Modernization theory

Modernization theory is the theory used to summarize modern transformations of social life. Throughout certain periods of time, modernization theories attempt to identify the social variables which contribute to the social progress and development of certain societies and seek to explain the details of social evolution. Not surprisingly, modernization theories are subject to much criticism stemming from the views of the communist and capitalist parties, world systems theorists, and globalization theory and Dependency theory. Modernization theory not only stresses the process of change, but also the response to that change. It also looks at internal dynamics referring to social and cultural structure and the adaptation of new technologies.

Earliest expressions of the theory

Historically, the idea of modernization is relatively new. Its basic principles can be derived from the Age of Enlightenment with the idea that people themselves could develop and change their society. French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet was involved in the origins of the theory with the concept that technological advancements and economical changes will enable change in people's moral and cultural values in society. Condorcet was the first to make the economic-social development connection and that there can be continuous progress and improvement in human affairs. With that said, new advancements and improvements would be needed in the process of the constantly changing world. Furthermore, he encouraged technological processes to help give people further control over their environments, arguing that technological progress will eventually spur social progress.
In addition to social structure and the evolution of societies, French philosopher Emile Durkheim, who is considered one of the founding fathers of sociology, developed the concept of functionalism which stresses the interdependence of the institutions of a society and their interaction in maintaining cultural and social unity. His most famous work is The Division of Labour in Society which described how social order was to be maintained in a society and how "primitive" societies would make the transition to more economically advanced industrial societies. Durkheim suggested that in a capitalist society, with the complex division of labour, such economic regulation would be needed in order to maintain order. He stressed that the major transition from a primitive social order to a more advanced industrial society could bring about crisis and disorder. Furthermore, Durkheim developed the idea of social evolution which indicates how societies and cultures develop over time-much like that of a living organism, essentially saying that social evolution is just like biological evolution in reference to the development of its components. Like organisms, societies progress through several stages generally starting at a simplistic level, and then developing into a more complex level. Societies adapt to their surrounding environments, but they interact with other societies which further contributes to their progress and development.

State Theory

Internal situations in societies immediately affect their processes of modernization. A state in which favorites are rewarded and governmental corruption is prevalent causes the state to suffer in terms of modernization. can repress the state's economic development and productivity and leads money and resources to flow out to other countries. Within states, power can be used as a tool for economic removal and can lead the state to be untamed. Such mechanisms slow the process of modernization and lead to the need for that institution to sort out all internal conflicts in order to modernize. Socially these institutions will not gain any economic development until internal conflicts are sorted out.

State theory is said to be mixed with politics and that each country will have a unique start to its development. For a country to become more developed it is said that they need stability outside as well as inside the country. The State theory essentially implies that in order for modernization to grow and for societies to become more developed, the state must be tamed and their power to seize private property must be curtailed. From the taming of the state, a capitalist economy will arise resulting in mass efforts to become more productive-thus supporting the internal modernization of that society.

Globalization and modernization

Globalization can be defined as the integration of economic, political and social cultures and is related to the spreading of modernization throughout the world. It theorizes the development of a global economy in the sense that the world is moving in the direction of one cultural society.

Mass tourism could not have developed without air travel. Annual trans border tourist arrivals rose to 456 million by 1990 and are expected to double again, to 937 million per annum, by 2010 (Knowles, 1994: FT,7 January 1997: V11). Communication is another major area that has grown due to modernization. Communication industries have enabled capitalism to spread throughout the world. Telephone calls, television broadcasts, news services and online service providers, have become highly profitable throughout the world.

  • Negative aspects of globalization

Even though there are many positive attributes to globalization, there are also many negative consequences. The disparity between the rich and the poor has widened over the years. In many of the major cities in developing countries there are high rise buildings with most of the technologies of the modernized nations. Computers, cell phones and satellite television connect people with the rest of the world. However right outside these businesses and organizations there is poverty seen all around. Children begging for money to get their next meal and in villages people walking for miles to get water.

There is a recurring sense of people being left behind. These people who are abandoned are then exposed to various types of criminal activities. Drugs, prostitution, child labor are some areas of corruption that has been enhanced by globalization.
Crime is one of the biggest downfalls of globalization. Criminal activities have thrived due to the development of the internet. Internet pedophile crime has increased with globalization. Inappropriate pictures of minors are distributed around the world.
The growth of tourism and the entertainment business has turned prostitution into a big business on a global scale. Therefore the trafficking of women and children to different parts of the globe has increased over the years.


New technology is a major source of social change. Since modernization deals with social change from agrarian societies to industrial ones, it is important to look at the technological viewpoint. New technologies do not change societies by itself. Rather, it is the response to technology that causes change. Frequently, technology will be recognized but not put to use for a very long time. Take for example the ability to extract metal from rock. It was not just a new technology at one time, but one that had profound implications for the course of societies. It was always there, but went unused for a great period of time. As Neil Postman has said, "technological change is not additive; it is ecological. A new technology does not merely add something; it changes everything". People in society are always coming up with new ideas and better ways of making life easier and more enjoyable. Technology makes it possible for a more innovated society and broad social change. What becomes of this is a dramatic change through the centuries that has evolved socially, industrially, and economically, summed up by the term modernization. Cells phones, for example, have changed lives of millions throughout the world. This is especially true in Africa and other parts of the Middle East where there is a low cost communication infrastructure. Therefore, widely dispersed populations are connected, it facilitates other business's communication among each other, and it provides internet access, which also gives greater value in literacy. In addition to technology being a great social and economic advancement, it also grants these more dependent societies to become more modernized despite internal conflicts or repressive governments, allowing them to reap the benefits of such technoloigcal advancements.

Throughout the world new technology has also helped people recover after the impact of natural disasters. In Sri Lanka after the Tsunami many people lost their livelihoods. A new technology in the coir industry has helped them get back on their feet. According to Zack Taylor of USAID, this new tecnology has brought the indigenous industry into the modern age. Coir products are made from fibrous husks of the coconut. Using a new technology called the decorticator, workers can extract coir fiber in a single day. In the past they have had to soak the coconut husks in salt water for 6-8 months. Until they are soft enough to be separated by hand. This new method of the coir industry will improve the income opportunities of the community that was once devastated. This project is being funded by USAID.


Among the scientists who contributed much to this theory are Walt Rostow, who in his The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (1960) concentrates on the economic system side of the modernization, trying to show factors needed for a country to reach the path to modernization in his Rostovian take-off model. David Apter concentrated on the political system and history of democracy, researching the connection between democracy, good governance and efficiency and modernization. David McClelland (The Achieving Society, 1967) approached this subject from the psychological perspective, with his motivations theory, arguing that modernization cannot happen until a given society values innovation, success and free enterprise. Alex Inkeles (Becoming Modern, 1974) similarly creates a model of modern personality, which needs to be independent, active, interested in public policies and cultural matters, open for new experiences, rational and being able to create long-term plans for the future.???

Women and the Modernization Theory

Ever since the late 19th century, political and social constitutions have been hazy regarding the status of women roles within society. Yet, like comparative studies of democracy, comparisons of the status of women tend to be still and nonchalant. By contrast, linking modernization theory-or the Marxist critique, to studies on the status of women provides a dynamic that can illuminate both. The little that modernization theory says about women reflects the general liberal assumptions about development: that it is a linear, cumulative process that it is expansionist and diffusionist, and that value differences-traditional versus modern-are central. From the beginning, it was recognized that women were an anomaly less easily made into modern economic or political participants than men. Women's desire for autonomy and success is seen as an important inter-mediary variable in the development of modernization. If they are not free to succeed and fill the opportunities that exist, how will their contributions ever help in the process of modernization? Thus, standard liberal theory sees women and development as part of an overall process of modernization-technology, the movement from subsistence to a cash economy, and the development of complex organizations that increase the need for labor mobility. Any differences between male and female absorption into this process are seen as a failure of diffusion, not as a failure of the model itself. The process of modernization itself, and the administration of development policies and programs, is perceived as sex-neutral or as particularly advantageous to women, who have been more hemmed in than men by traditional values circumscribing their roles. Boserup, author of “Women’s Roles in economic Development”, argues that other aspects of modernization are also detrimental to women: urbanization cuts women off from their kinship support networks, there are fewer jobs in the modern sector, and the jobs that are available are often closed to women because of sex stereo- typing. Women are seen as reproducers, not producers; welfare cases, not workers. If this is the case, then women will never fully be included in the progress of modernization. Feminist rights have been greatly changed since then and women now hold jobs in the stratification system. Their contribution to the modernization theory has greatly affected societies and helped establish a firm hand in status of women roles.


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