From ArticleWorld

The metropolis-hinterland theory posits that some parts of the world which have more value-adding resources and more power use trade and colonialism to exploit and hold back other areas (hinterlands) which likely have abundant natural resources and manpower but not the political or social power to resist the metropolis. The concept encompasses both the suggestion of economic imperialism and the idea of cultural emulation of the metropolis. While there is a positive interpretation, that eventually hinterlands 'catch up' to the same stage of development as the metropolis, there is also epistomological criticism of the idea.

Historical context

The term was coined by Canadian economist Harold Adam Innis to describe the relationship between Ontario, or more specifically, Toronto, which was the seat of political power and cosmopolitanism, and central Canada which, though the manufacturing heartland of the country, has been comparatively disadvantaged in terms of economic development and power-sharing. The metropolis-hinterland connection is akin to that postulated earlier between the centre of the British empire, and the various peripheral colonial outposts that were essential to its economic and therefore technological and cultural development. At its most extreme, the metropolis-hinterland connections is posited as parallel to that between civilization and barbarism, invoking Plato's doctrine of natural slavery. After the Greek victory in the Persian Wars, Plato suggests, it was right for them to 'either to render death unto the barbarians or to enslave them.'

How regions are defined

In the metropolis-hinterland and centre-periphery concepts, the focus is on how the centre or metropolis 'distort(s) and retard(s)' the economic and social development of the periphery, ensuring that its standard of living remains lower and that it has poorly-functioning social, political, and economic institutions. These factors keep workers less skilled and educated, and makes it easier for the centre to exploit cheap human resources and divert natural resources to itself, so it can add value to them and earn exponentially more than the periphery does from the raw materials. This division permeates the realm of culture too, with there being a normative equation between having power and wealth, and a culture, including social and work culture, perceived as more advanced. The idea suggests that a metropolis or centre is identified as such – economic and political power, a high standard of living, an educated workforce, manufacturing that adds value, and a tertiary sector of industry – because of superior ways of doing things. Therefore the aim of peripheries is always to reach that stage of development so they can then create new hinterlands to serve their new metropolis status.


While the metropolis-hinteerland theory is generally seen as sympathetic to the hinterland, a school of thought in the social sciences suggests that the division is problematic. The suggestion that hinterlands need to play catch-up suggests that there is only one, aggressive model of development. This subtext is often seen as the result of reification of the epistomological categories of metropolis or centre, and hinterland or periphery. They are made to seem natural, in large part so the more powerful parties can preserve the illusion that they are and always will be more advanced or developed. Authors such as Arturo Escobar make the point that development is presented as a teleological process, with the ultimate aim being to become a clone of the Western world. But since in this model the West is always ahead, its hegemony will continue to be maintained even when Third World peripheries seem to morph into centres. The parallel with barbarism in particular is seen as problematic, and Johannes Fabian writes that physical distance and differences in status and power are presented as a case of the hinterland being behind 'in time', and by extension not as far down the continuum of cultural and human advancement.