Development of Underdevelopment


All nations strive and direct their efforts to the achievement of development, hence be better and competitively placed in terms of power and wealth. As explained by Andre Gunder Frank, it's hard to formulate adequate development policy and theory for most populations in the world suffering from underdevelopment without having ample understanding of how past economic and social history has shaped the current underdevelopment (Frank 1972, p. 4). In order to understand the process of underdevelopment, we should not only study the developed metropolitan nations but should as well include those that lag behind in terms of prosperity. However, most of the present theoretical guides and theories to development policy have widely borrowed from the historical experience of the powerful and wealthy North American and European advanced capitalist nations, hence overlooking the underdeveloped countries. In the work of Andre Gunder Frank, the term development of underdevelopment implies that the present or modern status of underdevelopment is as a result of past social and economic history.

The Idea of Underdevelopment by Frank

Frank is regarded as one of the individuals who were very critical of the theories of sociology of development and the related processes of evolution and modernization (Mondal 2015). According to Frank, earlier scholars such as McClelland (1961) and Hagen (1962) have continuously ignored the fact that historical conditions are responsible for the establishment of a system of one world economy, where the Third World entities or countries work to develop the First World. Therefore, the underdeveloped nations are in such circumstances due to their connection with the developed societies. It is the view of Andre that economic development happens in a series of a succession of capitalist stages. In this opinion, the nations that are underdeveloped today are still in a particular stage which could be viewed as the original stage of history, through which the better-placed countries were and passed many years ago (Frank 1972, p. 3).

However, there still lies the idea that underdevelopment is not traditional or rather original; hence the past or the present status of the underdeveloped nations align or is similar to the past of the current developed countries (Frank 1972, p. 3). In this school of thought, the developed countries were therefore never underdeveloped, but there was a time when that they were undeveloped. Similarly, the idea of Frank of the development of underdevelopment holds that the contemporary underdevelopment of a given nation could be viewed as the reflection or product of solely its political, social, economic, and cultural structures (Frank 1972, p. 3). In that note, the only way to compare the positive progression of a particular society or country should be with its own historical structures, but not with those aspects of the developed countries. However, historical research has proven that contemporary underdevelopment is in high proportion or part the historical product of past as well as continuing relations (such as economic, political or cultural) between the now developed metropolitan and the satellite underdeveloped nations (Frank, 1972 p. 3). As explained by Frank, such relations are an important part of the process of development of the capitalist system on a world scale in general.

The notion by Frank (1972) is that development and underdevelopment are simply the two aspects of the same system. Frank holds the view that world capitalist system entails both concepts of development and underdevelopment as the dual dimensions of the same structure (Mondal 2015). As explained by Mondal (2015), the presence of growth in one area implies a direct result of underdevelopment in a different area. Frank's work could be viewed as holding the opinion that the world system contravenes the essence of national boundaries (Frank 1972, p. 7). In this case, Frank holds the perspective that countries are structured into a relationship of metropolitan and their satellite counterparts. Such relationships are not only present between the wealthy urbanite North American or European nations and the have-not's satellite countries of the rest of the world but within a particular society too, where the boondocks make their supply to and is also exploited by the same city (Mondal 2015).

The term development of underdevelopment by Frank (1972) rejects the theory of diffusion that implies that the less-developed communities or societies do not have the potential for development since they are not influenced by the dynamics present in the developed or First World as a result of the many obstacles to progress (Mondal 2015). Frank further differs with the view that evolution of such underdeveloped societies, including their most primitive domestic areas, must and will ultimately be stimulated through the diffusion of institutions, values, and or capital from the international capitalist and dynamic metropolis to them (Frank 1972, p. 7). According to Frank (1972), economic diffusions are not capable of bringing transformation in the Third World countries. Various historical perspectives evaluating the past experiences of the underdeveloped societies states that there are chances of economic development occurring independently of the primary relations of diffusion. In this light, the progress of a satellite country is therefore not dependent on the influence from the core capitalist metropolis.

Frank uses the example of Latin America, with the conception that the country has become a capitalist or feudalist since the colony. According to Frank’s theoretical scheme, the conventional dualist view of Latin America as both feudalist and capitalist should be rejected (Frank 1972, p. 5-6). The proposition of duality of Latin America holds that such societies have two structures, one being incredibly changing while the other one is stagnant and that the two structures are independent of each other (Frank 1972, p. 6). The structure that is ever changing is linked to the core or metropolitan countries that are capitalist and developed. On the other hand, the stagnant or rigid structure is not connected to the dynamic core countries; hence it is feudal and underdeveloped. Frank rejects the proposition implying that the capitalist structure or system has placed major impacts on all sectors of the economy.

In the current structures, there still exist tendencies in the Latin American as well as world capitalist structure that leads to the development of the metropolis and negative progress of the satellite societies. The primary reason is the historical imposition and maintenance of the monopolistic structure as well as relationships that exploit the satellites. As a result, the satellite countries or cultures or societies in Latin America hold the view that their economic development is nothing but s limited development. According to the explanation above, the present state of underdevelopment of Latin America is highly attributed and linked to its long-term participation to develop the First World capitalist nations (Frank 1972, p. 5-6).

Implications of Development of Underdevelopment from a Developmental Point of View

From a developmental point of view, the regions that are the most underdeveloped and feudalistic in nature could be attributed to increased historical support of the development of the First World nations. The most underdeveloped countries had the strongest and closest links with the metropolis capitalists years ago. Similarly, the less developed were the greatest exporters of major products to the wealthy and powerful nations, as well as being the biggest sources of capital for the First World metropolis. Such boondocks were later abandoned by the metropolis once business declined. As per this perspective, the theory of development could be described to entail the concept of historical influences to the extent of progress for any given society. From a developmental point of view, it is evident that there exists a close relationship between the two terms namely, development and underdevelopment in that the two are aspects of the same system. One nation, in this case, the metropolis and wealthy fully depends on the support of the satellite and or less developed one for positive progress.

The view by Frank represents a majority of the situations that happened during the colonial period where the relationship was not only between rich metropolitan Western nations and the poor but also within a country where the remote regions supplies to the city, with high levels of exploitation (Mondal 2015). Development, or underdevelopment for that matter, should be viewed regarding the historical occurrences that have most likely influenced the economic system. Similarly, the extent in which a nation lags behind in progress should be assessed on the basis of understanding the contemporary underdevelopment of the society as the product of its own structures such as political, cultural, social and economic entities (Frank 1972, p. 4).


The concept of development of underdevelopment by Andre Frank implies that understanding the present state of underdevelopment requires a full understanding of past economic and social history of a given nation or society. Similarly, it has been established that the process of economic progression or development takes place in a series of stages. However, there is the need to note that the currently developed societies were never underdeveloped, even though they may have been undeveloped at some point in history. Nonetheless, the surest way to assess the cause of contemporary underdevelopment is the historical product of relations in the past as well as the current ones between the developed towns and the satellite underdeveloped societies.

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