As with any social issue, global or otherwise, scholars have developed a variety of theories to study global stratification. The two most widely applied perspectives are modernization theory and dependency theory.
According to modernization theory, low-income countries are affected by their lack of industrialization and can improve their global economic standing through (Armer and Katsillis 2010):
- an adjustment of cultural values and attitudes to work
- industrialization and other forms of economic growth
Critics point out the inherent ethnocentric bias of this theory. It supposes all countries have the same resources and are capable of following the same path. In addition, it assumes that the goal of all countries is to be as “developed” as possible. There is no room within this theory for the possibility that industrialization and technology are not the best goals.
There is, of course, some basis for this assumption. Data show that core nations tend to have lower maternal and child mortality rates, longer life spans, and less absolute poverty. It is also true that in the poorest countries, millions of people die from the lack of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, which are benefits most of us take for granted. At the same time, the issue is more complex than the numbers might suggest. Cultural equality, history, community, and local traditions are all at risk as modernization pushes into peripheral countries. The challenge, then, is to allow the benefits of modernization while maintaining a cultural sensitivity to what already exists.
Dependency theory was created in part as a response to the Western-centric mindset of modernization theory. It states that global inequality is primarily caused by core nations (or high-income nations) exploiting semi-peripheral and peripheral nations (or middle-income and low-income nations), which creates a cycle of dependence (Hendricks 2010). As long as peripheral nations are dependent on core nations for economic stimulus and access to a larger piece of the global economy, they will never achieve stable and consistent economic growth. Further, the theory states that since core nations, as well as the World Bank, choose which countries to make loans to, and for what they will loan funds, they are creating highly segmented labor markets that are built to benefit the dominant market countries.
At first glance, it seems this theory ignores the formerly low-income nations that are now considered middle-income nations and are on their way to becoming high-income nations and major players in the global economy, such as China. But some dependency theorists would state that it is in the best interests of core nations to ensure the long-term usefulness of their peripheral and semi-peripheral partners. Following that theory, sociologists have found that entities are more likely to outsource a significant portion of a company’s work if they are the dominant player in the equation; in other words, companies want to see their partner countries healthy enough to provide work, but not so healthy as to establish a threat (Caniels and Roeleveld 2009).
Modernization theory and dependency theory are two of the most common lenses sociologists use when looking at the issues of global inequality. Modernization theory posits that countries go through evolutionary stages and that industrialization and improved technology are the keys to forward movement. Dependency theory, on the other hand, sees modernization theory as Eurocentric and patronizing. With this theory, global inequality is the result of core nations creating a cycle of dependence by exploiting resources and labor in peripheral and semi-peripheral countries.
Learn more about economic dependency at the University of Texas Inequality Project:http://openstaxcollege.org/l/Texas_inequality_project
- Armer, J. Michael, and John Katsillis. 2010. “Modernization Theory.” Encyclopedia of Sociology, edited by E. F. Borgatta. Retrieved January 5, 2012 (http://edu.learnsoc.org/Chapters/3%20theories%20of%20sociology/11%20modernization%20theory.htm).
- Caniels, Marjolein, C.J. Roeleveld, and Adriaan Roeleveld. 2009. “Power and Dependence Perspectives on Outsourcing Decisions.” European Management Journal 27:402–417. Retrieved January 4, 2012 (http://ou-nl.academia.edu/MarjoleinCaniels/Papers/645947/Power_and_dependence_perspectives_on_outsourcing_decisions).
- Chang, Leslie T. 2008. Factory Girls: From Village to City in Changing China. New York: Random House.
- Hendricks, John. 2010. “Dependency Theory.” Encyclopedia of Sociology, edited by E.F. Borgatta. Retrieved January 5, 2012 (http://edu.learnsoc.org/Chapters/3%20theories%20of%20sociology/5%20dependency%20theory.htm).
- dependency theory
- a theory which states that global inequity is due to the exploitation of peripheral and semi-peripheral nations by core nations
- modernization theory
- a theory that low-income countries can improve their global economic standing by industrialization of infrastructure and a shift in cultural attitudes towards work