9.3 Explaining global stratification – Sociology (2023)

learning goals

  1. Describe the main arguments of modernization theory.
  2. Describe the main arguments of dependency theory.

Explanations of global stratification correspond to those of US stratification (cfChapter 8 "Social Stratification") in its focus on individual versus structural problems. One type of explanation takes an individual approach, actually blaming people in poorer nations for their own poverty, while a second explanation takes a structural approach, blaming the plight of poor nations for their treatment by richer nations. Again, there is evidence for both types of explanation, but many sociologists prefer the structural explanation.Table 9.2 “Theory Snapshot”summarizes both types of explanations.

Table 9.2theoretical snapshot

theorymain assumptions
modernization theoryRich nations got rich because they were able to develop the beliefs, values, and practices necessary for trade, industrialization, and rapid economic growth to take place early. Poor nations have remained poor because they have failed to develop these beliefs, values ​​and practices; Instead, they continued to follow traditional beliefs and practices that hindered industrial development and modernization.
dependency theoryThe poverty of poor nations stems from their colonization by European nations, which exploited the resources of poor nations and enslaved their people or used them as cheap labor. Colonial nations were therefore unable to develop a professional and business class that would enable them to enter the industrial age and develop their economies.

modernization theory

The individual declaration is called upmodernization theory(McClelland, 1967; Rostov, 1990). According to this theory, rich nations got rich because they were able to develop early on the "right" beliefs, values, and practices -- in short, the right culture -- for trade, industrialization, and rapid economic growth to take place. . These cultural traits include a willingness to work hard, to abandon traditions in favor of new ways of thinking and acting, and to adopt a future orientation rather than an orientation to perpetuating current conditions.

Modernization theory has direct relevance to the Western European experience. According to the theory, Western European nations began to develop into centers of economic power several centuries ago because their populations adopted the values ​​and practices just listed. Max Weber (1904/1958), one of the founders of sociology, wrote that Western Europe was able to do this because the Protestant Reformation reduced the Catholic Church's traditional distrust of material success and social and economic change. The new Protestant ethic adopted by Western Europeans emphasized the importance of hard work and material success in one's life, rather than the traditional Church emphasis on rewards in the afterlife.

According to modernization theory, poor nations are poor because their people have never developed values ​​such as an emphasis on hard work.

United Nations Photo –OLS brings support to overburdened medical services– CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

(Video) Sociology- Introduction to Sociology Chapter 10 Global Inequality/Global Stratificaiton

According to modernization theory, nations in other parts of the world never got rich and remain poor today because they never developed the appropriate values ​​and practices. Instead, they continued to follow traditional beliefs and practices that hindered industrial development and modernization.

Modernization theory has much in common with the culture of poverty theory discussed inChapter 8 "Social Stratification". He attributes the poverty of poor nations to their failure to develop the "right" beliefs, values, and practices needed for economic success both at the dawn of industrialization in the 19th century and in the two centuries that followed. Because modernization theory implies that people in poor countries lack the talent and ability to improve their situation, it falls under the functionalist explanation of stratification.

It should be clear that modernization theory has direct implications for global poverty reduction strategies. The theory implies that people in poor countries need to learn the right beliefs, values, and practices in order to be economically successful. If they don't, they will prevent themselves from benefiting as much as possible from the financial aid they receive from wealthy nations, with much of that aid being wasted.

dependency theory

The structural explanation for the global stratification is calleddependency theory. Not surprisingly, views of this theory strongly challenge the assumptions of modernization theory (Packenham, 1992). While modernization theory attributes global stratification to “wrong” cultural values ​​and practices in poor nations, dependency theory blames global stratification for the exploitation of those nations by rich nations. According to this view, poor nations never had a chance for economic growth because they were conquered and colonized by Europeans from an early age. European nations stole the resources of poor nations and enslaved their people or used them as cheap labor. They set up their own governments and often prevented local people from getting a good education. As a result, colonized nations were unable to develop a professional and entrepreneurial class that would allow them to enter the industrial age and develop their economies. Along the way, rich nations sold their own produce to colonized nations, forcing them into huge debts that continue to mount to this day. Because dependency theory implies that poor nations remain poor due to a lack of opportunities due to exploitation by rich nations, it falls under the stratification conflict perspective.

In today's world, big multinationals continue to exploit the labor and resources of poorer nations, dependency theorists say. These corporations operate factories in many countries where workers work in inhumane conditions for extremely low wages (Sluiter, 2009). Corporations often work hand-in-hand with corrupt officials from poor nations to increase their economic stakes in countries. An example of this dynamic occurred in Nigeria, a poor country in West Africa, in the 1990s, where oil company Royal Dutch/Shell was producing half of that country's oil at the time. Activists in southern Nigeria began to claim that Shell's oil drilling was destroying their land and that Shell was underpaying for the oil. In response to their protests, the government sent in the police at Shell's request, with Shell paying part of the police costs. The police suppressed the activists' protests by destroying several villages and killing 2,000 people (Lewis, 1996).

(Video) GLOBAL Stratification

Dependency theory also has direct implications for global poverty reduction strategies. Quite simply, the theory implies that rich nations and multinational corporations should stop exploiting poor nations' resources. Until then, poor nations will not be able to tap into their natural resources and enter the industrial age. Some dependency theorists also say that poor nations should limit their imports of goods from rich nations and that rich nations should be forbidden from investing in poor nations.

Which makes more sense, modernization theory or dependency theory? Like many theories, both make sense to some extent (see the Learning from other societies box), but both have their weaknesses. Modernization theory places too much blame on poor nations for their own poverty and ignores the long history of exploitation of poor nations by rich nations and multinational corporations alike. The dependency theory, for its part, cannot explain why some of the poorest countries are poor even though they were never European colonies; Nor can it explain why some former colonies like Hong Kong have managed to achieve sufficient economic growth to break out of the ranks of the poorest nations. Together, both theories help us understand the reasons for global stratification, but most sociologists would probably prefer dependency theory because it emphasizes structural factors in the historical and current world economy.

Learning from other societies

Why is Haiti so poor: culture or exploitation?

In January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. The earthquake reportedly killed more than 200,000 people, about 2.5% of Haiti's population, injured 300,000 and left 1 million homeless. Because Haiti had ramshackle buildings, weak infrastructure, and inadequate public services, many more people died or suffered in this earthquake than in earthquakes of similar magnitude in wealthier countries.

In the wake of this natural disaster, a flurry of news articles and opinion columns debated why Haiti was so poor before the earthquake, despite the efforts of thousands of international organizations over the past few decades. The contrasting positions presented in these articles reflect the views of modernization and dependency theories presented in the text and illustrate the complexity of understanding global poverty.

Borrowing views from modernization theory, some observers have attributed Haiti's situation to a culture of poverty. They noted that Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic that is not as poor as Haiti. Not only do the two nations share a common location and climate, but they also share a similar history of colonialism and government corruption. Given these similarities, why was Haiti so desperately poorer than the Dominican Republic?

To answer this question, Jonah Goldberg, opLos Angeles TimesColumnist, argued, “Haiti's problems largely boil down to a culture of poverty. Haitians do not lack a desire to improve their lives, nor do they reject hard work. But what they lack is a legal, social and intellectual culture conducive to economic growth and entrepreneurship” (Goldberg, 2010, p. 9A). Western nations, he continued, must do more than help Haiti and other poor nations, they must also teach them "how to stop being poor." The people of those nations, he said, need to learn the concept ofentrepreneurship(the development and running of a business) and they also need to learn to be entrepreneurs.

Taking a similar stance, David Brooks, opNew York TimesColumnist, wrote that several aspects of Haitian culture contribute to the nation's poverty and inhibit its ability to achieve economic growth. First, Haitians' voodoo religion leads them to believe that life is unpredictable and that planning is futile. Second, Haitians have high levels of social distrust and low sense of personal responsibility. Third, parental neglect is common in early childhood. Brooks concluded, "We should all be politely respectful of each other's cultures. But some cultures are more resilient to progress than others, and a terrible tragedy [the earthquake damage in Haiti] was only aggravated by one of them” (Brooks, 2010, p. A27).

Borrowing the dependency theory, other observers have attributed Haiti's deep poverty to its colonial history, which puts it at a severe disadvantage even compared to other formerly colonized nations. Michele Wucker, executive director of the World Policy Institute, and Ben Macintyre, columnist at theThe timesfrom London both wrote that Haiti was a prosperous French slave colony before a bloody revolution in 1804 won independence from the Haitians. The economy of the new nation suffered for two reasons. First, the revolution destroyed much of the country's agriculture and infrastructure. Second, France used ships to block Haitian trade and demanded that Haiti pay huge compensation equivalent to about $13 billion to restore normal trade and diplomatic relations. To do this, Haiti had to borrow huge amounts from banks in Western countries at very high interest rates. The consequences for Haiti were devastating, wrote Macintyre (2010, p. 30):

(Video) Global Stratification

Burdened by this financial burden, Haiti was born almost bankrupt. In 1900, around 80% of the national budget was consumed by debt repayments. Money that could have been spent on building a stable economy went to foreign bankers. as well as the whims of nature and the plunder of the autocrats.

Haiti's situation only worsened when US Marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and when a series of corrupt dictators "devastated Haiti economically," added Wucker (Smith, 2010). In short, as one headline put it, Haiti's extreme poverty stems from a "crippling legacy of imperialism" (Macintyre, 2010).

where is the truth Does Haiti's current poverty owe more to its culture or more to its history of colonialism and imperialism? People who favor modernization theory would respond to culture, and those who favor dependency theory would respond to colonialism and imperialism. In the end, both sets of factors are likely to play a role. The poverty debate in Haiti shows that the experiences of other societies can shed light on theories about global poverty and, in turn, can help us understand what types of policies have the greatest potential to help poor nations.

Main Conclusions

  • According to modernization theory, rich nations became rich because their people possessed certain values, beliefs, and practices conducive to acquiring wealth. Poor nations have remained poor because their peoples lacked these values, beliefs and practices and never developed them.
  • According to dependency theory, poor nations stayed poor because they were exploited by rich nations and multinational corporations.

for your report

  1. Which theory makes more sense to you, modernization theory or dependency theory? explain your answer
  2. What strategies does modernization theory propose to help poor nations? What strategies does dependency theory propose to help poor nations?

Reducing Global Stratification: What Sociology Suggests

Years of international aid to poor nations have helped them somewhat, but as this chapter has shown, their situation remains grim. International aid experts acknowledge that efforts to promote economic growth in poor countries have largely failed, but disagree on why this is so and what alternative strategies might be more successful (Cohen & Easterly, 2009). One trend has been a shift from "macro" efforts, focused on infrastructure issues and social services such as schools, to "micro" efforts, such asMicrofinance) and giving them bed nets to prevent mosquito bites, but the evidence for the success of these efforts is mixed (Bennett, 2009;The economist, 2010). Obviously much more needs to be done.

In this sense, sociology's structural approach is consistent with dependency theory and suggests that global stratification results from the history of colonialism and today's continued exploitation of poor nations' resources by rich nations and multinational corporations. To the extent that such exploitation exists, global poverty will decrease precisely as that exploitation decreases. As suggested in the box “Sociology makes a difference,” a sociological approach also emphasizes the role that class, gender, and ethnic inequality play in perpetuating global poverty. To reduce global poverty, gender and ethnic inequalities must be reduced.

Authors Kristof and WuDunn (2009) emphasize the need to focus efforts on reducing global poverty among women. We've already seen one reason why this emphasis makes sense: women are far worse off than men in poor countries in many ways, so helping them is crucial for both economic and humanitarian reasons. Another reason is particularly telling: when women in poor countries earn extra money, they typically spend it on food, clothing, and medicine, essential necessities for their families. However, when men in poor countries earn extra money, they often spend it on alcohol, tobacco and gambling. This gender difference may sound like a cliché, but it indicates that women's support is helpful in many ways, while men's support may be less effective and often even wasted.


Bennett, D. (2009, September 20). A little change.The Boston Globe. recovered fromhttp://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/2009/2020/small_change_does_microlending_actually_fight_poverty/#.

(Video) Chapter 9: Global Stratification

Brooks, D. (2010, January 14). The underlying tragedy.The New York Times newspaper, p. A27.

Cohen, J. & Easterly, W. (Hrsg.). (2009).What works in development? Think big and think small. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Goldberg, J. (2010, August 3). End Poverty: Export Capitalism.United States today, See. 9a.

Kristof, ND, & WuDunn, S. (2009, August 23). The Women's Crusade.The New York Times newspaper, p. MM28.

Lewis, P. (1996 February 13). Nigeria's deadly war: Shell defends its recordThe New York Times newspaper, p. 1.

Macintyre, B. (2010, January 21). The fault line in Haiti goes straight to France.The times(London), p. 30.

McClelland, DC (1967).the conquering society. New York, NY: Free Press.

Packenham, R.A. (1992).The Dependency Movement: Science and Politics in Development Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rostov, W. W. (1990).The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Nova York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Save and the poor: A better mattress. (2010, March 11).Economist, 394(8673), 75–76.

(Video) Sociology Week 9 lesson 4 global stratification and human development issues

Obturador, L. (2009).Clean Clothes: A Global Movement to End Sweatshops. Nova York, NY: Pluto-Presse.

Smith, K.F. (2010, January 16). Haiti: a historical perspective.news week. recovered fromhttp://www.newsweek.com/2010/2001/2015/haiti-a-historical-perspective.html.

Weber, M. (1958).The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism(T. Parsons, trans.). New York, NY: Scribner. (Original work published 1904).


1. Global Stratification & Globalization - Part 1 of 3 (Professor Marie Huntsinger)
(Online EdVantage)
(Malik Waqas-Vlog)
3. Chapter 9 - Global Stratification
(Gerald Titchener)
4. Chapter IV: Theories of Global Stratification
(Decire Tindaan Hiteg)
5. Global Stratification
(Donya Clara Channel)
6. Theories of Global Stratification
(Kimberly Macasandag)


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