Modernization School of Thought

Stages, Development and Criticism of Modernization Theory

Modernization is a process of socio-cultural transformation. It is a thoroughgoing process of change involving values, norms, institutions and structures. Political dimensions of modernization involve the creation of a modern nation-state and the development of key institutions political parties, bureaucratic structures, legislative bodies and a system of elections based on universal franchise and secret ballot. Cultural modernization involves adherence to nationalistic ideology, belief in equality, freedom and humanism, and a rational and scientific outlook. Economic modernization involves industrialization accompanied by the monetization of the economy, increasing division of labour, use of management techniques and improved technology and the expansion of the service sector. Social modernization involves universalistic values, achievement motivation, increasing mobility both social and geographic increasing literacy and urbanization and the decline of traditional authority.

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Secular and scientific education act as an important means of modernization. It helps in the diffusion of modern values of equality, freedom and humanism. The modern school system can inculcate achievement motivation. These values can form the basis of new relations in the society and the growth of rationality can enable the development of the administrative system. The diffusion of values of equality, freedom and humanism can lay the foundations of a democratic political system. The spread of modern education in the second half of the 19th century led to the emergence of the modern political elite in India who provided leadership in the freedom struggle. The diffusion of scientific and technical knowledge by modern educational institutions can help in the creation of skilled manpower to play the occupational roles demanded by the industrial economy. Other values like individualism and universalistic ethics etc. can also be inculcated through education. Thus, education can be an important means of modernization. The importance of education can be realized from the fact that all modernizing societies tend to emphasize on universalization of education and the modernized societies have already attained it.


What is Modernization?

Modernization or modernisation refers to a model of an evolutionary transition from a 'premodern' or 'traditional' to a 'modern' society. The teleology of modernization is described in social evolutionism theories, existing as a template that has been generally followed by societies that have achieved modernity. While it may theoretically be possible for some societies to make the transition in entirely different ways, there have been no counterexamples provided by reliable sources.


Historians link modernization to the processes of urbanization and industrialisation, as well as to the spread of education. As Kendall (2007) notes, "Urbanization accompanied modernization and the rapid process of industrialization." In sociological critical theory, modernization is linked to an overarching process of rationalisation. When modernization increases within a society, the individual becomes that much more important, eventually replacing the family or community as the fundamental unit of society.



The Modernisation Theory of Development


Modernization theory is a grand theory encompassing many different disciplines as it seeks to explain how society progresses, what variables affect that progress, and how societies can react to that progress. Modernization theory focuses specifically on a type of modernization thought to have originated in Europe during the 17th century, which brought social mores and technological achievements into a new epoch.


Modernization theory is a theory used to explain the process of modernization within societies. The theory looks at the internal factors of a country while assuming that, with assistance, "traditional" countries can be brought to development in the same manner more developed countries have. Modernization theory attempts to identify the social variables which contribute to the social progress and development of societies and seeks to explain the process of social evolution. Modernization theory is subject to criticism originating among socialist and free-market ideologies, world-systems theorists, globalization theory and dependency theory among others. Modernization theory not only stresses the process of change but also the responses to that change. It also looks at internal dynamics while referring to social and cultural structures and the adaptation of new technologies. The following are the modernization theories for development.


Modernization theory is used to explain the process of modernization within societies. Modernization refers to a model of a progressive transition from a 'pre-modern' or 'traditional' to 'modern' society. Modernization theory originated from the ideas of German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920), which provided the basis for the modernization paradigm developed by Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902–1979). The theory looks at the internal factors of a country while assuming that with assistance, "traditional" countries can be brought to development in the same manner more developed countries have been. Modernization theory was a dominant paradigm in the social sciences in the 1950s and 1960s, then went into a deep eclipse. It made a comeback after 1990 but remains a controversial model.


Modernization theory both attempts to identify the social variables that contribute to social progress and development of societies and seeks to explain the process of social evolution. Modernization theory is subject to criticism originating among socialist and free-market ideologies, world-systems theorists, globalization theorists and dependency theorists among others. Modernization theory stresses not only the process of change but also the responses to that change. It also looks at internal dynamics while referring to social and cultural structures and the adaptation of new technologies. Modernization theory maintains that traditional societies will develop as they adopt more modern practices. Proponents of modernization theory claim that modern states are wealthier and more powerful and that their citizens are freer to enjoy a higher standard of living. Developments such as new data technology and the need to update traditional methods in transport, communication and production, it is argued, make modernization necessary or at least preferable to the status quo. That view makes a critique of modernization difficult since it implies that such developments control the limits of human interaction, not vice versa. It also implies that human agency controls the speed and severity of modernization. Supposedly, instead of being dominated by tradition, societies undergoing the process of modernization typically arrive at forms of governance dictated by abstract principles. Traditional religious beliefs and cultural traits, according to the theory, usually become less important as modernization takes hold.


Characteristics of Modernity or Modernization


In general, modernization led to the introduction of hybrids, greenhouse technology, genetically modified (GMO) food, the use of artificial fertilizers, insecticides, tractors and the application of other scientific knowledge to replace traditional agricultural practices. The above view is endorsed by Smith who pointed out that modernisation is about exchanging older agriculture practices with something more recent (Smith, 1973: 61). Agriculture societies can therefore be regarded as modern when they display specific characteristics. The extent to which these characteristics are exhibited gives an indication of the degree of modernity that has been reached. The characteristics are cited succinctly by Coetzee et al. (2007: 31) as:

¾   Readiness to accommodate the process of transformation resulting from changes.

¾   Continuous broadening of life experiences and receptiveness to new knowledge.

¾ Continuous planning, calculability and readiness towards new experiences.

¾   Predictability of action and the ability to exercise effective control.

¾   High premium on technical skills and understanding of the principles of production.

¾   Changing attitudes to kinship, family roles, family size and the role of religion.

¾   Changing consumer behaviour and the acceptance of social stratification

Stages of Modernization

Nurkse's vicious circle of poverty states that a society is poor because it is poor. A society with low income has both a low level of serving and a low level of consumption. Nurkse was in favour of attaining balanced growth in both the industrial and agricultural sectors of the economy. He recognized that the expansion and inter-sectoral balance between agriculture and manufacturing is necessary so that each of these sectors provides a market for the products of the other and in turn, supplies the necessary raw materials for the development and growth of the other. Nurkse's theory discusses how the poor size of the market in underdeveloped countries perpetuates its underdeveloped state. Nurkse has also clarified the various determinants of the market size and puts primary focus on productivity. According to him, if the productivity levels rise in a less developed country, its market size will expand and thus it can eventually become a developed economy. Apart from this, Nurkse has been nicknamed an export pessimist, as he feels that the finances to make investments in underdeveloped countries must arise from their own domestic territory.


Schumpeter's theory of motive force, process and goals, under this theory Schumpeter explained the model of development that, the generating force is provided by the entrepreneurships, the process is innovation and the goal is the establishment of a position of wealth and power of entrepreneur. The entrepreneurs disturb this equilibrium and are the prime cause of economic development, which proceeds in a cyclic fashion along with several time scales. In fashioning this theory connecting innovations, cycles, and development. Schumpeter also thought that the institution enabling the entrepreneur to purchase the resources needed to realize his or her vision was a well-developed capitalist financial system, including a whole range of institutions for granting credit. One could divide economists among, those who emphasized "real" analysis and regarded money as merely a "veil" and those who thought monetary institutions are important and money could be a separate driving force. Both Schumpeter and Keynes were among the latter.



¾   According to Alvin So, there are three main and historical elements that were favourable to the inception of the modernization theory of development after the Second World War. First, there was the rise of the United States as a superpower. While other Western nations, such as Great Britain, France, and Germany, were weakened by World War II, the United States emerged from the war strengthened, and became a world leader with the implementation of the Marshall Plan to reconstruct war-torn Western Europe.

¾   Second, there was the spread of a united world communist movement. The Former Soviet Union extended its influence not only to Eastern Europe but also to China and Korea. Third, there was the disintegration of European colonial empires in Asia, Africa and Latin America, giving birth to many new nation-states in the Third World. These nascent nation-states were in search of a model of development to promote their economy and enhance their political independence.


¾   According to the modernization theory, modern societies are more productive, children are better educated, and the needy receive more welfare. According to Smelser’s analysis, modern societies have the particular feature of social structural differentiation, that is to say, a clear definition of functions and political roles from national institutions. Smelser argues that although structural differentiation has increased the functional capacity of modern organizations, it has also created the problem of integration, and of coordinating the activities of the various new institutions.


¾   In a political sense, Coleman stresses three main features of modern societies: a) Differentiation of political structure; b) Secularization of political culture -with the ethos of equality-, which c) Enhances the capacity of a society’s political system.


¾   The major assumptions of the modernization theory of development basically are: Modernization is a phased process; for example, Rostow has 5 phases according to his theory of economic development for a particular society, and I will mention them later. Modernization is a homogenizing process, in this sense, we can say that modernization produces tendencies toward convergence among societies, for example, Levy (1967, p. 207) maintains that: “as time goes on, they and we will increasingly resemble one another because the patterns of modernization are such that the more highly modernized societies become, the more they resemble one another”.


¾   Modernization is a Europeanization or americanization process; in the modernization literature, there is an attitude of complacency toward Western Europe and the United States. These nations are viewed as having unmatched economic prosperity and democratic stability (Tipps: 1976, 14). In addition, modernization is an irreversible process, once started modernization cannot be stopped. In other words, once third world countries come into contact with the West, they will not be able to resist the impetus toward modernization.


¾   Modernization is a progressive process that in the long run is not only inevitable but desirable. According to Coleman, modernized political systems have a higher capacity to deal with the function of national identity, legitimacy, penetration, participation, and distribution than traditional political systems. Finally, modernization is a lengthy process. It is an evolutionary change, not a revolutionary one. It will take generations or even centuries to complete, and its profound impact will be felt only through time. All these assumptions are derived from European and American evolutionary theory. There is also another set of classical assumptions based more strictly on the functionalism-structuralism theory which emphasizes the interdependence of social institutions, the importance of structural variables at the cultural level, and the built-in process of change through homeostasis equilibrium. These are ideas derived especially from Parsons’ sociological theories.


¾   These assumptions are as follows: a) Modernization is a systematic process. The attribute of modernity forms a consistent whole, thus appearing in a cluster rather than in isolation; b) Modernization is a transformative process; in order for a society to move into modernity its traditional structures and values must be totally replaced by a set of modern values and c,) Modernization is an imminent process due to its systematic and transformative nature, which builds change into the social system.


¾   One of the principal applications of modernization theory has been the economic field related to public policy decisions. From this perspective, it is very well known that the economic theory of modernization is based on the five stages of development from Rostow’s model. In summary, these five stages are traditional society, the precondition for takeoff, the takeoff process, the drive to maturity, and the high mass consumption society. According to this exposition, Rostow has found a possible solution for the promotion of Third World modernization. If the problem facing Third World countries resides in their lack of productive investments, then the solution lies in the provision of aid to these countries in the form of capital, technology, and expertise. The Marshall Plan and the Alliance for Progress in Latin America, are examples of programs that were influenced by Rostow’s political theories.


¾   The strengths of modernization theory can be defined in several aspects. First, we can identify the basis of the research focus. Despite the fact that the main studies of modernization were carried out by a psychologist, a social psychologist, a sociologist of religion and a political sociologist, other authors have extended modernization theory into other spheres. For example, Bellah examines the role of the Tokugawas religion on pajanes economic development in South-East Asia with effects on villages of Cambodia, Laos and Burma; Lipset addresses the possible role of economic development in the democratization of Third World countries, and Inkeles discusses the consequences of the modernization process for individual attitudes and behaviour.


¾   A second feature of the modernization perspective is the analytical framework. Authors assume that Third World countries are traditional and that Western countries are modern. In order to develop, those poor nations need to adopt Western values. In third place, the methodology is based on general studies; for example the expositions regarding the value factors in the Third World, and the differentiation between unstable democracies, dictatorships and stable dictatorships.


The Rostow Model of Modernization

The Rostowian theory identifies the stages of Modernization as:

1.    Primitive society: The stage is characterized by subsistence farming and barter trade.

2. Preparation for take-off: The characteristics of the stage are; specialization, production of surplus goods and trade. Transport infrastructure is developed to support trade. The stage encourages savings and investment

3. Take-off: At this stage industrialization increases and the economy switches from agriculture to manufacturing.

4.   Drive to maturity: At this stage, the economy diversifies into new areas and there is less reliance on imports.

5.   Period of mass consumption: At this stage, the economy gears on mass production and the service sector becomes increasingly dominating. 


Criticism of Modernization Theory

a.    From the 1960s, modernization theory has been criticized by numerous scholars, including Andre Gunder Frank (1929 – 2005) and Immanuel Wallerstein (born 1930). In this model, the modernization of a society required the destruction of the indigenous culture and its replacement by a more Westernized one. By one definition, modern simply refers to the present, and any society still in existence is therefore modern. Proponents of modernization typically view only Western society as being truly modern and argue that others are primitive or unevolved by comparison. That view sees unmodernized societies as inferior even if they have the same standard of living as western societies. Opponents argue that modernity is independent of culture and can be adapted to any society. Japan is cited as an example by both sides. Some see it as proof that a thoroughly modern way of life can exist in a non-western society. Others argue that Japan has become distinctly more western as a result of its modernization


b. The theory has also been criticised empirically, as modernization theorists ignore external sources of change in societies. The binary between traditional and modern is unhelpful, as the two are linked and often interdependent, and 'modernization' does not come as a whole.


c.    Modernization theory has also been accused of being Eurocentric, as modernization began in Europe, with the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution and the Revolutions of 1848 (Macionis 953) and has long been regarded as reaching its most advanced stage in Europe. Anthropologists typically make their criticism one step further and say that the view is ethnocentric and is specific to Western culture.


d.   Modernization theory, on the other hand, was popular in the 1950s but was under heavy attack at the end of the 60s. Criticisms of the theory include the following: First, development is not necessarily unidirectional. This is an example of the ethnocentricity of Rostow’s perspective. Second, the modernization perspective only shows one possible model of development. The favoured example is the development pattern in the United States. Nevertheless, in contrast with this circumstance, we can see that there have been development advances in other nations, such as Taiwan and South Korea; and we must admit that their current development levels have been achieved by strong authoritarian regimes.


e.  The second set of critiques of the modernization theory regards the need to eliminate traditional values. Third World countries do not have a homogeneous set of traditional values; their value systems are highly heterogeneous. For example, Redfield 1965, distinguishes between the great traditional values (values of the elites), and the little tradition (values of the masses). The second aspect of criticism here is the fact that traditional and modern values are not necessarily always mutually exclusive: China, for example, despite advances in economic development, continues to operate on traditional values and this appears to be the same situation in Japan. Moreover, it is not possible to say that traditional values are always dichotomous from modern status, for example, loyalty to the Emperor can be transformed into loyalty to the firm.


f. The theory is criticized for failing to consider the poor as the centrepiece in poverty reduction initiatives. By ignoring the involvement and participation of the target community, modernity achieves the marginalization of their commitment, creativity and support of the intervention strategies. The intervention strategy becomes an imposed strategy and such a strategy fails to construct adequate notions of both the causal powers of social structures and the role of human agency in shaping social relations in general.


g.   Perhaps the most crippling weakness of the modernization theory is its oversimplified view of social change (Coetzee et al., 2007: 101). Human nature has a propensity to resist change in favour of the status quo. Change is resisted because it brings in elements of uncertainty.


h.   The other intriguing weakness of the modernisation theory is that it is based on deterministic reason which states that within the linear model of socio-economic development, changes are initiated externally. The determinist reason gives little room for the reciprocal relationship between causation from within the developing region and from outside the developing region


i.  Modernization is associated with development aid from developed countries. The idea was borrowed from the Marshall Plan of post-World War II. Apparently, aid can be negotiated either bilaterally or multilaterally. Whatever type of arrangement, aid (except humanitarian Matunhu 67 aid) has strings attached to them. These strings have tended to beneficiate the metropolitan states more than the recipient countries.


  1. Thanks.Short but fine note.😍😀

  2. Thanks for your good explanation i was geting a confusion on modernity theory but now i have get an idea

  3. can your share the negative effects of modernization on an economy

  4. Thanks for this.Can you do applications and criticisms of development theories

  5. Its is useful,and very helpfull.thanks .

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