Theoretical Perspectives on Global Stratification

Sociologists have for a long time problematized global stratification, highlighting it as the basis of inequality worldwide.  It refers to the arrangement of individuals and groups in societies at the international level in a hierarchy (Breen & Rottman, 2014). In this case, there emerge less endowed countries and rich ones, just as there are the poor, middle class and the rich at national and subnational levels. Various theoretical perspectives have been fronted to explain this phenomenon, including the modernization, dependency and globalization theories. The modernization theory goes that countries become modern by adopting certain cultures, practices, and beliefs that are suitable for economic and technological production. It was developed in the 1950s and relied heavily on the postulations of sociologists like Max Weber (Jiafeng, 2009). On the other hand, the dependency theory presents an antithesis of the modernization theory, arguing that less developed countries acquired and maintained such a status due to the exploitation by developed, powerful economies. It blames the poor development of third world countries on colonization. Elsewhere, the globalization theory on its part is a variant of the modernization theory, focusing on international integration and the ability of external forces to shape rapid change (Jiafeng, 2009). This paper discusses the three theoretical approaches, analyzing their biases and comparing and contrasting them to select the best among them in explaining global inequality.

The three theoretical perspectives are all biased in different ways. First, the modernization theory has been widely criticized as Eurocentric, lauding western values and defining them as the groundwork for economic take off (Breen & Rottman, 2014). The theory assumes that less developed countries are as a result of their failure to abandon traditionalist values and switch to those that foster growth and technological advancement. As such, it only applies favorably to western countries that shifted their work practices towards mass production in the 19th century and abandoned subsistence farming and other agrarian practices. Also, it suggests that less developed countries are entirely to blame for their poverty, which is against historical truth. The dependency theory is equally biased as it blames western nations on the poverty in developing countries (Marsh, 2014). The reality is that not all poverty in developing countries is due to exploitation. For instance, there are many countries that remained uncolonized yet languish in poverty. Additionally, trade between developed and developing countries is not always exploitative. There are many scenarios in which less developed countries benefit from their developed counterparts. The globalization theory refers to political, economic and cultural integration that fosters modernization in the present day (Modelski, Devezas & Thompson, 2007). However, it does not appreciate that globalization negatively affects some markets in poor countries and widens the gap between the rich and the poor. Therefore, all the three approaches are manifestly biased.

There are several similarities and differences between the dependency, modernization and globalization theories. In comparison, modernization and globalization both explain how western countries progress due to cultural change. They imply that the newfound beliefs and practices such as cultural awareness are the drivers to economic growth. They also view the poverty of developing countries as failure to adopt suitable beliefs and practices (Marsh, 2014). On its part, the dependency theory disagrees with both ideas on the view that they are Eurocentric and escape the plain fact that western countries thrive in exploiting developing countries. The modernization and dependency perspectives are also hardly applicable in the context of less developed countries. They fail to appreciate the talents and civilization of these countries that have equal potential to generate wealth. Regarding differences, modernization does not include cultural integration at the transnational level as a driver of growth and instead focuses on the adoption of new cultural beliefs and practices. Elsewhere, the dependency theory focuses on the negative aspects of westernization such as colonialism, unlike modernization and globalization that illuminates on the positive elements leading to economic growth. The best frame that explains global inequality is the dependency theory. It is logically plausible given that it has historical resonance to a large extent. Lots of developing countries are former colonies and lost their best resources to developed nations (Jiafeng, 2009). Even in the present day, the ex-colonists continue to exert undue pressure on the former colonies, forcing them into unfair trade agreements. Modern-day exploitation comes in the shape of sweatshops that benefit modernized countries and exploit the poor ones.

Therefore, global stratification is a reality to contend with in the present day and lays the ground for inequality at the highest scale. The modernization, dependency and globalization theories explain how this stratification ensues from a theoretical viewpoint, but all display some element of bias. The modernization and globalization theories are highly Eurocentric and assume the poverty of developing countries as a product of their cultural backwardness. The dependency theory on its part is an antithesis to the duo, proposing that the poverty in developing nations owes to the historical exploitation of less developed countries by the wealthy through colonization, unfair trade agreements, and sweatshops. In the end, the dependency theory offers a better explanation for global inequality.


Breen, R., & Rottman, D. B. (2014). Class Stratification: Comparative Perspectives. Routledge.

Jiafeng, W. (2009). Some Reflections on Modernization Theory and Globalization Theory: Commemorating the Twentieth Anniversary of Luo Rongqu’s Thesis” One Direction with Multiple Paths in History”. Chinese studies in history43(1), 72-98.

Marsh, R. M. (2014). Modernization theory, then and now. Comparative Sociology13(3), 261-283.

Modelski, G., Devezas, T., & Thompson, W. R. (Eds.). (2007). Globalization as evolutionary process: modeling global change. Routledge.

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