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Theories of Modernity

  Modernization theories, in sociology, are those theories which attempt to explain the global process through which traditional societies achieved modernity. More specifically, modernization theory refers to a model of development associated with the structural-functionalist branch of sociology developed in the US in the 1950s and 1960s.

Modernization refers to the overall societal process by which previously agrarian and contemporary societies have become developed. The term includes industrialization but incorporates a wider range of processes besides. Changes towards modernity are seen as the result of an increasing differentiation of social structures. Thus, in traditional societies many different areas of life are merged, for example home and work. In modern societies, it is argued, different areas of social life become increasingly separated from each other.

While there are important variations between different authors, there are some main threads in theories of modernity. Modern society is contrasted with traditional society which is seen as hindering economic development. Changes occur through evolutionary stages which are broadly similar for all societies. Political modernization entails the development of key institutions—political parties, parliament, voting rights and secret ballots—which support participation by all in decision making. Cultural modernization typically involves the decline of religion as an explanation for events and the rise of secular scientific explanations. Modernization is believed to involve the development of nationalism. Economic modernization is seen to involve profound economic changes an increasing division of labour, the use of management techniques, and improved technologies. Social modernization is believed to involve increasing literacy and urbanization, among other things.

A number of criticisms have been made of modernization theories. It is based on the model of development in the West and is thus a culturally arrogant model of development, which ignores the possibility of the development of novel societal forms in the Third World. Further it is argued that modernization does not necessarily lead to industrial growth and equal distribution of social benefits since it does not occur evenly and has resulted in the underdevelopment and dependency of some areas. Modernization theories have also been criticized for only examining processes which occur within a society rather than factors outside of it. Thus, they ignore colonialism as an important factor influencing the development of many Third World countries.

Critics point out that behind modernization theories lay both political and ideological concerns. Many of the main theorists were from the US and involved in governmental advisory roles, and explicitly committed to the curtailment of Socialism or Communism in the Third World. DA

See also bureaucracy; community; convergence thesis; culture; dependency theory; diffusionism; evolutionism; functionalism; globalization; historical sociology; labour process; organization; postmodernism; rationalization; secularization; society; state; world system; values.Further reading D. Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society; , W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth.



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