Category Archives: Unit 2 – Early theories of development

Just enough modernisation for poorer countries

In the aftermath of the II World War there was a combination of variables that led to the emergence of poorer countries in the political and economic international scene.

Many industrialised states from the North were letting go of their presence in other continents. Countries (Nigeria, Senegal, DRC, etc) were left on their own at the beginning of the 1960’s.  

The end of colonialism propelled countries to internationalisation as it opened the way for new states to be born and created new territories to explore and be explored (Hewitt 2000). It was the time to modernise former colonies (Graig, Hulme and Turner, 2007). Along with the Latin American, these countries were of sudden interest in the wake of the Cold War.

World power was measured by the number of countries that supported one or the other country in the poles of the Cold War.

On the one hand there was the USA eager to buy one more ally by supporting the restructuring of a given country. On the other, there were the receptive states that quickly understood their peculiar power in this war (Graig, Hulme and Turner 2007b, p.101).

Northern industrialised states were financing the world economic restructuring – Bretton Woods – by modernising developing countries. This attention given to poorer countries allowed them to believe that they could be too in the path for economic growth.

In the Golden years of optimism, modernity was meant to be reached by economic growth. “If an economy could achieve a certain critical rate of growth, the rest would all follow” (Hewitt 2000b) – this optimism didn’t last long, though.

Modernisation theory was defined by Lerner (1972, p.386) in Graig, Hulme and Turner (2007c, p.73) “as the process of social change whereby less developed countries acquire characteristics common to more developed societies”. In this context, tradition was seen as an obstacle to economic growth and thus to capitalism (Graig, Hulme and Turner 2007d). Therefore modernisation imposed a certain degree of homogenisation of social and economic aspects.

Economic growth eventually materialised for a few developing countries but not all and “it was not a sufficient condition to establish sustained social and economic development” (Hewitt 2000c).

According to Hewitt, Seers (1963) was one of the first to recognise that developing countries required different policies because they were very distinct and “there were no fixed models for economic development”.

From my viewpoint this idea is valid until today. Every country has a cultural, social and economic background. Altogether, they provide for the context of a given society and offer researchers and politicians facts to understand how it works and why it is stranded in a certain point of evolution.

Former colonies did absorb main aspects of the colonising states as social and economic habits that got imbedded in southern societies over time.

Building on such a context I would argue that certain aspects of modernisation theory are not so outdated. Former colonisation states still look at ex-colonies as main partners for investment and they still set the rules in trade business.

Many years later, though, the promised economic growth from the 60’s is coming slowly to those southern countries in possession of valuable goods and raw materials. These developing countries – such as Angola, Nigeria, etc – understood they have the means to change the rules of the game. The trade and economic game. 


Graig, A., Hulme, D. and Turner, M. (2007) Challenging global inequality: development theory and practice in the 21st century, London: Palgrave Macmillan

Hewitt, T. (2000), Half a century of development, in Poverty and development into the 21st century, Allen, T., Thomas, A. (eds), Oxford University Press, Oxford