Frank’s Theory of Underdevelopment: Overview

Frank’s Theory of Underdevelopment: All resources have their own level of capacity to be used by mankind to grab all its potential for which it has been created. But, there are cases when it is being used only by few countries creating a difference of opinion among nations. This concept has been deeply analyzed by a famous sociologist – Andre Gunder Frank to understand the core importance through his theory of underdevelopment.

Understand the meaning:

Before going into the topic, the two important understandable words that need clarity are “Theory” and “Underdevelopment” as these words have crucial meanings. To define theory, “it is a well-substantiated explanation acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation”. Whereas, when resources are not used to their full socio-economic latent, with the result that development in a country is slower in most cases than it should be, especially compared with the capital and technologies in countries that surround it, it is then termed as underdevelopment.

Begin from the origin:

The happenings of this theory have not grown only from the modern period but have its origin from the mercantile period that goes back to the sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. It became popular in the 1960s through the research of many scientists. People began to question why countries weren’t developing. The stock answer would be because the country is not pursuing the correct “economic policy” or the government is authoritarian and corrupt. This postulation has undergone through all colonial, semi-colonial and neo-colonial phrases for the fulfillment of capitalist ideology which resulted directly into underdevelopment. This becomes worse after the First World War which benefitted all the capitalist countries to develop and let out the third world countries too dependent on them for their growth. This is the beginning of the research on various conceptualizing that made to question the developing or under-developing countries about their standard of rank among other nations.

The idea of Frank:

Theorists began to doubt that these were the only factor at play. They theorized it was the international system hindering the growth of undeveloped nations. When such a situation prevailed in the world system, it was Andre Gunder Frank, a famous sociologist and economic historian who developed the Dependency theory that made the whole universe to look at their country’s relationship with the other countries which directly or indirectly helped for their enlargement. When this separation and dependence aroused, Frank enhanced his theory to prove the world about the existence of big nations that control or not letting out the small nations (both in terms of growth) to come out of their cocoon for their independent survival. This idea of the sociologist brought a major impact on the worldwide scenario.

Answer to the question ‘why’:

This dependency theory associated primarily with Latin American countries asserts that in the capitalist system, resources tend to flow from the periphery that is poor underdeveloped countries to the core of the wealthy Western world. This is because poorer countries tend to provide natural resources and cheap labor for products designed and sold by businesses in richer countries. This leads to a unilateral flow of capital which is simultaneously maintained by the politics, finance, education, culture and sometimes military of the rich countries.

The Methodology of the system:

To explain how this theory can be used, theorists argue there are numerous kinds of the nation:

  • The first being core of the core nations: they are the wealthiest and most powerful nations like the USA;
  • The second type can be called the periphery of the core nations: these countries are developed but have less power on the world stage like Canada;
  • The third is the core of periphery nations: these are developing countries that still have a lot of wealth (THE BRICS NATIONS) but not so much international power like China;
  • The fourth is the periphery of the periphery nations: these are the world’s poorest countries with extremely low GDP per capitals like Zimbabwe.

The problem starts with its dependency on other countries. According to the theory, the international system is one where all countries serve the economic interests of the core countries.

  • The periphery of the periphery countries serves the economic interests of all other countries.
  • The core of the periphery countries serves the economic interests of the periphery of the core countries and the core of the core countries.
  • The periphery of the core countries serves the economic interests of the core countries.

How this can be maintained:

This question arises because there is a world-class distinction where the majority of the wealth is controlled by a minority of political and economic elites. Therefore, in the poorer countries, the exploitation of resources is made possible as the wealthy minorities control a large proportion of the resources. For instance, Zimbabwe’s 20 richest people have a collective wealth of $10.119 billion; the country has a total GDP of $16 billion; these few people enable the exploitation of primary products to take place for their own economic gain. Instead of adding value to their own resources, the primary products are exploited, only for wealthier nations to add value and export the added value goods back to other nations. Any profit made will work back towards the wealthy countries as the undeveloped countries require their secondary and tertiary sector goods. Essentially, the gradual transfer of all capital and resources from less developed countries to more developed countries occurs.

Global Inequality:

What dries global economic inequality? What keeps poorer countries in developing? It can be sociologists, economists, politicians, historians or the World Bank, whoever might they are having trouble in defining inequality. Let alone getting to the root of its causes while most agree that we’ve seen a global economic convergence that is to say that, most countries are catching up however slowly with the developed world. They do highlight the problems in measuring and confirming the convergence and they also highlight that many countries that Paul Collier called “Bottom billion” are being left behind and in some cases getting worse. This is the significant impact discussed in this theory of underdevelopment.


When examining this theory, it is clear that it speaks about problems faced by third world countries. According to scholars, the practical solutions are more likely to be found in the studies of those trying to solve the issues rather than those who simply speculate on the negative aspects of a model of free trade and openness that has lifted billions out of poverty. This is the whole aspect of Frank’s Theory of Underdeveloped.


Frank’s Theory of Underdevelopment

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