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Sociological Analysis Of Modernization Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2989 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The most sophisticated theories of modernization emphasize the role of a wide variety of social and institutional variables and carry out a mainly sociological analysis of the transition (Larrain 1989:87) Discuss.

Modernization is the process of making something modern. It is linked with newness and the idea of society and the economy evolving. Modernization theory became prominent in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The theory is concerned with both then economic and social factors in which encourage development and growth. Modernization theories often explain a series of growth stages that a society will progress through towards modernization. This essay will focus on the social variables and theories that are important in explaining modernization. However, modernization theories have received much debate and other theories and critics, will too, be examined.

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Modernization theory was a great importance after World War II, and the differences between the first world and second and third world were important to the theory. Many policies were made for development of the third world which were focused around the modernization of economies and societies. The theories of modernization have also always focused on the ideas of two types of society, the traditional structures and the modern society. These two social structures are historically connected through an evolutionary process which followed certain general laws (Gwynne, 2008). Modernization involves a mixture of development factors such as technological change, changing values and attitudes, and capital accumulation. However, highest priority is often given to social changes such as values, norms and beliefs that would prompt related change in the spheres of development.

It could be argued as in Larrian’s words, that the most sophisticated theories of modernization do emphasize the role of a wide variety of social and institutional variables and carry out a mainly sociological analysis of the transition. Economic theories are plentiful and of great importance, but the incorporation of new ideas brought up sociological theories of modernization. Bohman (1996) says;

‘Modernization theory claimed a high correlation existed in the Third World societies between the degrees of modernization and the diffusion of Western-style cultural and attitudinal traits.’

The sociological theory explains the need for removing all social and cultural barriers which are slowing modernization. Brohman (1996) states that

‘The interlinking of changes in both economic and non-economic factors (e.g.; in attitudes toward work, wealth, savings, and risk taking) could then take place in a mutually reinforcing manner to support development.’

Social barriers can be seen in many social theories, such as those by Weber and Parson’s.

The sociological view on modernization can be seen through many theories. Modernization can, at large, be seen as created by social and cultural factors and many sociologists have argued this theory of modernization. There is a long historical tradition within social sciences of the transition from traditional to modern societies.

Firstly, Post World War II Max Weber wrote on modernization and suggests that a society can be constructed by deep routed traditions and beliefs, in which effect everyday life, and thus society. Weber focuses on a religious aspect to the modernization of society. According to Weber it is important that a society is organised once capitalism has emerged, and that religious ideas were crucial in the development of capitalism in the world. Weber sought to explain that factors especially those concerned with industrialization were responsible for making modern western societies different from others. Brohman (1996);

‘He stressed the appearance of rationalization; actual process that he believed was peculiar to western society’.

The theories suggested by Weber include social and institutional variables such as religion, culture and work ethics which will hinder or favour development and the modernization of a country. Cultural differences can be seen between modern western countries and less developed ones.

Talcott Parsons continues Weber’s ideas with his theory of modernization. His theory views social values, norms and institutions as playing a crucial role in determining the potential for development of various societies. Brohman (1996)

‘Development involved much more than simply initiating economic changes; new values, norms, institutions, and organizations had to be introduced to transform the old social order’

Therefore if a society were to modernize, elements of traditional societies that were restricting modernization needed to be replace (Brohman). Parsons uses the idea of the modern ‘ideal’ of social values in order for capitalisation to occur. A set of variables were suggested that were thought to differentiate traditional from modern values.

The first variable is concerned with status by achievement or ascriptive criteria. A modern society is stratified by qualifications and experiences, whereas traditional society gains status through it being ascribed or through ethnicity. The second looks at the governance of patterns of interaction by universalilism versus particularism. A modern organization will have rules and regulations in which apply to everyone and lead to systematic efficiency. On the other hand, traditional society organisations may favour or discriminate certain individuals. The third variable focuses on role expectations. Gwynne (2008);

‘The roles which the individual within the society expect one another to


A social value system is linked to role expectations within a society which are encouraged by rewards and punishment. In modernized countries the expected or normal behaviour is one which is necessary for capitalism, such as risk taking, profit motivation and non-familial organisations. Larrain (2000) says;

‘The entrepreneur is the agent of development because of being hard working, rational, willing to take risks, etc.’

Studies on Modernization can be applied to Parsons variables. Lipset (1967) uses Latin America as a case study. Lipset suggests that the behaviour characteristics of Latin American societies are preventing it from modernization. These behavioural characteristics were those of weak achievement motivation and weak work ethic. As they do not have the role expectations of a modern society, then modernization can therefore be stunted.

A further view on modernization, rather different than Parson, from a sociological view point is that of Gino Germani. This saw that social change was occuring at different speeds to that of economic growth. One stage of social change may occur in different stages of modernization. Therefore, traditional society can live along side a modernizing capital. His thesis was threefold, and gave a similar contrast in the societies of modern and traditional cities. For example, in a traditional society, change is not the norm, whereas in industrial society change it is quite normal. This therefore emphasises that the type of stage a society is in, and the role expectations they will have, will influence modernization. Germani also points out institutional variations between the traditional and the modern world. The traditional world will not have structure and institution, whereas, the modern world will have structure and institutions with specialised functions.

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Germani’s theory progresses with the idea that knowledge must be present for the change of the modernization process to occur. Knowledge included science and technology, and knowledge must be guided by philosophy and theology. His theory also links to the social norms and behaviours of society. He focuses on the way people are socially stratified and suggests that a society shall move from traditional norms to modern norms, and then the social stratification must change. For example, a stratification bases on inheritance must change to achievement, therefore, social mobility must be changed for modernization to occur.

The social analysis of modernization was adopted post second world war in Latin America. As modernization occurred else where in the world, ideas from other countries effected theories of development in Latin America. A change can be seen as cultural identities were being changed, and therefore theories started to shift towards the social sciences. There was thus great interest in the structure of Latin American societies.

Sociologists in the 1940’s and 50’s were suggesting a transition from traditional society to modern society in Latin America and advanced industrial societies were the ‘ideal’. Germani published work on Latin America and it can be seen from this work how the process of social change in Latin America are asynchronous. Larrain (2000);

‘For Germani, therefore, culture becomes the ‘value system’ of society and this structural-functional aid is applied to Latin America as an abstract scheme whereby the transition is supposed to mean the progressive abandonment of religious values and old rural traditions and their replacement by the values of reason, freedom, progress and tolerance’.

These theories of changing society all evolve to modernisation. Social evolution theories have been used when explaining modernization. Brohman (1996);

‘comte, theorized social evolution as a series of stages of human development beginning with a traditional society and culminating in a modern society’.

Such theories of social evolution can therefore be combined with the traditional to modern society idea to explain a theory of social change in which development occurs leading to industrial capitalism (larrain, 2000).

Sociological analysis of modernization is therefore important. However, it can be criticised by the economic theories. This suggests that sociological needs are not the most sophisticated or most focused on. From this angle, development is a process of capital formation, determined by levels of savings. Once these savings have been made they can be reinvested back into industry and thus, growth is sustained. Growth is a linear process which will increase once momentum is gained. This idea of gaining momentum is similar to the work of Rostow. The economic theories look at areas where little growth has occurred and have found that at first it is hard to start to develop, but once development has started in is easier to sustain. This is best described by Lewis (1950:36)

‘once the snowball starts to move downhill, it will move of its own momentum, and will get bigger and bigger as it goes along… You have, as it were, to begin by rolling your snowball up the mountain. Once you get it there, the rest is easy, but, you cannot get it there without first making an initial effort.’

Rostow is a key theorist in economic theories of modernization. He suggests that there are a series of sequences from the traditional world to modern capitalism based on mass consumption. This too, looks at the difficulty of the first ‘take off’ stage when growth first begins. Rostow’s five stages starts with the traditional society in which agriculture and low productivity is the dominating economy. The second stage is concerned with achieving preconditions for ‘take off’. Rostow suggest that in western European countries, Britain with its natural resources, trading possibilities and social structure meant it was the first to develop fully the preconditions for take off (Roberts, 2000). Stage 3 was take off; this is seen as the most problematic stage. The resistance to steady growth are finally overcome and growth becomes its normal condition. The rate of effective investment and savings may rise from 5% of national income to 10% (Roberts, 2000). New industries expand rapidly, yielding profits in this stage. The fourth stage is the road to maturity, which is a long historical period of the economy. It normally occurs about 60 years after take off. The economic growth is sustained and outputs are regular which, thus, increases population. The economy is modernized with improved technology. The fifth and final stage is the age of high mass consumption, in which the leading sector shifts toward consumer goods and services and an emergence of a welfare sate exists at this stage.

In contrast, Alexander Gerschenkron suggests his theory of economic modernization could be important if it is linked to backwardness. This means that as one country modernizes and the backwardness in a country deepens then the underprivileged society will become increasingly sensitive to the contrast between itself and the successfully modernizing state (Gwynne, 2008). With ideologies and modernizing elites, a society can move toward industrialization and accelerated growth. If a society adopts advanced scientific and industrial techniques then they will be able to industrialise. If a society was lacking important elements for growth then new institutions will not be able to develop.

Further theories include Alber O. Hinchman, whose theories focus on patterns of unbalanced growth. Hirnchman suggests that if development efforts are concentrated on the key industries in underdeveloped regions, then this may encourage development. His work can link with Gerschenkrons ideas. Geography plays an important part in his theories, as he argues that the growth must be geographically unbalanced and the growth must be centred on ‘master industries’ which can then make linkages around the country. This creates concentrated regions of growth in the country, and once this growth is established it disperses throughout the country. The state was also predicted by Hirnchman to intervene if there was an area of national crisis.

A less optimistic approach is that of Mydral, who believes there are spatial implications of economic modernization. He describes the ‘process of cumulative causation’ where economic activities become concentrated in certain areas which has a negative impact on other spaces which will lead to the movement of people, capital and goods. This would mean that the movement of surplus will not spread around the country. One way of spreading the capital can be seen in Myrdal’s work on Venezuela. The oil resources were funnelled into the growth of Civdad Guayana which was being built on the basis of steel and aluminium in the country’s underdeveloped east. This was a way of reducing the centralization of the economy in Caracas.

Therefore, sociological theories of modernization may not be the key theories. Another important factor is the idea of Eurocentrism, which means, as started by Cloke et al (1999)

‘the characteristic of believing that the western European experience is the only correct was to progress’.

Therfore, can theories really be applied to the whole world. This also triggers the idea of European superiority, which might lead to increased sensitivity between the west and the third world, causing greater backwardness. The model of economic growth still remains firmly rooted in western economies and may use economic theories as a basis to development research.

A further implication to sociological analysis is that it ignores some political analysis of modernization. This focuses on the idea of class systems. The middle and upper classes are crucial to the development process. As the middle class expands their population, they provide a stabilising force for the modernization transition (Brohman, 1996). As the middle class is expanded, upward mobility becomes easier, based on mass consumption and for liberal democratization. Western states use education as a critical tool for modernization. Good education leads to entrepreneurship and innovation. Once this spreads to the third world, modernization will start. Political modernization also links to the stability of institutions. Brohman (1996);

‘Huntington adopted the position that maintenance of stability rather than promotion of democratic institutions should be the primary goal of political modernization’.

Overall it can be agreed that the most sophisticated theories of modernization emphasize the role of a wide variety of social and institutional variables and carry out a mainly sociological analysis of the transition. Post war theories have been critical to explaining a sociological view on modernization. Many theorists such as Parson’s and Weber have had very influence theories, and do carry out a sociological analysis on modernization. This shows that there are greater depths of analysis of modernization than just economic, thus, a sociological analysis looks slightly deep and could be argued to be more sophisticated. On the other hand, economic theories are deeply rooted in modernization theories and will be used in development research. These to have come up with highly sophisticated analysis of the transition. Therefore it could be argued that sociological analysis is the main or the widest theory used. It must be taken into account that all these theories are affected by the fact that they are written from a western viewpoint and may suffer from eurocentrism. With all these ideas taken into account, it could be concluded that there a wide range of modernization theories, some will emphasize the role of economy and politics, and some will emphasize social values and will be of a mainly sociological viewpoint.


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