Anxieties around the moral effects of states of ‘dependence’ remain central to political and social debate across the world. At a time when the association between wage‐labour and a particular valorised conception of adult male independence is increasingly hard to sustain, these contests can take on new forms and new levels of intensity. Anthropology has a potentially valuable contribution to make to these discussions, having long made descriptions of particular forms of ‘dependence’ central to many of its most distinctive analytic framings. Nonetheless, the concept of ‘dependence’ itself has rarely been explicitly theorised in anthropological theory, as opposed to other concepts with which it has often been theoretically entwined, such as ‘exchange’, ‘reciprocity’ or ‘debt’, which have been subjected to more concerted theoretical investigation. The papers in this collection provide a series of comparative ethnographic explorations of the role of dependence in shaping new forms of sociality across the globe, as a contribution to the development of an anthropological understanding of the continued evolution of the term’s meaning and effect in the 21st century.