Those who wonder what has happened to issues and debates about dependency can turn to Robert Packenham’s impassioned overview and learn that the “movement” is very much alive, not dead, as André Gunder Frank proclaimed nearly 20 years ago. While acknowledging some dependency propositions as “innovative, interesting, and correct” (p. 318), Packenham is deeply concerned about the movement’s “Marxist socialism” (p. 38) and its impact on intellectuals and, in particular, on mainstream social science and development studies. Consequently, this book presents an unusually strong polemical, critical, and contentious perspective; defends liberal and conservative views in the search for scholarship and truth; sees partisan activities as illegitimate; and affirms that dependency scholars are misguided in their policy preferences and theoretical understandings.

In an effort to overcome two decades of silence and frustration with an academic community he perceives as infused with radical views and committed to combining scholarship with activism and change in the real world, Packenham casts his net widely, presumably with the intention of persuading academics to return to the traditional mainstream of their disciplines. But the range of his criticism and the many thinkers it touches surely will provoke reaction and debate.

This book is useful in many ways, yet limited by its particular perspective. It characterizes dependency thinking as Marxist; yet it ignores much of the Marxist literature since the mid-1970s that has either rejected or transcended the dependency question through different approaches, such as the theories of internationalization of capital, state, or new social movements. In general, it is insensitive to or unaware of the nuances of Marxist theory and the contradictions between Marxist and dependency premises.

The book identifies dependency as a response to vulgar Marxism, but it does not associate vulgar Marxism with the sectarian Communist parties. Instead, it cites Paul Baran as an example of vulgar Marxism while neglecting to note that Baran’s work was widely read in Latin America in the late 1950s as an alternative Marxist thought that inspired ideas about underdevelopment.

Packenham offers a useful, detailed, and devastating textual analysis and critique of the work of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, but exaggerates Cardoso’s influence on dependency thinking by focusing on U.S. social science. Packenham contrasts Cardoso’s thinking with that of André Gunder Frank while only cursorily referring to Theotonio Dos Santos, Ruy Mauro Marini, Pablo González Casanova, and other writers who were prominent and should be dealt with more carefully. Furthermore, the review does not fully examine how the positions of dependency thinkers have changed, especially since the democratic transitions from dictatorships in the early 1980s; Ernesto Laclau and Francisco Weffort are two examples.

An interesting typology of dependency is provided here; yet this heuristic scheme leads to confusion. For example, “orthodox dependency” (Frank’s notion of capitalist development or underdevelopment) might be understood by some Marxists as unorthodox capitalism, while many Marxists would assert that neither view approximates Marxism.

Packenham correctly asserts that the dependency approach is “fundamentally about capitalism versus socialism” (p. 299). But the assumption that all dependistas envision a socialist rather than a capitalist system distorts the reality; many of them initially prefer reformist and peaceful capitalist development, while others have argued for revolution as the means to overcome dependency and eventually reach socialism.

Packenham also chastises the Latin American Studies Association for “politicizing the academy. He associates Latin Americanists in general with the “misguided” dependency movement in a chapter that belongs elsewhere than in this book. Yet at the same time he fails to trace how Latin American history, conditions, and ideas have dramatically influenced those who have sought to move away from traditional ethnocentrism and toward solidarity with colleagues to the south.