports that are offered to it because the offer is always there.

The developing country sees no need to develop because it is receiving external support.

For the developed country, this relationship might seem unequal, but it is often viewed as an advantageous relationship. When the developing country is dependent upon them for their basic needs, then they are no longer a potential threat to their existence.

It is a relationship that is similar to what the Colonial Era experience in the 14th-17th centuries, with extensions for some nations up until 1945.

What Happens with Dependency Today?

In the past, developed nations would power their way into the developing world to find the resources that were needed for growth. Whether it was done through relationship building or conquering, the goal was ultimately the same. The resources of the developing country would go into fueling the expansion of the developed country.

In some historical cases, dependency was forced upon certain populations through political or military control.

As the world has evolved, so has the method for creating dependency. Instead of conquering a nation and creating a moral or ethical need to support the population, capitalism and finance turn the tables on the relationship equation. Now the developing countries owe the developed countries significant sums of cash and have no way to pay it.

That outstanding debt then allows the developed country to take what they need without a moral obligation to support anyone.

Is There a Way to Stop Dependency in Sociology?

The only way to stop dependency is for a nation to transform itself from a “developing” state to a “developed” state. To accomplish this, a nation must take greater control over their systems of commerce. Whether it is through direct control of a business, such as one would find in China, or it is through laws and regulations, such as one would find in the US, wealth distribution occurs when structures are in place.

With wealth distribution comes infrastructure reinforcement. When an infrastructure is stabilized, industries can begin to develop. When that development process matures, a nation can theoretically move out of the “developing” category.

Except these steps are rarely followed. Corruption occurs frequently under the auspices of capitalism. That adds cost to the sustainability of any effort to industrialize and it can even affect total productivity.

It is to the benefit of a developing country to accept payments, even if that involves debt, because it cedes responsibility at some level. It is to the developed country to keep other nations from reaching a level of equality because that would put their own security or socioeconomic status at risk.

The only real solution that exists to stop this relationship of dependency is to eliminate the benefits of its structure. That would require economic exchanges, open borders, and coordination through one global committee, resource center, or governing body.

Some may argue that closing the borders to a developing country would allow them to sell commodities to the developed world to bolster their economy, but that would simply restart the Colonial Era practice of divide and conquer once again.

Dependency will likely always exist. The dependency theory in sociology is just one explanation for this dependency. People wish to keep what they have and when others are content with what they are given, it creates a relationship that both see as being beneficial.