Cardoso and Faletto's "Dependency and development in Latin America" - A Bolivian perspective

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

17 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Cardoso and Faletto’s Dependency and Development in Latin America
2.1. Dependency Theory in International Relations
2.2 Dependency and Development in Latin America

3. Dependency and Development - the Case of Bolivia
3.1. The Economic Policies of the 1980s and 1990s
3.2. The success of social movements
3.3 The Government of Evo Morales

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

“Dependence is dead, long live dependence and the class struggle” thus the title of an article by the dependency theorist André Gunder Frank, published in 1974 in Latin American Perspectives. Indeed, it has often been stated that dependency theory has lost its significance in explaining underdevelopment and has thus been “relegated to footnote status in the field of development studies”[1]. Yet, in recent years, a lot of scholars have attempted to refute this statement, claiming that dependency theory still has its use in development studies, even though they have identified a number of flaws.

Emerging in parallel with other development theories in the 1950s, dependency theory mainly focuses on Latin America, the most important authors being Prebisch, Furtado, dos Santos, Frank and finally Cardoso and Faletto, whose theory this paper concentrates on. Most of the different approaches within dependency theory share several Marxist core assumptions, such as the construction of base (means and relations of production) and superstructure (the political, cultural and social consequences of these means and relations of production). On the international level, all politics, whether external or domestic, takes place within the framework of the capitalist world economy which determines the behavior of actors as well as patterns of interaction between them.

In this paper, the question of whether dependency theory as presented by Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Enzo Faletto is still useful in explaining underdevelopment will be examined considering as example the events occurring in a typical example of an underdeveloped Latin American economy – Bolivia. The recent election of the left-wing populist Evo Morales potentially represents a paradigm shift for one of the poorest Latin American countries – a shift away from the neoliberal ideology towards a still capitalist regime with a socialist flavor to it (if one is to believe the declarations of Morales’s vice president Alvaro García Linera). Applying Cardoso and Faletto’s approach to the case of Bolivia reveals its strengths, but also some methodological as well as textual weaknesses. In order to show this, the first section will present their theory as exhibited in their publication Dependency and Development in Latin America and in an article published by Cardoso in the New Left Review in 1972. The second section focuses on the events in Bolivia, pointing at strong and weak points of the approach. Section four concludes.

2. Cardoso and Faletto’s Dependency and Development in Latin America

2.1. Dependency Theory in International Relations

Development theories, which for the most part can be considered as subtheories of the World Systems Theory, began to emerge especially in the aftermath of World War II, although Lenin had already pointed at the relationship between social classes in the developed and the underdeveloped world. Decisive factors for the boom of development theories were the rebuilding of the European economies and the de-colonization of British, French and Portuguese colonies. In the context of the Cold War, the idea of a “Third World” arose and became an important subject in social science.

Dependency theory first appeared in the 1950s, with two main subtheories, the American Neo-Marxist approach and the Latin American structuralist approach. A common core assumption is the Leninist idea that the world economy can be divided into a “center” - designating the developed countries in the global North - and a “periphery” - denominating the less developed countries in the South, including the colonies and ex-colonies of the developed nations. A central premise is that even after de-colonization, there are still important ties between the developed and less developed countries, which mainly consist in the exploitation of peripheral natural resources and workforce by the center. Dependency theory, in contrast to Realism or Liberalism, stresses the importance of social classes as central actors.

The mainly North American Neo-Marxist approach as put forward by Andre Gunder Frank emphasizes that development in the center and underdevelopment in the periphery are two sides of the same coin and that development is a zero-sum game - progress in core economies necessarily implies regress in peripheral countries. Underdevelopment, according to Frank, is self-perpetuating, the only possibility for breaking the cycle being a socialist revolution. A less radical theory, the structuralist approach, was developed mainly by Latin American scientists. While Raul Prebisch, secretary general of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) from 1950-63, focuses more on the technical details of development economics, other authors like Cardoso and Faletto also take into account political and sociological issues.

2.2 Dependency and Development in Latin America

Henrique Fernando Cardoso and Enzo Faletto’s Dependency and Development in Latin America traces the socio-economic evolution of Latin American societies from colonial times until the time when the book was published. The first edition, written in Spanish, appeared in 1969, the English version followed ten years later in 1979.

The book can be divided into three parts. The first part consists of a preface which was added specifically for the English version and in which the authors very comprehensively explain their methodology and ideas. Chapter one and two of the actual book also relate to the methodology and give a short introduction into the socio-economic trends in Latin America in the time span observed.

The second part of the book, comprising the chapters three to six, contains a very elaborate analysis of different phases of the Latin American economy, from the outward expansion at the time of independence (in chapter three) to the social changes in the late 19th and early 20th century (chapter four), populism and nationalism in the 1950s (chapter five) and the internationalization of the market in the second half of the 20th century (chapter six). In these sections the authors carefully canvas the developments taking place in various countries.

The third part consists of the conclusion in chapter seven and an extensive post scriptum, touching on more recent developments.

Cardoso and Faletto’s approach to explaining development and underdevelopment in the periphery and especially in the Latin American can be summarized as follows. The authors believe in a comprehensive social science seeking “a global and dynamic understanding of social structures instead of only specific dimensions of social processes” (e.g. only economy or sociology, p. ix). Establishing a link between the socio-political situation and the relations of production which characterize national economies, they follow a Marxist approach of base and superstructure.

The Latin American economies, they argue, were built as a consequence of capitalist expansion in the United States and Europe. A general explanation of the concept of dependency is given on page 18: “The idea of dependence refers to the conditions under which alone the economic and political system can exist and function in its connections with the world productive structure”. However, they are quite reluctant to measure dependency, stating that it would make no sense to compare slavery in the southern United States with slavery in the Antilles or in Brazil only in order to assess ‘degrees of slavery’ varying from plus to minus” […] Similarly, there would be little sense in attempting to measure ‘degrees of dependency’, making formal comparisons of dependent situations (p.xii).


[1] Sanchez 2003

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Cardoso and Faletto's "Dependency and development in Latin America" - A Bolivian perspective
University of Münster  (Politikwissenschaft)
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Cardoso, Faletto, Dependency, Latin, America, Bolivian
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Nora Anton (Author), 2006, Cardoso and Faletto's "Dependency and development in Latin America" - A Bolivian perspective, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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