Michael Mullan - Andre Gunder Frank


Few economists have inspired so many radical intellectuals in the third world as Andre Gunder Frank, the polymath who theorised dependency as the cause of underdevelopment. Frank saw underdevelopment not as a shortcoming in progress towards prosperity, but as a dynamic process whereby the rich world "underdevelops" weaker global regions.

His impact was particularly felt in Latin America, where he spent much of a long career consisting usually of a few years in one country after another. Conventional academic success eluded him, even though today's standard measure of global impact, the Google search, spews out more than 40,000 references.

Frank was born in Berlin four years before Hitler's ascendency, whereupon his father, a Jewish leftist, organised his family's escape to Switzerland. The rest of Frank's life was spent in exile; even his eventual return to Germany followed his escape from the Pinochet tyranny in Chile, where he collaborated with Salvador Allende's socialist experiment.

In the USA, where the family moved when he was 12, Frank completed his formal schooling and ended up with a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago, with a 1957 thesis on Soviet agriculture. He claimed to have learned much more from his panoply of part-time and casual jobs - as a barman, railway labourer, school janitor, fruit-picker and much else - than from schoolbooks.

Short-term appointments at universities in the USA extended his interest beyond conventional economics. His appointment to the University of Brasilia in 1963 was in anthropology, and subsequent affiliations or visiting posts in a score of countries attest to his transgression of the artificial boundaries between history, sociology, development studies and international relations. Married by now to the radical Chilean writer Marta Fuentes, Frank taught in Mexico and Canada in the mid-1960s and moved to Chile in 1968 to spend five years at the University of Santiago. He had already achieved renown with his 1966 essay 'The Development of Underdevelopment', shortly followed by 'Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America'. At the time, economic and political thought in Latin America was grappling with explanations of the relations between the colonial heritage and the global capitalist economy. Some saw the continent's poverty as a feudal legacy, but Frank produced a coherent critique of the rich world's impact as an exploiter of resources rather than an investor in development.

Pinochet's 1973 coup, which killed or jailed many of Frank's students, sent him back to Europe: first to Germany, then for five years to Norwich as Professor of Development Studies at the University of East Anglia. He left England in 1983, complaining of the country's racist climate, to take up chair in Amsterdam, which became his permanent base. There, he nursed his wife Marta up to her death in 1993. He resented his obligatory retirement at 65, and gladly took on visiting chairs and fellowships in Canada and the USA - countries which had once declared him non grata as a notorious subversive - while continuing his prodigious output of books (more than 40) and articles (roughly 1,000), in the seven languages he mastered.

He remarried twice: first with an old flame, Nancy Howell, whom he divorced after four years, and in 2003 with Alison Candela, who supported his final struggle with cancer and survives him with Paul and Miguel, his sons by his first wife.

Andreas Frank (Andre Gunder Frank), economist and social historian,
was born on February 24, 1929. He died on April 23, 2005, aged 76.

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