Thanks for your perspective, Jack Chenault

Dependency is just one of a number of theories of Latin American development. While it can be applied to gain a broader historical contextual understanding, there exists the danger of oversimplification.

Other Common Theories of Latin American DevelopmentEdit

Corporatist PerspectiveEdit

Black (2005) defines the corporatist theory of Latin American history and development as "blaming the Iberians." This interpretation of Latin American culture and development implicates the legacy of imported cultural and political practices left by Spanish and Portuguese colonists. "Elitism, authoritarianism, and militarism" are clearly visible in Panamanian history and contemporary society. For instance, caudillos such as Omar Torrijos embody all three of Black's criteria and also can be interpretted from a dependency perspective. Furthermore, Black (2005) posits that "few Latin Americanists would dispute the observation that vestiges of medieval Iberia are still to be found in Latin America." Corporatism cannot be dismissed in favor of exclusive dependency theory (see Pluralism below).

Modernization/Development PerspectiveEdit

Unlke the corporatist theory, Black (2005) describes the modernization/development theory as "blaming the Latin Americans" for not adopting a Western, industrial socioeconomic state model. In many ways, this type of critique is a reflection on Western society's self-normalization of development that disregards other interpretations of social and economic progress. For this reason, the development theory falls both under social and economic theories of development. Under the economic category, development theory hypothesizes about the necessity of increasing per capita output in order for a nation’s economy to grow towards First World level of development. However, according to Dudley Seers, the Development theory consistently has confounding social development variables included in its outline for economic development. In order for the Developmentalist approach to succeed in its progress towards sustainable economics several social issues must be addressed and eliminated in order to reach full development; these variables include eliminating poverty, unemployment, and inequality. According to Seers, if these three variables are eliminated, a nation can redefine its state of economic development. Within this framework, several economic theories of development can be further elaborated.

Stage TheoryEdit

Originally, the premise of this theory, known as the Linear Stages of development, came about through an organization of German Historicists. In the 20th century, German historicists Alexander Gerschenkron(1953, 1962) and Walt W. Rostow(1960) made famous the modern development of the Linear Stage theory now known simply as the Stage theory. The Stage theory, in its most simple definition, states that all countries pass through the same historical stages of development. This theory is soundly based upon economic development and it does not incorporate additional themes of social development; therefore, the stage theory is often described in conjunction with one or more social development theories. The theory implies that in the stages of historical economic development, First World countries (i.e. European and North American) are at a later developmental stage than Third World countries. The Third World countries are simply at an earlier stage in their development- a stage that all First World countries once passed through.

Throughout history, there have been many examples of countries which have, by virtue of their own efforts and progress, followed similar patterns in their stages of economic development. For this reason, the Stage theory of development is often applied to the countries of Latin America. Here, as the theory applies, it can be said that a majority of Latin America falls under the early stages of the Stage theory. As many of the countries of Latin America continue to work towards progress and economic development, parallels can be seen between their current state of development and those stages which First World countries have already passed through. Many historicists argue that this point is also one of the components that may weaken the Stage theory. This is due to the fact that if Stage theory is a solid component of economic development, then Third World countries should have the ability to review a variety of political, social, and developmental efforts put forth by current First World countries and learn from their successes, as well as their failures throughout their own development. Hence, theoretically, Third World countries should have the ability to work through the Stage process of economic development with a more efficient use of their resources and a clearer outline of how to reach economic development.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Dependency PerspectiveEdit

As one of the most commonly referenced theories for Latin America’s economic woes, the Dependency Theory has been the subject of much analysis. Its strength lies in its acknowledgment of the role played by outside powers in ensuring Latin American economies’ subordinate status throughout history. Dependency accounts for the lasting effects of Colonialism, Imperialism and Neocolonialism and demonstrates the trend that countries rich in resources are vulnerable to foreign exploitation.

Weaknesses of the theory focus on difficulty in finding a solution from the inside, if all of Latin America’s problems come from outside power. It has been suggested that they must help themselves, from the inside out, however with little to no economic power, this would be difficult to begin. Additionally, it seems the only true way to escape the negative influence of the major world powers is to isolate themselves as individual countries completely. This could raise new conflicts of freedom of trade and civil liberties as governments try to cut themselves off from the rest of the world economy.

Many of these weaknesses can be accounted for by interpretting Latin American history and development from other perspectives (see above sections). For this reason, a pluralist perspective may offer a more complete understanding.


In several disciplines there is a growing movement for pluralism in interpretation of phenomena (Mitchell and Dietrich 2006; Salanti and Screpanti 1997; Dagenbach 1999; Merry 1988; Akers 2008). For instance, a develpmental biologist and an evolutionary biologist may be asked, "Why is the giraffe's neck long?" While the developmental biologist would definitively state that the neck is long due to differential cell growth during embryogenesis. The evolutionary biologist would confidently state that giraffes have long necks due to selective pressure favoring the disproportionate contribution of genes from giraffes with longer necks to the next generation. While each scientist is certain their interpretation is true, this does not mean that either has to be false. Rather, the same question has been approached and explained in a meaningful and enlightening way from two perspectives.

Therefore, though a dependency critique of Panamanian development may offer a strong argument for the current social and political status of Panama, this interpretation is not exclusive of other perspectives and unifying themes in history. A pluralistic perspective that embraces multiple perspectives, even if from other academic disciplines, offers a more complete view of the issue at hand.

Further ReadingEdit

Competing Theories of Economic Development- University of Iowa International Finance and Development

Economic Theories of Development[1]

More on Dependency Theory from University of New Mexico


The History of Economic Thought Website. Accessed April 22, 2010.

Dependency Theory and Latin America. Accessed April 22, 2010.

Blaney, David. L. Reconceptualizing Autonomy: The Difference Dependency Theory Makes. (1996)Journal Storage (JSTOR) Accessed April 22, 2010.

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