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The articles under this heading deal with general social and political problems of modernizing societies. More specialized aspects are treated in Agriculture, article onsocial organization; Community-society continua; Rural society. For other relevant material seeIndustrialization; Politics, comparative; Social change; and the detailed guide underEconomic growth.


Modernization is the current term for an old process—the process of social change whereby less developed societies acquire characteristics common to more developed societies. The process is activated by international, or intersocietal, communication. As Karl Marx noted over a century ago in the preface to Das Kapital: “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.”

We need a new name for the old process because the characteristics associated with more developed and less developed societies and the modes of communication between them have become in our day very different from what they used to be. During the era of imperialism, “images,” or pictures, of the future were transmitted mainly to colonial peoples by their colonizers. Accordingly, one spoke of India as Anglicized and of Indochina as Gallicized. As the long generations of colonization made evident certain important similarities among imperialist regimes, regardless of national origins, these parochial terms were abandoned, and one spoke of Europeanization. World War II, which witnessed the constriction of European empires and the diffusion of American presence, again enlarged the vocabulary, and one spoke, often resentfully, of the Americanization of Europe. But when one spoke of the rest of the world, the term was “Westernization.”

The postwar years soon made plain, however, that even this larger term was too parochial to comprehend the communication mode that had spread regularly patterned social change so swiftly and so widely as to require a global referent. In response to this need, the new term “modernization” evolved. It enabled one to speak concisely of those similarities of achievement observed in all modernized societies—whether Western, as in Europe and North America, or non-Western, as in the Soviet Union and Japan—as well as of those similarities of aspiration observed in all modernizing societies regardless of their location and traditions.

The hard core of observed similarities was economic. It was along the continuum of economic performance that societies could most readily and unambiguously be aligned, compared, and rated.

An important step was taken when development economists reached the consensus that their subject matter was, in the words of W. Arthur Lewis, “the growth of output per head of population” (1955, p. 9). This simple operational definition specified simultaneously the aspirational continuum of economic development and the comparative measure of achievement levels along this continuum. In so doing, it focused the analysis of economic development and anchored the more comprehensive analysis of modernization as a societal process.

Modernization, therefore, is the process of social change in which development is the economic component. Modernization produces the societal environment in which rising output per head is effectively incorporated. For effective incorporation, the heads that produce (and consume) rising output must understand and accept the new rules of the game deeply enough to improve their own productive behavior and to diffuse it throughout their society. As Harold D. Lasswell (1965) has forcefully reminded us, this transformation in perceiving and achieving wealth-oriented behavior entails nothing less than the ultimate reshaping and resharing of all social values, such as power, respect, rectitude, affection, well-being, skill, and enlightenment. This view of continuous and increasing interaction between economic and non-economic factors in development produced a second step forward, namely, systematic efforts to conceptualize modernization as the contemporary mode of social change that is both general in validity and global in scope.

Criteria of modernity

Although no single theoretical formulation as yet commands consensus among social scientists, there has been steady convergence among scholars on certain key points concerning modernization.

There appears to be general agreement, for example, that economic decisions on investment criteria and resource allocation must take close account of such noneconomic factors as population growth, urbanization rates, family structure, the socialization of youth, education, and the mass media. Indeed, the contemporary association of modernization with comprehensive social planning has obliged scholars to seek some consensus on the common characteristics of modern societies.

There appears to be a large area of agreement, despite conceptual and terminological differences of more or less importance, that among the salient characteristics (operational values) of modernity are (1) a degree of self-sustaining growth in the economy—or at least growth sufficient to increase both production and consumption regularly; (2) a measure of public participation in the polity—or at least democratic representation in defining and choosing policy alternatives; (3) a diffusion of secular—rational norms in the culture—understood approximately in Weberian-Parsonian terms; (4) an increment of mobility in the society—understood as personal freedom of physical, social, and psychic movement; and (5) a corresponding transformation in the modal personality that equips individuals to function effectively in a social order that operates according to the foregoing characteristics—the personality transformation involving as a minimum an increment of self-things seeking, termed “striving” by Cantril (1966) and “need-achievement” by McClelland (1961), and an increment of self-others seeking, termed “other-direction” by Riesman (1950) and “empathy” by Lerner (1958a).

Pictures of the future

Every nation that regards itself as more developed now transmits pictures of itself to those less developed societies that figure in its own policy planning. All the once-imperial nations of western Europe are involved—Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and even Portugal. Modernization has spread beyond the obsolete confines of Europe’s once-imperial nations to the Soviet Union and Communist China, to Japan, and even to Israel. The United States, which André Siegfried (1927) judged to be presiding at a general reorganization of ways of living throughout the world, has for many years been spending between three and four billion dollars of its national income on modernization abroad.

Every nation that is less developed, but regards itself as developing, receives the pictures transmitted by these more developed societies and decides, as a matter of high priority for its own policy planning, which of them constitutes the preferred picture of its own future. This decision is the crucial turn in the direction of modernization; what-ever its particular configuration, it spells the passing of traditional society and defines the policy planning of social change.

The decision is rarely clear-cut. Hence, the ensuing policy often is ambivalent, and the planning often works at cross purposes. Nevertheless, much of the world is now engaged in an unprecedented process of social change that seeks to govern itself by rational policy planning. The less developed societies want to achieve in years the modernization that more developed societies attained over centuries of haphazard, or at least unplanned, development. But we do not have available the evaluated experience needed to provide rational guidance for such unprecedented efforts to induce comprehensive social change. This is why modernization—the twentieth century’s distinctive mode of accelerating social change by rational planning—presents to social scientists so great a challenge and so important an opportunity.

For modernization, as we have seen, presents a very complex matrix of experience to be evaluated. It is one thing to summarize the common characteristics of modern societies. It is quite another thing to plan the rational transfer of these “items” from more developed to less developed societies—for each such transfer from the sender involves a deep transformation in the receiver. There exists no rational formula for the transfer of institutions. Modernization operates rather through a transformation of institutions (Lerner 1964) that can only be accomplished by the transformation of individuals—the painfully complex process which W. H. Auden epitomized as “a change of heart.”

Complexities of modernization

The complexities of modernization puzzle social scientists, who are indispensable for rational planning, because such complexities bring together varieties of institutional and individual behavior that have in the past been studied in very different ways under the specialized division of labor in the social sciences. The variation in the level of knowledge and the “state of the art” in the different social sciences has been so large that a major effort of reintegration is required to deal with the model of social change presented by the matrix of modernization. This “boomerang effect” upon the social sciences produced by their efforts to deal with modernization is relevant in two ways.

First, in seeking to account for variations in the responses of less developed societies to the picture of their own future presented by more developed societies, scholars have felt obliged to restudy the modernization paths of the more developed societies. Thus, W. Arthur Lewis (1955), building upon prior work on the conditions of economic progress by Colin Clark (1940) and others, has produced a theory of economic growth that measures less developed as well as more developed societies on the same continuum of aspiration and metric of achievement. David C. McClelland (1961), building upon prior work in the psychology of “achievement-aspiration ratios” since William James, has produced a synthetic construct of the achievement motive applicable to all recorded history. Seymour M. Lipset (1963), building upon prior work in sociology on the processes of social change since Karl Marx and Max Weber, has rewritten the history of the United States as “the first new nation.” Walt W. Rostow (1960), reviving the latterly quiescent but newly relevant disciplines of economic history and political economy, has formulated a general theory of modernization that ranges all societies of the world along the stages of a single continuum of “self-sustaining growth.”

These important efforts to conceptualize modernization have become, inevitably, objects of controversy in the modernized world of specialized scholars. However, the critique and correction of detailed relationships in these synthetic models, which is the proper business of scholarship, does not seem to have impaired either their conceptual validity or their policy utility. They have already enabled contemporary thinkers to recognize that economic development is a high priority objective of every modernizing society—the prime mover, when indeed it is not the only motivation, for modernization. Moreover, and this is the crux of the matter, the attainment of “self-sustaining growth” involves far more than purely economic processes of production and consumption. It involves the institutional disposition of the full resources of a society; in particular, its human resources. For an economy to sustain growth by its own autonomous operation, it must be effectively geared to the skills and values of the people who make it work. On this view, a society capable of operating an economy of “self-sustaining growth” is ipso facto a modernized society (Hagen 1962).

The apparent circularity of this statement is eliminated when one specifies the minimum conditions required to make a society capable of operating an economy of self-sustaining growth. Although no consensus has yet been reached on the full matrix of modernization, which requires explicit specification of interrelations and sequences among the components, a fair measure of agreement has been achieved on the identification and conceptualization of the components themselves. This has been the second large gain to accrue from recent attempts by social scientists to reintegrate their specialized ideas and tools in order to deal effectively with a general model of modernization (Millikan & Blackmer 1961).

All models of modernization that aim at generality have dealt in some way with the economic-development variables that affect rising output per head directly and visibly, such as industrialization, urbanization, national income, and per capita income. In their quest for a model sufficiently general to subsume the move from “rising output per head” to “self-sustaining growth,” sociologists have added to these variables an enlightenment variable measured in terms of schooling, literacy, and media exposure; political scientists have added a power variable measured in terms of participation, party membership, and voting; psychologists have added a cross-cutting variable of personality (usually postulated as an explanatory variable for which other variables serve as behavioral indices) measured in terms of authoritarianism, empathy, and need achievement. Anthropologists have enriched the general model by obliging it to account for local-temporal variants—those “diverse cultures” which, in Kluckhohn’s words (1959), shape the behavioral variations underlying our “common humanity.”

The “Western model” reconsidered

The convergence of disciplined perspectives upon a general model of modernization has diffused among scholars the recognition that, in our time, social change has become the distinctive component of virtually every social system. There remain in the world today few “traditional” social systems that operate with low rates of change over long time periods. Most societies are in some phase of transition. These are social systems operating with high (and usually accelerating) rates of change over short (and usually decreasing) periods of time. It is this phenomenon which in our time documents the “acceleration of history” that for previous generations was merely an interesting speculation by philosophers of history. Acceleration, now an essential component that must be incorporated in the research designs of all empirical students of social change, has obliged us to reconsider as well the operational mode of social systems that are already “modern” on current indices of modernization.

This reconsideration of modern Western societies has occasioned considerable reorganization of their societal theories and policies. Such reconsideration, having modified the evaluation of historical paths from the past to the present, now shapes new ways of estimating policy paths from the present to the future. There exist few theoretical constructions of future states of the world that are based on present changes in social systems. Lasswell (1965) has outlined the dangers of a “garrison-prison state” that attend policies designed to make any nation more powerful than all others; Rostow (1960) has sketched the attractions of a “mass-consumption society” for peoples who now demand more comfort and fun than peoples dared to dream of in all previous history. These theoretical constructions are strong because they account for the ambivalent behavior of all “transitional” societies and the vigorous behavior of most “modern” societies.

These theoretical constructions are strong as well because they show that modern societies are better able to cope with perceived needs for change than less developed, transitional societies. The obvious examples are their concern with the population explosion and the expanding metropolis. These are the demographic and ecological variables that index fundamental mechanisms for the WantGet ratios which govern “dynamic equilibrium” in any society. Modern Western societies have brought these two variables under policy control more rapidly and efficiently than any transitional society has been able to do. The reason is that modern societies restudy and reappraise themselves continuously with an eye to their future. Hence, it is no accident that contraceptives came into widespread use in modern Western societies a full century ago to prevent an unmanageable population explosion. Nor is it accidental that “the pill,” invented in the Western societies, is still more widely used by Westerners than by the transitional peoples to whom it has been offered, virtually free of charge, since the 1950s. Modern societies, founding their societal policies on data-based estimations of the future, are readier to perceive the dangers of overpopulation and to take steps to prevent them (Spengler & Duncan 1956).

So it has been also with the dangers of overurbanization. The acceleration of history has produced everywhere, as a major manifestation, an accelerated movement of people from the village to the city (California, University of ... 1959). The outcome has been the spread of slums in every modernizing society. But almost from the moment these slums appeared, social scientists in the Western world began to study them in empirical and policy terms. Over a century ago, Frederic Le Play (1855) described the situation of the urban poor in France and elsewhere in Europe; Charles Booth (Booth et al. 1889-1891) and Jane Addams (Hull-House . . . 1895) did the same for England and the United States, respectively. Their studies led to social diagnosis, social legislation, and, finally, social programs aimed at improvement. The institutionalization of urban policy in modern society is now visible in American “urban renewal,” British “new towns,” and French “amenagement du territoire.” Few such programs have been made effectively operative in the modernizing societies of the transitional world today (Hoselitz 1960).

Transformation, not transfer

The widespread failure of transitional societies to incorporate modernizing institutions of sufficient amplitude and durability has occasioned reconsideration of the theory and practice of social change under conditions of extreme acceleration. Among the conclusions that have emerged (many of them reminders of lessons brought by anthropologists from their early encounters with traditional societies a century and more ago) is this reciprocal proposition: Traditional societies can respond effectively to internally generated demands for institutional change articulated over a relatively long period, but they are typically incapable of rapid institutional changes to meet externally induced demands.

Such externally induced demands occur whenever a less developed society receives a picture of its own future from a more developed society. Since the start of international development programs in 1949 (with the Point iv program of the United States instituted by President Truman), we have understood that the transmission of such pictures is likely to constitute an intrusion into the less developed, traditional society. Only more recently, by way of hard and often unrewarding experience, have we concluded that such intrusions regularly are, and usually must be, disruptive in transitional societies—these being traditional societies that manifest an urgent will-to-change but are unable to incorporate rapidly an efficacious way-to-change. The disruptive effect, which is produced by the imbalance between the will and the way to modernize, emerges as a key problem of induced and accelerated social change.

Consider again the problem of overurbanization. The newly reviving civilizations of the East have always had more people living in their capital cities than could be productively employed. Hence, over many centuries there developed the institution (or at least the vocational jurisdiction) of begging. So ancient and venerable is this institution that its routinized practice is sanctified in the holy books of most Eastern, and particularly Middle Eastern, religions. The practice of begging and the duty of charity are sanctified alike in the Mosaic code of the Jews, the Koranic verses of the Muslims, and the New Testament of the Christians. Yet, under intrusion from the antislum and anti-poverty ideology of the modern West, modernizers in the Eastern world have grown ashamed of this venerable institution and have sought to transform it. Many Western travelers have witnessed, at the doors of the Nile hotels in Cairo and at the gates of the Taj Mahal in Agra, the often brutal consequences of the modernizing proscription of begging inflicted upon people who know no other trade. But the modernizing Eastern leaders, while speeding the obsolescence of begging, have not yet incorporated an efficient institutional replacement to relieve the urban poor, whose members swell at accelerating rates from year to year (Lerner 1962).

The great cities of the transitional world often have become massive impediments to orderly social change rather than productive centers of modernization. In much of Latin America, vast lands are deserted while the people are crushed into the megalopolis—for example, half of all Cubans live in and around Havana, half of all Uruguayans live around Montevideo, and about 80 per cent of the Venezuelan population lives on the 10 per cent of land located between Caracas and Maracaibo. In the transitional societies of Asia, which produce far less wealth than those of Latin America, the consequences of overurbanization are even more disruptive. No traveler in Cairo or Calcutta will forget the sights, sounds, and smells of debilitated peoples who perform no productive functions for themselves or their environment. These millions of hapless people who consume (however little) without producing are the psychic displaced persons of modernization—they have come to consider themselves useless for anything beyond survival and reproduction. Their futility is an expression of the disruptive imbalance, for their minuscule benefits are gained only at the disproportionately great costs to their society which overurbanization imposes upon all development efforts.

That the problem of overurbanization remains unresolved is the measure of our failure to develop a comprehensive theory and practice of modernization. This proposition is circular in one sense: since the urban explosion is systemic with the population explosion and the literacy explosion, true resolution of any one explosion will help resolve the others. These explosions are systemic in the sense that they derive from a common source, converge on a common demand, and produce a common failure to satisfy the demand. The common source is empathy; the common demand is well-being; the common failure is poverty. These terms denote the failures that explain why we are passing from a putative “revolution of rising expectations” (Staley 1954), which shaped the theory and practice of planned social change after World War n, to an incipient “revolution of rising frustration” (Conference . . . 1963, pp. 330-333) that may re-shape our thinking in the future.

Empathy—mechanism of transformation

Empathy is the psychic mechanism that enables a person to put himself in another person’s situation—to identify himself with a role, time, or place different from his own. Among the range of psychic mechanisms that supply imagination, empathy is distinctively the one that nourishes “upward mobility.” For what greater stimulus is there to imagine oneself in another person’s situation if not that his situation is “better” (in some sense) than one’s own? The power to imagine oneself in a better situation rests upon the psychic mechanism of empathy. The mechanism may or may not be innate, but it can certainly be trained to operate more efficiently in people with a desire to better themselves. Since World War n such training has been supplied by the mass media of print, film, and radio. The mass media, which we call the “mobility multiplier” for this reason, accelerate the training in psychic mobility that enables people to imagine themselves in situations other than their own—and hence, since the alternatives invariably represent better situations, accelerate training in upward mobility.

The global spread of empathy has thus diffused a new demand for well-being among peoples who, over all previous centuries, had never even been exposed to the idea that well-being was theirs to demand. Wants have always been with the poor, and expectations have risen or fallen with the richness of the harvest or the goodness of the king, but demand is something new in the lives of poor peoples. It involves nothing less than a new sense of one-self, that is, the transformation of one’s identifications that is accomplished by empathy and accelerated by the multiplier effect of the mass media. But the newly diffused sense of demand, which articulates and aggregates the age-old wants and needs of the poor, imposes a new condition upon the management of societies: that ways must be found to satisfy demand if a society is to maintain itself in a relatively durable state of equilibrium—or, more precisely, in a tolerable state of disequilibrium.

The new condition is imposed by the systemic quality of the new demand: its widespread distribution throughout the social system entails a comprehensive institutional response. Economic theory has taught generations of analysts in modernized societies that equilibrium can be maintained only in the measure that widespread and persistent demand is balanced by adequate supply. It is the failure of transitional societies to increase supply at a sufficient rate to balance accelerating demand that accentuates the new meaning of poverty as a key to the unsolved problems of modernization. Poverty, which was once accepted as an honorable estate (as in the Biblical theme of the “eye of the needle”), is now rejected as an abject condition unworthy of human acceptance. Poverty is now seen as the self-sealing mechanism of a vicious circle that deprives people of the means to obtain enough of the good things of life. As Hans W. Singer has succinctly summarized the situation, its core is “the dominant vicious circle of low production—no surpluses for economic investment—no tools and equipment—low standards of production. An underdeveloped country is poor because it has no industry; and it has no industry because it is poor” (1949, p. 5).

Economists agree that the root problem is that poor people in poor countries do not earn enough to raise their essential consumption (wants) and still have something left over to save (that is, invest). This is attributed to the series of “explosions”—population, urbanization, literacy—that consume all gains in production as soon as they are made, and often more rapidly than they are made. It is the worsening situation of the poor as compared to the rich countries that, as Gunnar Myrdal (1956) has shown, defeats the planning of modernization in our time. Despite large outlays of funds and skills for international development, the poor lands and peoples are continuously getting poorer relative to the rich lands and peoples. The latter have incorporated the individual and institutional mechanisms that make growth self-sustaining and thereby underwrite the stability of modern societies at high and rising levels of output and income. By the same token, transitional societies, which have not been able to incorporate the mechanisms needed for self-sustaining growth, tend to grow relatively poorer and less stable.

Recognition that the relative situation of transitional societies is worsening, despite their high expectations and despite substantial contributions of international aid, has stimulated new research and reflection on the mechanisms of self-sustaining growth. It has long been clear that surplus product for economic investment is necessary. What was not clear, until very recently, is that an external input of investment does not necessarily ignite the motor of modernization and almost never suffices to keep it running. It appears to be essential that the modernizing society, if its growth is to be self-sustaining, should incorporate internal means of generating the surpluses needed for investment. This apparently simple extension of thinking about economic development entails wide and deep consequences for the social theory and practice of modernization. For a transitional society to generate surpluses internally, it must work a profound transformation into its individual and institutional patterns of traditional behavior (Shannon 1957).

This is why we no longer speak of a “transfer of institutions” from more developed to less developed societies. Such transfer rarely occurs in fact. When it does, as in those transitional societies that have transferred electoral institutions based on universal suffrage from more developed societies, the effects have been not only intrusive and disruptive but often positively dysfunctional for societal modernization. The indispensable lesson taught by failures to transfer institutions is that modernization must be systemic if it is to be durable. It must involve indigenous people in behavioral transformations so manifold and profound that a new and coherent way of life comes into operation. Institutions cannot be transferred; they must be transformed. Lifeways cannot be adopted; they must be adapted.

Adaptive capacity, the most distinctive feature of societies that are genuinely modernized, is what enables them to develop more rapidly than the transitional societies they are aiding out of their own large surplus product. While such handouts alleviate hardship and encourage hope in some transitional societies, these societies do not modernize effectively until they develop an indigenous capacity for accelerating and sustaining growth. Among the requirements are indigenous surpluses that enable people to break out of the vicious circle of poverty and into the self-sustaining cycle of growth. The incorporation of an adaptive capacity of this magnitude can occur only in societies that diffuse widely among their peoples the lifeways and institutions of mobility, empathy, and participation. Mobility is the initial mechanism: people must be ready, willing, and able to move from where they are and what they are.

Physical and social mobility have always interacted closely in the societies now regarded as modernized. Horace Greeley’s maxim “Go West, young man, go West” told aspiring Americans a century ago: If you want to move up, young man, move out! Among the millions of aspiring young men in the transitional world today, many are heeding some local variant of this advice—usually delivered by “pictures” from the mass media (Schramm 1964). Those who want to move up are, in rapidly swelling numbers, moving out. Physical mobility has become a characteristic of world society in our time. But social mobility has not kept pace. This is so in part because, as we have seen, poor lands have a built-in tendency to stay poor. This tendency is built in by the persistence of traditional lifeways among the peoples of the poor lands. When they move out, they are not adequately prepared to meet the other requirements for moving up. They are, in particular, unprepared to make efficient use of the empathic mechanism that shapes psychic mobility—the personality reagent that catalyzes the interaction between physical and social mobility. In a word, they lack a sufficient dose of empathy (Lerner 1958k).

The inadequate diffusion of empathy—psychic mobility—is a major source of failure for development programs. People everywhere have been moving out with the expectation of moving up, and everywhere they are being disappointed. Social mobility simply does not coincide with physical mobility often enough to produce widespread satisfaction. On the contrary, if we are facing an incipient “revolution of rising frustration,” it is because the newly mobile peoples of the transitional world have not found—and, more critically, have not learned to produce from their own resources—adequate satisfactions for their accelerated expectations. The disruptive imbalance that weighs most heavily on traditional societies in our time is the imbalance between what people have been taught to want and what they have learned to get.

The Want-Get ratio

We refer to the disruptive imbalance, which is the global source of rising frustrations, as the Want-Get ratio. Adapting an ingenious formula of William James, this can be expressed as follows:

Frustration rises in the measure that the numerator of Want exceeds the denominator of Get. In traditional societies, frustration remained fairly constant and at a relatively low level because wants (at least in the form of articulated demands) were relatively few and unchanging. Frustration is accelerating in transitional societies because articulated wants are increasing, diversifying, and spreading at very rapid and erratic rates.

This way of putting the matter links the process of modernization directly to the problem of economic development. Economic development is critical because continuing and deepening poverty signals the failure to meet the accelerating demand for well-being (articulated Want) generated by the erratic diffusion of empathy that has accompanied increasing mobility. The economic model is also useful because it teaches us to analyze psychosocial states more exactly by submitting them to the metrics of supply and demand. For what has disrupted transitional societies so deeply that stable governance—and rational planning for growth—cannot become self-sustaining is precisely the worsening ratio between supply and demand. Transitional peoples are accelerating their manifold demands beyond the supply capacity of their institutions and resources, including the capacity of individuals with increasing demands to adapt their personal behavior in such ways as to increase supplies.

Public opinion—empathy to participation

A modern society depends so crucially upon its human resources because it must be, first and foremost, a participant society. This does not mean that all people must participate continuously in all societal activities, since it is unlikely that any society could survive this degree of interaction. It does mean that enough people must participate continuously in each major institution to make these institutions viable, adaptable, and durable. This optimum level of interaction between individuals and institutions can be sustained only when it produces outcomes that are reciprocally rewarding. Institutions cannot endure persistently excessive demands upon their capacity by their individual participants; nor will individuals continue to participate in institutions that consistently frustrate their wants (Shannon 1958).

Perhaps the most significant and subtle instance of self-sustaining interaction between individuals and institutions in modern society is public opinion—a distinctive interaction that is not found in traditional societies (Speier 1950). The evolution of public opinion in the modern West can be traced from the eighteenth century, when the institutions of free public education and inexpensive mass media (the so-called penny press, for example) began to expand in response to the direct demands of peoples who had gained a fair measure of empathy and literacy over preceding generations. This initiated a growth cycle of public enlightenment throughout the modern West, from which evolved the distinctive societal process known as public opinion—a process which, in turn, lubricates the self-sustaining mechanisms of a participant society.

For the adaptive capacity of a participant society resides in its institutionalized modes for registering, regulating, and responding to individual demands as well as their articulated and aggregated expression through manifold channels of collective demand. [SeePublic opinion; see also Almond & Coleman 1960, chapter 1.]

Public demand is something new. Earlier societies were able to survive the sporadic expression of individual and collective demands, particularly during periods of affluence, when their institutions were able to make relatively satisfactory responses to such demands. But no society preceding those of the nineteenth-century West was able to incorporate public demand as a mechanism that continuously interacts with public policy on the shaping and sharing of all societal values—power as well as wealth, enlightenment as well as deference. Indeed, only the twentieth-century West has begun to develop the crude model of a polity in which public demand—in the institutionalized form of public opinion—participates as a matter of course in the making of public policy.

Public opinion has become the institutionalized expression of individual and collective demands because it has incorporated a significant measure of self-regulation. It avoids the persistent expression of demands that cannot be satisfied by existing institutions operating upon available resources—the outbursts of excessive demand that recurrently eventuate in the riots, rebellions, and revolutions of nonparticipant societies (Johnson 1962). It is responsible and self-regulating because it is based upon public enlightenment, which informs people about the current condition of public institutions and resources and thereby acts as a constraint upon their individual and collective demands. The effect of enlightenment, in this sense, is that people re-consider their felt private demands in the light of known public constraints and emerge with equilibrated (or otherwise balanced) opinions on the issues before them. It is this internal balancing of the Want-Get ratio by individuals that, ideally, corrects disruptive imbalances in their institutions and makes their society self-sustaining.

Next steps

The ideal type of a participant society does not yet exist in the modern West and may never be realized perfectly anywhere. As public-opinion polls have shown time and again, citizens are often ignorant of their past, voters are often ambivalent about their future, and consumers are often confused in making their present choices. The reliance of public opinion upon such routinized institutions of enlightenment as public schools and mass media tends to routinize its creative articulation and aggregation. Those alienated intellectuals from retrograde societies of the West who point to marginal black-marketing in austerity Britain and peripheral cheating on income taxes in the United States ignore the principal fact, which is that these skin rashes upon participant societies have not been permitted to become cancerous (Shils 1958). Public opinion in these countries, despite its putative ignorance and ambivalence, has judged that black-marketing and tax-cheating are “immoral”—that their cost to public welfare exceeds their benefit to private interests and, therefore, that adaptive institutions are needed to correct their potentially disruptive imbalance. Such institutions include public sanctions against private malfeasance.

This process is the key to the “self-sustaining” capacity of a participant society. Public opinion, despite its flaws, can be counted on to perform its system-sustaining functions in an environment that supplies satisfactions and explains frustrations of individual and collective demands. It is this subtle and continuous reciprocity between popular demand and public supply (or nonsupply)—between what people want and what they get (or fail to get)—that animates and sustains the participant society. Since this model represents the greatest advance in recorded history toward the ages-old ideal of social democracy, we must learn to assay its gains and measure its costs (Lerner & Schramm 1966).

These are tasks that lie ahead for social scientists concerned with modernization. Procedures for assaying gains and measuring costs must be perfected. As a precondition, our concepts of what constitutes a cost or a gain must be articulated in sufficiently explicit fashion to guide our measures. While our tasks as social scientists are important, they cannot count for much without the efforts of those social planners and decision makers who change the lifeways of transitional societies. For the modernized lands have learned to develop, however crudely, a participant society with self-sustaining growth capability. This is not yet the case in the lands that are seeking to modernize.

The modernized societies must now perfect the model for their own purposes—which include the “transfer” of the model in such fashion that it can be “transformed” by the modernizing societies. The modernizing societies must learn how transferred institutions may be transformed, how adopted life-ways may be adapted. As the modernized succeed in learning their own lesson, they will be better equipped to teach the lesson to the modernizing. For the contemporary world has become interactive in the sense that all nations and peoples now are continuously exposed to each other.

Modernization, now occurring on an interactive global scale, will point the way to a future modernity in the measure that advanced and backward, developed and underdeveloped, societies arrive at an understanding of what they have in common. This achievement of consensus on the values of a commonwealth of human dignity will provide the ultimate motor of modernization—for those who think they are, as for those who wish to be, modern.

Daniel Lerner

[Directly related are the entriesAchievement Motivation; Economic Growth; Poverty.]


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The political aspects of modernization refer to the ensemble of structural and cultural changes in the political systems of modernizing societies. As an analytically separable subsystem of society the political system comprises all of those activities, processes, institutions, and beliefs concerned with the making and execution of authoritative policy and the pursuit and attainment of collective goals. Political structure consists of the patterning and interrelationship of political roles and processes; political culture is the complex of prevailing attitudes, beliefs, and values concerning the political system. The over-all process of modernization refers to changes in all institutional spheres of a society resulting from man’s expanding knowledge of and control over his environment (Black 1962). Political modernization refers to those processes of differentiation of political structure and secularization of political culture which enhance the capability—the effectiveness and efficiency of performance—of a society’s political system (Almond & Powell 1966).

Political modernization can be viewed from a historical, a typological, and an evolutionary perspective. Historical political modernization refers to the totality of changes in political structure and culture which characteristically have affected or have been affected by those major transformative processes of modernization (secularization; commercialization; industrialization; accelerated social mobility; restratification; increased material standards of living; diffusion of literacy, education, and mass media; national unification; and the expansion of popular involvement and participation) which were first launched in western Europe in the sixteenth century and which subsequently have spread, unevenly and incompletely, throughout the world. Typological political modernization refers to the process of transmutation of a premodern “traditional” polity into a posttraditional “modern” polity. (Since concrete polities are only more or less modern, the term “modern polity” is used here to refer to those polities which in the 1960s are typologically the most modern.) Evolutionary political modernization refers to that open-ended increase in the capacity of political man to develop structures to cope with or resolve problems, to absorb and adapt to continuous change, and to strive purposively and creatively for the attainment of new societal goals. From the historical and typological perspectives, political modernization is a process of development toward some image of a modern polity. From the evolutionary perspective, the growth process is interminable and the end state of affairs indeterminate.

Theoretical approaches

Efforts to depict the complex characteristics of a modern polity have tended to take three forms: descriptive trait lists, single-dimension reductionism, and ideal-type continua. Several studies have combined all three approaches in variant ways (e.g., Almond & Coleman 1960).

The trait list approach usually identifies the major structural and cultural features generic to those contemporary polities regarded as modern by the observer (Almond & Coleman 1960; Black 1962; Eisenstadt 1964 a; Kornhauser 1964; Conference on Communication . . . 1963; Conference on Political Modernization . . . 1964). These efforts have been criticized for being temporally and culturally bounded, for being excessively multidimensional, and for including some traits which vary independently of one another (Holt & Turner 1966).

The reductionist approach focuses upon a single antecedent factor, explanatory variable, correlate, or determinant as the prime index or most distinguishing feature of modernization and, by implication, of political modernity. Single characteristics which have been highlighted include the concepts of capacity or capability (Brzezinski 1956; Holt & Turner 1966; Almond 1965), differentiation (Riggs 1963), institutionalization (Huntington 1965), national integration (Binder 1962), participation (Lerner 1958), populism (Fallers 1963), political culture (Almond & Verba 1963), psychological traits (Lerner 1958; Doob 1960; Conference on Communication . . . 1963), social mobilization (Deutsch 1961), and socioeconomic correlates (Lipset 1960; Coleman 1960; Cutright 1963). These reductive efforts do not imply a denial of multivariate causation; rather, they reflect either the timeless quest for a comprehensive single concept of modernity or simply the desire to illuminate a previously neglected or underemphasized variable.

The ideal-type approach is either explicit or implicit in most conceptualizations of both a modern political system and the process of political modernization. Descriptive trait lists of a generically modern polity tend unavoidably to be ideal-typical; indeed, the very notion of a “modern polity” implies an ideal-typical “traditional polity” as a polar opposite, as well as a “transitional polity” as an intervening type on a continuum of political modernization. Inspired by the original simple dichotomies of Maine (status-contract) and Tönnies (Gemeinschaft-Gesellschaft), and more directly by the pattern variables developed by Talcott Parsons, more complex ideal-typical dichotomous schemata of variable multidimensionality have been suggested for the study of comparative politics (Sutton 1959; Almond & Coleman 1960) and comparative administration (Riggs 1957). The essential differences between these schemata and the ideal-typical trait lists are that the attributes of the former are more logically interrelated in a unified construct and are specified for the two polar opposites (e.g., agrarian-industrial; traditional-modern). According to these schemata, the orientations governing the interactions characteristic of a traditional polity are predominantly ascriptive, particularistic, and diffuse; those of a modern polity are predominantly achievement-oriented, universalistic, and specific. Political modernization is viewed as the process of movement from the traditional pole to the modern pole of the continuum.

The three-stage (traditional-transitional-modern) approach to political modernization is vulnerable to at least three criticisms. First, like all such models used in the study of change in the social sciences, it tends to convey a false image of the traditional pole of the modernization continuum (Moore 1963). The static, sacred, undifferentiated character of chronologically traditional polities tends to be exaggerated. Many historically “traditional” political systems in fact had typologically “modern” structures, attributes, and orientations and vice versa. Indeed, the political structures of all empirical societies—historical and contemporaneous—are mixed; the degree of their modernity is determined by whichever tendency predominates within the mix. Although this fact is acknowledged, even stressed, by most users of the three-stage approach, the tendency to confuse, or at least to slur, the differences between historical and typological political modernity is a common fallacy in much of the literature. Second, this approach suggests that the movement between the two poles of traditionality and modernity is and must be irreversible, directional, and unilinear. It does not allow for political “breakdowns” in modernization (Eisenstadt 1964 b), for “negative” political development or “prismatic” arrest (Riggs 1964), or for political “decay” (Huntington 1965). Third, at the modern end of the continuum, the three-stage model reinforces the image that the modernization process terminates, a notion implicit in the ordinary “present-day” meaning of the concept of modernity. It suggests the completion of a once-and-for-all and once-to-a-system process of transmutation. By implying that there cannot be any further or continuous modernization, it rules out the concept of evolutionary political modernization.

The evolutionary perspective emancipates the concept of political modernization from both its temporal (1500 to the present day) and its cultural and areal (Western world) constraints. It overcomes the implication of termination inherent in the idea of a “modern” polity and avoids the notion of “postmodern” political development. Although it does not becloud the fact that historically the major thrust in political modernization has occurred in the core area of western Europe in its postmedieval period, it allows us to reach back to the beginning of man’s organized existence and to encompass the full range of structural diversity in man’s experience in governing himself. Moreover, by viewing political modernization as an ongoing and continuous process, it encourages comparative trend analysis. Such a redefinition of the concept ties in with the revival and extension of evolutionary theory in cultural anthropology (Sahlins & Service 1960) and in sociology (Parsons 1964). Indeed, the distinction made by Sahlins between specific evolution (the historically continuous adaptation of particular societies to their environments) and general evolution (over-all, but discontinuous, development in human organization as manifested in the passage from lesser to greater capacity and all-round adaptability and from lower to higher levels of integration) is particularly crucial. [SeeEvolution, article onculturalevolution.] This dual character of the evolutionary perspective makes it possible to refer, on the one hand, to the specific process of political modernization (i.e., the acquisition of typologically modern traits and capabilities) in particular concrete societies, which through specialization and adaptation may in time cease modernizing, and, on the other hand, to general political modernization, as manifested in the successive acquisition by politically organized man of enhanced and new capacity to seek, change, and attain his goals. It is, in short, a perspective that allows us to conceptualize political modernization, political development, and political growth as synonymous.


In the growing body of literature on modernization and development, the major characteristics most often associated with the concept of a modern polity and the process of political modernization can be roughly grouped under three major headings: (1) differentiation, as the dominant empirical trend in the historic evolution of modern society; (2) equality, as the central ethos and ethical imperative pervading the operative ideals of all aspects of modern life; and (3) capacity, as the constantly increasing adaptive and creative potentialities possessed by man for the manipulation of his environment. The political modernization process can be viewed as an interminable contrapuntal interplay among the process of differentiation, the imperatives and realizations of equality, and the integrative, adaptive, and creative capacity of a political system. In these terms, political modernization is the progressive acquisition of a consciously sought, and qualitatively new and enhanced, political capacity as manifested in (1) the effective institutionalization of (a) new patterns of integration and penetration regulating and containing the tensions and conflicts produced by the processes of differentiation, and of (b) new patterns of participation and resource distribution adequately responsive to the demands generated by the imperatives of equality; and (2) the continuous flexibility to set and achieve new goals.

The process of differentiation

Differentiation refers to the process of progressive separation and specialization of roles, institutional spheres, and associations in the development of political systems. It includes such “evolutionary universals” (Parsons 1964) as social stratification and the separation of occupational roles from kinship and domestic life, the separation of an integrated system of universalistic legal norms from religion, the separation of religion and ideology, and differentiation between administrative structure and public political competition. It implies greater functional specialization, structural complexity and interdependence, and heightened effectiveness of political organization in both administrative and political spheres. [SeePolitical anthropology, article onpolitical organization.]

The ethos of equality

Equality is the ethos of modernity; the quest for it and its realization are at the core of the politics of modernization. It includes the notion of universal adult citizenship (equality in distributive claims and participant rights and duties), the prevalence of universalistic legal norms in the government’s relations with the citizenry (equality in legal privileges and deprivations), and the predominance of achievement criteria (the psychic equality of opportunity to be unequal) in recruitment and allocation to political and administrative roles. Even though these attributes of equality are only imperfectly realized in the most modern polities, they continue to operate as the central standards and imperatives by which modernization is measured and political legitimacy established. Popular participation or involvement in the political system, either symbolically or determinatively, is a central theme in most definitions of political modernization. [SeeEquality.]

The growth of political capacity

The acquisition of enhanced political administrative capacity is the third major feature of political modernization. It is characterized by an increase in scope of polity functions, in the scale of the political community, in the efficacy of the implementation of political and administrative decisions, in the penetrative power of central governmental institutions, and in the comprehensiveness of the aggregation of interests by political associations. Institutionalization of political organization and procedures, the development of problem-solving capabilities, centralization, and the ability to sustain continuously new types of political demands and organizations are among the varying ways in which the concept of capacity has been made central to the definition of political modernization and development. The sources of increased capacity include both differentiation (secularization, functional specialization, greater structural interdependence, motivation generated by status hierarchization) and equality (liberation of human energy and talent, universalism, achievement, rationalization, and civic identity and obligation); yet the tensions and divisiveness of differentiation and the demands of egalitarianism also constitute the main challenge to the capacity of a polity. The fact that the three aspects of modernization may sometimes conflict rather than reinforce one another explains why their contrapuntal interplay is central to any discussion of the modernization process.

Democracy and nation-state

Two other characteristics commonly attributed to a modern polity are democracy and the nation-state. In some instances, Western democratic institutions are used explicitly as the empirical referents for a model of political modernity; in others such an identification is only implicit. This infusion of the concept with an allegedly culture-bound element limits the utility of the concept as a cross-cultural analytical tool. Recognition of this fact has stimulated efforts to identify and specify traits generic to those political systems generally recognized as the most modern in the contemporary world. Ethnocentrism aside, however, there are those who defend a democratic component in any model of political modernization either on ethical grounds or because it demonstrably enhances the integrative and adaptive capacity and the flexibility of a political system. This latter rationale is the basis for identifying the “democratic association” as an “evolutionary universal,” a major threshold in political modernization. [SeeDemocracy.]

The nation-state is the second major controversial component in definitions of political modernization. Most studies assume that the nation-state is the essential, if not the natural, framework of political modernization. According to Black (1962), the essential effect of modernization has been the creation of national states. Indeed, “nation building” is commonly viewed as either a crucial dimension of or as a synonym for political modernization. Historically, of course, the centralized nation-state (existing or emerging) has been the empirical unit of modernization in all its aspects. Moreover, unlike democratic institutions, it is a form of political organization that has in fact become universalized. It has also been legitimated by prevailing norms of international law and organization. Therefore, it is the most convenient and logical unit for analysis in studies both of historical and of contemporary modernization. From the evolutionary and typological perspective, however, it need not and should not be included as a requisite component of political modernization. [SeeNation.]

Patterns and variables

The autonomy of the polity

A prominent theme in various strands of Western social and political thought is the dependence of the polity upon other institutional spheres. This tradition of looking at political behavior and institutions as deriving from more fundamental social, economic, or psychological factors has been fortified in the social sciences—and particularly in political science—by a variety of other influences: behavioralism, systems theory, and structural-functionalism; the prominence in our image of modernization in the Western world of the laissez-faire period, in contrast with the earlier polity-dominant statist period; the pronounced economic determinism in America’s post-World War II foreign aid policy, conditioned as it has been by the presumably successful democratization of West Germany and Japan; and several studies which suggest a positive correlation between political, social, and economic aspects of development (Lipset 1960; Coleman 1960; Cutright 1963; Banks & Textor 1963). In line with the continual rediscovery of lost or neglected variables in the pendulumlike evolution of the social sciences, the reaction against this polity-as-the-dependent-variable tradition is now in full swing (Montgomery & Siffin 1965; Spiro 1966).

The need for a critical re-examination of the degree of autonomy and primacy of the polity in the modernization process has been given added impetus as a result of restrospective analysis of historical modernization in the West (Black 1966); the dominance of the political sphere in the modernization of the Soviet Union and mainland China, as well as Japan, Turkey, and Mexico (Black 1962; Tsou 1963; Conference on Political Modernization. . . 1964; Eisenstadt 1964 b); and the pre-eminence of the political factor in the modernization of the developing countries. In virtually all of these instances political leadership and centralized political organization have been dominant and causal, rather than derivative. There are also historical instances where substantial changes have taken place in the political sphere without correspondingly significant changes in the social and economic spheres, and vice versa (see Paige in Montgomery & Siffin 1965), thus underlining the autonomy of the polity in the modernization process. The American experience, as Huntington (1966) emphasized, demonstrates conclusively that some institutions and some aspects of a society may become highly modern while other institutions and other aspects retain much of their traditional form and substance.

Patterns of modernization

The varying patterns in the relationship between the polity and the society (polity dominance, polity dependence, and polity autonomy) are only one aspect of the extraordinary diversity which has characterized the process of political modernization throughout history. There presumably is no single universal process, no uniform sequential pattern or common structural arrangement. The modernizing experience of each country is sui generis. According to one view, the only generalization one can make is that late modernizers “. . . will not follow the sequence of their predecessors, but will insist on changing it around or on skipping entirely some stages as well as some ‘preconditions’” (Hirschman 1962). Nevertheless, certain patterns have been suggested. One typology (Black 1966), based on three criteria (the ascendance and consolidation of modernizing leadership, economic and social transformation, and the integration of society), identifies seven patterns of political modernization: (1) Britain and France, the early modernizers and models for later modernizers; (2) the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the offshoots of Britain and France in the New World; (3) the other societies of continental Europe, in which the consolidation of modernizing leadership occurred after the French Revolution; (4) the independent countries of Latin America; (5) societies that modernized without direct outside intervention but under the influence of early modernizers (Russia, Japan, China, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Thailand); and (6) and (7) former and residual colonial territories differentiated according to the existence of precolonial institutions adaptable to modern conditions. Using different criteria, another schema (Eisenstadt 1964 b) distinguishes six clusters (constitutional democracies; totalitarian states; indigenous revolutionary regimes such as Turkey and Mexico; dictatorships in eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America; authoritarian regimes in Spain and Portugal; and the postcolonial new states). A third schema (Huntington 1966), primarily concerned with the earlier phases of political modernization in Europe and America, distinguishes three patterns (continental European, British, and American) according to three criteria (rationalized authority, differentiated political structure, and mass political participation). Actual or ideal-typical patterns of political modernization in late-modernizing new states as a special category have also been suggested (Shils 1959-1960; Apter 1965).

Variables affecting modernization

Among the many variables which can affect—and which historically have decisively affected—the course of political modernization, four seem to be particularly crucial: (1) the traditional political structure and culture, (2) the historical timing of the modernization thrust, (3) the character and orientation of political leadership, and (4) the sequence in which major system-development problems or “crises” generic to the political modernization process are encountered.

Tradition. Traditional institutions and values have an extraordinary resilience and persistence. “[The] form a modern society takes is the result of the interaction of its historically formed traditions with the universalizing effects of modernization” (Black 1962). For example, if prior to the modernization leap a national state, a centralized government, and a dominant value system supportive of innovation and change already exist, there can be a “reinforcing dualism” (Conference on Political Modernization . . . 1964) between the traditional system and the modernizing process.

Timing. The timing of the modernizing “take-off” is also crucial in many ways: it determines the significance of an array of other variables, such as the international environment, the range of modernizing models available for emulation, the political manipulability or obstructiveness of tradition, the degree of social and political mobilization of the population and the resultant demand load upon the polity, and the opportunities for modernizing short-cuts available to late starters favored by the so-called Law of Evolutionary Potential (Sahlins & Service 1960).

Leadership. The nature of a modernizing political leadership largely determines the extent to which tradition is harnessed to modernization if it is supportive or neutralized if it is obstructive. It also determines the degree to which the disadvantages of timing are minimized and the opportunities are exploited. Individual political leaders and political elites have been the prime movers in political modernization. The rate and direction of that process, as well as the political structures and culture which emerge, reflect in large measure the values and goal orientations of the leadership; its adaptive and creative capacities; and its reaction to the modernization crises it confronts.

Crises. The experience of the most highly developed contemporary polities has led to the identification of several critical “system-development problems” or “crises” which every modernizing polity encounters at least once and must cope with or surmount if it is to continue to modernize (Conference on Political Modernization . . . 1964; Black 1966; Almond & Powell 1966; Pye 1966). Although formulations vary, the following six problems illuminate this way of conceptualizing the political modernization process: (1) national identity, the transfer of ultimate loyalty and commitment from primordial groups to the larger national political system; (2) political legitimacy, the legitimation of modernizing elites and the authority structure of the new state; (3) penetration, the centralization of power, the establishment of a “determinate human source of final authority” transcending pre-existing subnational authority systems (Huntington 1966), the bridging of discontinuities in political communication, and the effectuation of policies throughout the society by the central institutions of government; (4) participation, the development of symbolic or participatory institutions and a political infrastructure to organize and channel the characteristically modern mass demand for a share in the decision-making process; (5) integration, the organization of a coherent political process and pattern of interacting relationships for the making of public policy and the pursuit and achievement of societal goals; and (6) distribution, the effective use of government power to bring about economic growth, mobilize resources, and distribute goods, services, and values in response to mass demands and expectations.

The modernization of a political system is measured by the extent to which it has developed the capabilities (symbolic, regulative, responsive, extractive, and distributive) to cope with these generic system-development problems (Almond 1965; Pennock 1966). It is argued not only that these capabilities are logically related but also that they suggest an order of development, that is, the development of one type of capability requires the development of another (e.g., increasing the extractive capability implies an increase in the regulative capability). Indeed, this approach could be the first step in the direction of a theory of political modernization, if the structural and cultural characteristics of political systems can be related to the ways in which these systems have confronted and coped with the crises common to all of them (Almond & Powell 1966).

Systematic comparative historical studies of political modernization in Western polities are increasingly feasible as a consequence of the development of data archives and the use of electronic computers in processing historical information (Rokkan 1966). One promising initial focus would be upon the growth in political participation: in most countries of the West the requisite political statistics are available as far back as the French Revolution. This rediscovery of the legitimacy and theoretical potentiality of the historical dimension in political research and in diachronic analysis has been one of the unintended consequences of the postwar concern with the modernization of the developing countries. Continued systematic study of the evolution of the latter, together with the retrospective analysis of the political modernization of older polities, should significantly enhance our capacity not only to generalize about the past but also to suggest probabilities regarding the future.

James S. Coleman

[See alsoGovernment; PoliticalAnthropology; Politicalculture; Politics, comparative; Societalanalysis.]


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Lapalombara, Joseph G.; and Weiner, Myron (editors) 1966 Political Parties and Political Development. Princeton Univ. Press.

Lerner, Daniel 1958 The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East. Glencoe, I11.: Free Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1964.

Levy, Marion J. 1966 Modernization and the Structure of Society: A Setting for International Affairs. 2 vols. Princeton Univ. Press.

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Just as no pattern of late-developing industrialization is likely to repeat at all closely the history of those European nations where modern economic growth first began, so no non-Western country is likely to have a bourgeoisie identical with those groups whose self-conscious sense of collective identity first gave rise to the term. In many countries there have been, and are, recognizable groups which, by virtue of their intermediate position between a power-holding ascriptive upper class and a large peasant or wage-working mass, might be granted the minimum qualification of middleness required for the label “bourgeoisie.” They are likely, however, to differ from the Western model by virtue of a variety of factors; the upper class from which they are differentiated may be not a landed nobility of military origins but a bureaucratic oligarchy, a theocratic court, or a colonial elite; within the middle class professionals or public servants may outnumber or outinfluence businessmen; the businessmen themselves may be more predominantly members of a corporation salariat than entrepreneurs; the state rather than the private firm may play the major role in industrialization; and the intellectuals of the middle class may function more as the importers and interpreters of ideologies than as their creators.


Japan, as the first non-Western country to achieve a high level of industrialization, provides an instructive illustration of some of these differences [seeJapanese society]. In Japan the drive to industrialize and the creation of a bourgeoisie were a consequence of a political revolution—the centralization of state power in the Meiji Restoration of 1868. In Europe, by contrast, causation ran mostly the other way: political change reflected the changed class relations resulting from economic growth.

Even before 1868 Japan already had a small merchant class which dominated interregional trade and controlled a good deal of handicraft production, but the majority of the crucially innovative entrepreneurs of the early stages of industrialization were drawn not from this old commercial middle class, but from the samurai—the warrior class that made up some 5–6 per cent of the population (Hirschmeier 1964). The samurai had been the retainers of the some 280 feudal lords, living in these lords’ castle-towns and staffing their fief administrations, drawing rice stipends for their services. They were already, therefore, more bureaucratic than gentrylike, more urban than rural, more group-oriented than individualistic (Hall 1962; Smith 1966). This is one reason for the early bureaucratization of business organization in Japan, although there are other factors involved too: late-developing industrialization requires less individual inventiveness and more institutionalized learning—which enhanced the importance placed on formal educational qualifications (Smith 1960)—and a good deal of the initial phases of industrialization was undertaken directly by the state. By the end of the nineteenth century the business elite of Japan was located in a few large corporations, and by the 1950s the majority of business leaders had spent the whole of their careers as salaried officials rather than as independent entrepreneurs (Dore 1966).

Politically the role of the middle class reflected a crucial difference between the upper class of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Japan and that of European countries in the early stages of industrialization—namely, that those who held prestige and power in Japanese society did not hold a large proportion of their property in land and did not have personal interests in the protection of agriculture even at the expense of manufacturing industry. The Meiji land settlement had removed the feudal lords and their retainers from their fiefs and compensated them for their feudal revenues in government bonds. A few hundred of these feudal families were incorporated into a titled aristocracy, most of whom invested their large stocks of compensation bonds in banking and in industry. They formed a conspicuously consuming rentier class whose life revolved around the imperial court and which, though at the pinnacle of the prestige hierarchy, was almost completely divorced from participation in either business or political life. And insofar as they were able or concerned to insure the protection of their interests, those interests coincided with those of the industrial middle class, lying pre-eminently in the fostering of industrial growth.

Power rested initially with the bureaucracy and the army, both recruited from the samurai class. Both were therefore staffed by men who held little property but their commutation bonds, little source of income besides their salary, little power but what they enjoyed by virtue of their office. Both rapidly developed procedures for recruitment by academic examination which strengthened their sense of being elites that deserved to rule.

Because it was a bureaucracy selected for scholastic merit and because there were no restrictions based on heredity to bar promotion into the upper power-holding elite (except for the barrier between the administrative and clerical grades), middle functionaries could always aspire to be top functionaries and were consequently not an important source of middle-class consciousness: they produced no John Stuart Mill.

The professions also offered a different constellation from that of postfeudal Europe. Japanese feudalism did not dissolve gradually through the legal formalization of the customary property rights of subordinate members of the feudal hierarchy and the transformation of those rights into marketable assets. Consequently, there was no development of a powerful group of independent lawyers, necessarily led by their professional interests to be keenly concerned with politics. The law faculty dominated the new universities, but the pick of its graduates was drawn into the bureaucracy or into the ranks of the state prosecutors and judges. The civilian lawyer, consequently, was typically a failed bureaucrat who carried little prestige and influence—the more so since the habit of formal litigation in civil matters was less developed than in Christian, Hindu, or Muslim societies. The principal independent professions, therefore, were those of medicine, teaching, and journalism; the first was naturally apolitical, the second only slightly less so and in any case dominated by the professors of state universities closely allied to the bureaucracy. Journalism was the one profession of political importance, and its practitioners played a strong supporting role in the opposition political movement that developed.

For there was in the nineteenth century a kind of “middle-class” challenge to the military and bureaucratic elites strong enough to force the grant of a constitution, the gradual extension of the franchise, and an expansion of the powers of political parties (Ike 1950). This challenge came not chiefly from a rising business class but, first, from other ex-samurai who had failed to get a footing in the bureaucracy and, second, from the landlords—men of peasant origin and mostly still farmers themselves, sometimes also brewers, timber merchants or proprietors of small food-processing establishments—whose land taxes provided the bulk of government revenue and who demanded some say in its use. Thus, the dichotomies that roughly held for Europe—rural, aristocratic, agricultural, and power-holding versus urban, middle-class, industrial-commercial, professional, and power-demanding—did not apply to Japan.

In the initial stages of constitutional rule, indeed, the landlords largely dominated the opposition political parties, which were allowed to criticize but not to control the bureaucracy (Scalapino 1953). Later, urban commercial and industrial interests gained an increasing hold on the political parties and, pari passu, there was an increasing interpenetration of the bureaucracy and the parties—bureaucrats giving up office to become politicians and the parties influencing appointments in the bureaucracy—with a consequent sharing of power between the two. By the time, in the early 1920s, that industrial concentration, universal education, and imported ideologies had combined to produce a working-class consciousness and the beginnings of a self-styled proletarian political movement, there was no longer any meaningful sense in which the forces that rallied to contain the threat from the working class could be divided into patrician and bourgeois or even into the power-elite and the power-hungry. By then the effective power struggle was between groups that can only be defined in terms of occupation and outlook, not in terms of class or status group—between, on the one hand, the army and its allies in the bureaucracy, the parties, and the business world and, on the other, the bulk of the bureaucracy, politicians, and businessmen, whose interests were represented in the civilian cabinet.

However, if there was, by this time, no meaningful distinction between upper and middle to be drawn between the groups that dominated the country politically, it is possible to distinguish from them another group—in European terms the lower middle class—that was already of some importance politically, particularly inasmuch as its support helped the army to win the struggle for control in the 1930s. These were the shopkeepers and small businessmen, together with the products of the secondary grades of education who became primary and secondary school teachers and the clerical workers in government and private business. These, unlike the dominant metropolitan groups, were men with their roots in local communities, the natural opinion leaders of those communities—Japan’s pseudo-intellectuals as one Japanese social scientist has dubbed them (Maruyama 1963)—leaders of reservists’ associations, organizers of patriotic charities, and so on. They had enough causes for personal resentment against the dominant groups (there was only one educational ladder of success and they were the ones who had risen only halfway up it), and they were provided with enough moral grounds for expressing their resentment by the luxury and corruption of the business classes, the arrogance of the bureaucrats, the unpatriotic concern for sectional interests of the politicians, and the un-Japanese cosmopolitanism of them all.

The cosmopolitanism was a factor of some importance. In Europe and America national consciousness developed its real strength in the bourgeoisie, very often in partial reaction against the cosmopolitanism of the aristocracy (especially, for instance, in the countries culturally on the fringe of Europe, such as Russia and America). In Japan it was the new professional bureaucratic and business classes themselves that were cosmopolitan. Since educational selection played so big a role in their recruitment, a university education was the chief thing that distinguished them from the rest of the population. A high proportion of them had been to foreign universities, if only for a year or two. But even the culture of the Japanese universities, which provided the bulk of their education, was not something evolved out of Japanese traditions; it was an importation—overtly so in the technological fields, less obviously but more consequentially so in the humanities and social sciences, where knowledge and values could not be sepa rated. A high proportion of the textbooks students read were translations or in foreign languages; their admired philosophers, physicists, jurists, novelists were German, French, and American; and they learned at the university not only about their subjects but also about Beethoven, whisky, animal protection societies, silk handkerchiefs, impressionism, waltzing, romantic love, anarchism, and all the other overt deviations from Japanese mores that the army (home-bred in much more quickly and wholly Japanized military academies) and the lower-middle groups (who had failed to get to a university) could denounce as cosmopolitan decadence (Bennett et al. 1958).

Nevertheless, even if an uncertain sense of cultural identity did prevent these new middle-upper groups from being the bearers of nationalism as opposed to cosmopolitanism, they were just as effective as their European counterparts in promoting nationalism at the expense of regional parochialism—and for the similar reason that they were geographically and socially mobile. Their mobility may have been different from that of the traveling late-medieval merchant—mobility from provincial home to metropolitan school, from one provincial bureaucratic appointment to another—but it had the same effect, of weakening local loyalties, which in Japan centered on the Tokugawa fiefs.

Equally, there were similarities between the cultural and ethical values of these groups and those of their European counterparts, determined by the very fact that their education was European in inspiration. The process was different, if the end results somewhat the same. Thus, for instance, a secular world view came with Western science, rather than giving birth to it. Like the steam engine, the Enlightenment did not have to be invented again. The effectiveness of this diffusion through intellectual channels depended, however, on the extent to which the traditional culture was receptive (the ground was already prepared, for instance, for greater stress on achievement at the expense of ascriptive criteria by changes within the samurai class (Smith 1966) and on the extent to which other structural changes supported the new values. The latter point may be illustrated by the contrast between two different elements of the Protestant ethic stereotype: “inner-worldly asceticism” and individualism. The first was a marked characteristic of the new Japanese middle classes, although the underlying mechanisms were different—the Japanese was trained to sacrifice immediate for future gratifications through the discipline of a strenuously purposeful education rather than by the practice of thrift; the dream of success was sanctified by the approval not of God, but of the ancestors, the guardians of the family whose honor the success would adorn. By contrast, the other central feature of the Protestant middle-class ethic—individualism—was much less marked in Japan. The traditions of the family and the fief as institutions demanding a total loyalty and Japan’s religious history (Buddhism did not have Christianity’s emphasis on conviction, conscience, and principle, and on separating truth from error) are a partial explanation (Benedict 1946). Just as important were the early emphasis on occupational selection through education and the early bureaucratization of business. Even in the initial stages of industrialization most Japanese spent most of their lives firmly embedded either in a traditional community or in a large organization, and both school and firm (for labor mobility was low above the manual worker level) laid claims to a lifetime’s loyalty. It was remarked in 1940 that in the sense of a flowering of individual creativity, the Chinese—who for a century had Western education but no stable development of modern corporate organizations—were more thoroughly “Westernized” than the Japanese (Hu 1940).

The priority of the firm, corporation, or government department as a focus of “belonging” is a reason not only for the lack of individuation but also for the lack of consciousness of class membership. Japan’s society was more segmented than stratified. Thus, the tendency present in all advanced industrial societies for the lines of cleavage between status and class groups to become blurred into a gradual declension of income and prestige has been very marked in postwar Japan.

Consequently, one may say that the middle class has disappeared or, alternatively, that it has swallowed up an ever larger segment of the nation. The defeat and the elimination of the army as a significant political and cultural force ended polarization around the issues of cosmopolitanism or tradition. Power became more widely diffused among economic, political, and administrative groups in a pluralistic system. The corporation with its life-time employment pattern came to embrace even larger groups of the population. Occupational selection became even more rigidly dependent on educational qualification. And rapid economic growth brought the same homogenizing effects—mass production of the consumer durables of prestige significance, wider diffusion of mass media of deeper impact, etc.—as in other societies. If one were to draw a major dividing line through the Japanese population today it would probably be to distin guish a lower class of poorer farmers and less skilled manual workers—perhaps 40 to 50 per cent of the population—from the remainder, who, though graded in income, differ little in standards (as opposed to levels) of living, in leisure tastes, reading habits, dress, accent, or aspirations. It is the broadening of this latter group and the relative homogeneity of its aspirations that have so intensified the pressure on the educational system that the intensely competitive entrance examinations for “the good schools” have become the events around which the whole lives of many families revolve (Vogel 1963; Plath 1964).

Sub-Saharan Africa

The ex-colonial countries of sub-Saharan Africa in some senses show the closest parallels to the Japanese pattern. It is rarely possible, for instance, to draw a meaningful distinction between an upper and a middle class, even where, as in the precolonial period, there was relatively marked social differentiation between the mass of the population and a chiefly stratum with dominant control over land and some degree of hereditary continuity [seeAfrican society]. Even in British Africa, where the power of the chiefs over land was strengthened by a system of indirect rule, they rarely achieved a sufficiently radical differentiation in culture and style of life to be termed a “landed aristocracy/” (This is true even of Buganda, which is the nearest to an exception to this generalization [see Apter 1961; Fallers 1964].) And in those areas where the traditional political structure has survived into the postindependence period (as in Uganda and northern Nigeria), the chiefs or emirs tend to retain only local influence in a position of subordination to the new national or federal elites. When chiefs or the sons of chiefs themselves belong to this new political elite as civil servants, soldiers, or politicians, they most commonly do so by virtue of their education or professional training rather than by virtue of their heredity. (Again, even in Uganda there was a tendency for Gandan politicians to move into the national Ugandan majority party and away from a Bugandan identification [Lee 1965].)

The real upper class of these societies had been, of course, the group of white officials, teachers, and settlers. In the preindependence period the educated members of the professions who led the independence movements and now form the new national elites could well have been described as a “rising middle class.” (The term “African bourgeoisie” was chosen by a sociologist to describe the South African counterparts of these professionals, precisely “to emphasise in terms of social change and prospective power their role at the apex of subordination” [Kuper 1965, p. 8].)

With independence and the removal of the colonial power the “apex of subordination” became the apex of the society. Those who were trained for teaching, the civil service, the army, the press, medicine, or the law, chiefs’ sons educated to be better chiefs—men whose chief common characteristic was a shared experience of postprimary education in European, not African, traditions—have formed the relatively unstratified political elite of the new states. As in Meiji Japan, political struggles—when they are not still largely struggles between “primordial” local or ethnic groups—are usually struggles between the “ins” and the “outs,” factional groups not distinguished by different social origins or a different constellation of material interests. (“When a developing country has two PH.DS, one will be prime minister and the other in exile.”)

These educated professional groups as yet have few rivals for political or cultural influence, not least because the field of commerce was, and to a lesser extent remains, dominated by non-African immigrant communities—Asians and Arabs in east Africa, Levantines and Europeans in the west. Although in the colonial period these groups—particularly Asians in Kenya or Uganda—were some-times more successful than Africans in pressing for political participation at an earlier stage, independence has seen a marked decline in their influence. They have become marginal minorities, culturally distinct and socially separated from Africans of similar income levels, tolerated for their essential services to the economy but (with a few exceptions, such as in Senegal) generally the object of discriminatory credit and fiscal policies designed to nurture an African trading class to replace them. Insofar as they translate their wealth into higher education tor their sons, however, they may maintain their position by entry into the administrative and professional class itself—though without changing the nature of that class or the pattern of its dominance. Meanwhile, in only a few areas, such as Ghana and western Nigeria, have there emerged African traders of sufficient substance to acquire a notable share of political influence and thereby dilute the predominantly professional character of the elite (Hunter 1962).


Among ex-colonial countries, India stands out as being somewhat different because the colonial power took over a more developed literate civilization because the land settlement created a landlord class of a modern rather than of a tribal-chieftainly kind, because a sizable business class—mostly commercial but partly industrial—had developed before independence, and because Western education and the devolution of power began so much earlier. There was even something similar to the European division between an upper and a middle class. On the one hand were the civil servants of the higher ranks, mostly drawn from the wealthiest (especially landed) families and identified with the colonial status quo; on the other were professional groups, such as physicians and, especially, lawyers, who were active in the independence movement (Misra 1961).

Postindependence India, however, is an even more striking example than Japan of the numerical and cultural predominance of the educationally qualified administrative and professional groups over mercantile and industrial elements within the occupations traditionally defined as bourgeois. The reasons are fairly clear: because state enterprise plays an even more dominant part in industrialization and because the bureaucracy has also expanded to accord with the dominant mid-twentieth-century notions of the role of the state in welfare, educational, and cultural, as well as in economic matters—notions that have evolved in response to the economic development of the advanced industrial societies but are now generally accepted also in societies at a much lower level of industrial development.

The diffusion of European middle-class values chiefly through the educational process is even more marked in India than it was in Japan, if only because British universities played such a large part in training the administrative elite and Indian universities were much more overtly modeled on the British. Even if they free themselves from the British model, Indian universities are bound to be modern institutions with a predominantly “Western” content and an entirely “Western” orientation in the techniques of research and scholarship. The problem of national identity—of accepting the alien origins of one’s culture and at the same time accepting one’s Indianness, of believing in the superiority of the imported alien to the traditional native values and ideologies and yet retaining one’s national pride—this pull between tradition and modernity is acute (Shils 1961). It is especially so for intellectuals, but it has not, as in Japan in the 1930s, been brought to a point of traumatic exacerbation. In Japan the conflict with the West heightened the strain. India does not feel this strain so acutely, partly because of the syncretic tradition of Hindu culture, partly because a modus vivendi between the traditional and the modern cultures has had time to become established, and finally because India and the West are not in political conflict. (In China, where the political hostility has been brought to a crucial pitch, the initial solution for intellectuals lay in the fact that by adopting one type of nineteenth-century European middle-class ideology, Marxism, they had a firm basis for confident denunciation of other types embodied in the modern American enemy. Later, as tensions developed in relations with other Marxist countries it became necessary to Sinicize Marxism itself.)

Middle East and Latin America

Other countries, by contrast, notably in the Middle East and in Latin America, show patterns much more similar to the European than to either the Japanese or the ex-colonial type, particularly inasmuch as they have—or until recently had—a recognizable landed upper class to provide a defining boundary for the “middleness” of the new professional and business groups. The political development of Egypt during this century can be interpreted, for instance, in terms familiar to European history. The Wafd, beginning in the 1920s as an alliance of the landlords and the business elites against the ruling house and its foreign protectors, became increasingly penetrated by the new white collar, professional, and small business groups in the 1930s. Finally, after it was allowed to share in power, it was increasingly weakened by tension between party oligarchy and rank and file to the benefit of the rival Muslim Brotherhood, a party whose center of gravity was at an even more popular level and which combined demands for social and economic reform with a reaffirmation of Islam (thus providing a solution to the late-developer’s cultural dilemma by being modern while remaining traditional, accepting foreign models while remaining nationalist). Finally, the military revolution reconcentrated power in the hands of men predominantly of middle-class origin, though without government ever having been effectively exercised by men who were consciously representative of middle-class interests [seeNearEastern society; see also Vatikiotis 1961].

Similar processes may be observed in many Latin American countries, where again the “emergence of the middle sectors” has been looked on as the most hopeful source of political and economic progress [seeLatin American political thought; see also Johnson 1958]. In the Middle East and Latin America there has occurred a progressive fusion of the old upper and the newer middle groups. The successful lawyer, banker, or civil servant buys himself a prestige estate (to be used, also, for recreation, tax write-off, and sometimes genuinely agricultural profit-making purposes). The landlord invests in metropolitan business and puts his sons through professional training. The process of fusion is not unlike that, for example, in England, though with one crucial difference. In the English fusion the aristocracy absorbed bourgeois values in good measure—some becoming progressive commercial farmers, some of their sons going into trade, their schools developing the moral seriousness of purpose of the empire builder, and so on. In late-developing countries, by contrast, the aristocratic values are likely to emerge as the dominant ones for the following reasons: (1) professionals and the salariat predominate in the middle groups (expansion of government far beyond that of Europe at a similar stage of development; emergence of the modern corporation full-blown as the initiator of economic development; predominance in the business world of the foreign firm, whose managers and top technicians are outside the indigenous culture, society, and polity); (2) occupational aspirations are consequently concentrated on official or professional, rather than business or technological careers; (3) the universities (as opposed, for example, to the churches) play a dominant role in the formation of common values (the administrative and corporation salariat have above all to be qualified; education, like government, is more easily expanded to developed-country levels than is industry); (4) universities, designed primarily to train administrators, emphasize law, philosophy, the humanities, neglecting science, engineering, commerce; in other words they provide an education of a traditional consumption-oriented kind, reinforcing aristocratic values at the expense of those parts of the European (or Japanese) middle-class ethic—production-orientation, emphasis on diligence, objective standards of merit, dominance of nature, etc.—which were most important for economic development. Even the business world remains frozen in attitudes characteristic of the mercantilist period in Europe: the acquisition of wealth depends on political patronage and aristocratic connections; it is a function of power to get licenses and permits which are a source of money in themselves, requiring no production effort (Cochran 1959; van der Kroef 1956).

This does not prevent the new middle groups from effectively promoting new values and behavior patterns in some fields. In the Middle East, for instance, it is the middle, not the upper groups that have been the pioneers in feminine education and the general emancipation of women (Berger 1958). In Latin America new literary movements have chiejfly been promoted by and for the new middle groups (Ellison 1964).

Similarly, if the ethos of the new middle groups seems often directly inimical to economic development, they may still play a crucial role in promoting it insofar as middle-class intellectuals inspire, and men of middle-class origins in armies or revolutionary parties carry through, revolutionary political changes that destroy the existing correlation of power with wealth (both traditional landed and modern urban) to create a new regime that radically alters the dominant ethos, gives honor to the engineer, the manager, and the chemist, and uses state power to mobilize the resources necessary for developmental investment. To be sure, the gentlemanly antiscientific bias of the predominant culture may be such that even revolutionary regimes genuinely intent on economic development find it difficult to will the means to their economic ends. It was, for instance, some years after 1958 that the Cuban government recovered from a belief that revolutionary elan was all that was needed to build a new Jerusalem and began to recognize the essential importance of technological and economic skills (Dumont 1964).

Eventually the lesson is likely to be learned, however, and the exemplary effect of a few revolutionary regimes, together with the influence exerted by the expanding international organizations concerned with development, tend to promote in other countries as well the transformation of values that leads from aristocracy to technocracy. Whether that technocracy will be effective in its role of economic development, however—whether it can, as a salariat, show the same dedication as the legendary Puritan entrepreneur to the cause of growing two blades of grass where only one grew before—depends on whether it can find sufficient strength of motivation either in nationalism or in some reformist ideology to provide a substitute for the entrepreneur’s more self-interested concerns (Gellner 1965).

Ronald P. Dore

[See alsoBureaucracy; Stratification, Social.]


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views updated Jun 27 2018


Peter N. Stearns

The concept of modernization was developed primarily by historical sociologists, and primarily in the United States, during the 1950s. The theory derived in part from earlier work by seminal social scientists, such as Max Weber, dealing with cumulative historical developments such as bureaucratization and organizational rationalization. In addition to these credentials, modernization took from Marxism the idea of progressive historical change while denying the need for revolution as its motor. Modernization provided a more optimistic, less violent view of major change. The theory's sweep and implicit optimism were seen as an alternative to Marxist formulations and took root in the context of the cold war. It also put economic change, including industrialization, in a wide political and social context. Major scholars who outlined the theory and organized empirical studies on its base included Daniel Lerner, Alex Inkeles, and Myron Weiner. Cyril Black and Gilbert Rozman took the lead in historical applications and comparisons.

Modernization theorists contended that there were fundamental differences between modern and traditional societies involving changes in outlook and in political, economic, and social structure. Western Europe (and perhaps the United States) first developed these modern characteristics, which would, however, become standard in other societies over the course of time. Finally, in many formulations the key features of modern society were not only different from but preferable to those of traditional units: they involved more wealth and better health, more political freedoms and rights, more knowledge and control over superstition, and even more enlightened treatment of children.

Modernization theory was widely utilized for two decades, by social historians as well as social scientists. Social historians in the 1970s could easily refer to such developments as the modernization of the European family. Modernization of child rearing, for example, included new levels of affection for children and a reduction in harsh discipline, and historians found evidence of this process in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A cluster of scholars worked on patterns of modernization in social protest, from rioting in defense of older, threatened standards to articulate political movements on behalf of newly claimed rights. These imaginative extensions of the theory added to the more obvious uses of modernization such as the expansion of education or greater geographic and social mobility.

Modernization theory also required definitions of traditional society, now sometimes called premodern. Shared characteristics of premodern societies ranged from lack of widespread literacy to an inability to conceive of political issues in abstract terms; premodern people, so the argument went, could only attach politics to the persons of particular monarchs or representatives. "Traditional" personalities looked to the past for guidance and, oriented to groups, lacked a commitment to individual identity. Sweeping generalizations about traditional societies, not always supported by careful research, proved to be one of modernization theory's greatest vulnerabilities.

Attacks on modernization emerged by the mid-1970s, led by critics like Dean Tipps, who argued against the use of purely Western models to measure modern world history. The concept fell into increasing disfavor; but it continues to have partisans and, more broadly, it often slips into untheoretical historical discourse. No longer widely debated or formally utilized by European social historians, modernization nevertheless deserves attention not simply as a relic but as an attempt to link various processes of change during the past several centuries.


As a term "modernization" can be used with many meanings. It can refer simply to technological change: during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries military modernization, in this sense, can mean little more than updating weaponry. Economic modernization, though a bit broader in implication, can be little more than a synonym for industrialization. Thus one could say that the French economy began to modernize in the 1820s, or the pace of modernization accelerated under Napoleon III in the 1850s.

However, the core meanings of the modernization concept, beyond surface descriptions, are twofold, with both aspects closely related. First, modernization often is used to describe patterns outside western Europe that are replicating patterns previously manifested within western Europe, or patterns that will or should develop in future. Thus Kemal Atatürk (first president of Turkey) attempted to modernize Turkey from the 1920s onward, mainly by attempting to introduce social forms that were already part of western European social history, broadly construed, a more secular society, wider education, industrial development, family planning, changes in the roles of women, and so on. This use of modernization treats modern European social history as a template for measuring or predicting developments outside of western Europe. Global modernization, particularly in optimistic 1960s formulations, assumed that all societies could ultimately modernize—that the social history of all civilizations would ultimately draw them closer to the trajectories of western Europe. But the formulations could also be used to identify lags: Why did Turkey modernize more slowly than the Soviet Union? Would India be able to modernize? In addition, the model could be used as a framework for comparisons of different modernization patterns, such as Soviet versus Western.

This first use of modernization theory, to summarize western European patterns as a predictive or at least descriptive model, assumed that such patterns could be agreed upon. Familiar components included industrialization, urbanization, the demographic transition (dramatically lower birth rates but also lower infant death rates), the rise of science, mass education and literacy, the growth of government and business bureaucracies, and changes in political structure, including wider suffrage. But there were areas of debate: Did modernization involve growing secularization or could/should it include new kinds of religious interests? Did it necessarily expand political participation and freedom? And there were areas of extension that went beyond some of the staples of modern European history: some modernization theorists thus posited the emergence of a modern personality type, contrasting with more traditional personalities in being more individualistic, more committed to a belief in progress, and less fatalistic.

The second meaning of modernization applied more directly to western European social history, though it undergirded the global application as well: modernization theory suggested an intertwining of otherwise discrete processes, so that somehow (it was not always clear how, save in rough chronological lockstep) the processes supported each other and conjoined. Thus economic modernization—in the sense of industrialization, technological change in agriculture, and the growth of business units—occurred in relationship to several other major, parallel changes: the spread of education; the diffusion of more scientific outlooks; changes in the state, such as new levels of political participation, shifts in governmental function (more promotion of economic growth, less promotion of particular churches), and bureaucratization; changes in family structure, such as new levels of birth control and growing emphasis on the nuclear as opposed to the extended family; and a decline of privileges of birth and a rise of legal equality and opportunities for social mobility. The range of interconnections could be awesome, particularly when modernization involved not only structural changes—like the spread of factories or urbanization—but also shifts in outlook, including new attitudes toward children or, at its most ambitious, the new personality types. In both its meanings, modernization theory obviously assumed major and mutually related changes between traditional and modern societies.

The theory had a number of potential advantages. It could provide a shorthand: rather than running through all the discrete developments that made a modern society different from a traditional one, modernization theory would sum them up. It suggested attention to process: modernization took place over decades or possibly centuries in cases, such as western Europe, where there was no established model to imitate. The emphasis on interrelationships was attractive not only to social scientists interested less in history in detail than in history as a source of large, intelligible trends, but also to social historians concerned about linking their special topics—like family history—to more general developments, including some of the staples of modern political and intellectual history. Modernization theory made it possible to integrate more easily. Changes affecting ordinary people—the social historian's preferred focus—related to more familiar shifts in elite policy and behavior, if the whole society ultimately was heading in a common, modernizing direction. Changes in one facet of behavior, such as sexuality, could be linked not only to shifts in other clearly sociohistorical facets, such as attitudes to the body or health, but also to trends in political or intellectual life.

Finally, many historians of Europe who dealt with areas outside the western European core and with periods before the nineteenth century found modernization theory useful. Russian experts, for example, were able to link some of the major trends in Russian history to apparently common, if earlier, modern patterns in Britain or France. Students of early modern European history, dealing with what might otherwise seem a rather remote seventeenth century, for example, gained new salience by suggesting that in order to understand the European modernization process, one had to go back to its prior stages, to patterns first shaped three or four centuries ago. The emphasis on process and interrelationship in modernization theory encouraged broad thinking yet at the same time could generate new claims for the significance of specialized areas of study.

Discussing modernization theory in the context of European social history involves three stages: first, defining what the theory implies in greater detail; second, noting some of the questions the theory inherently raises, to which social historians have supplied varying answers; and third, probing the various objections to the theory that have so dramatically reduced its acceptance among social historians (without, however, fully eliminating its use).


Western and eastern Europe obviously underwent a series of transformations in the framework for social and personal life, mostly beginning in western Europe in the eighteenth century. These changes include industrialization—with its conjoined features of expanded manufacturing, rapid technological shifts, and alterations of the organization of work, particularly through factories—and ultimately the increase in available wealth, however inequitably distributed. They also include the growth of urban influence and then the rapid growth of cities themselves. Change in basic social structures also involved the expansion of governments, including larger and more specialized bureaucracies, and, by the nineteenth century at least, the redefinition of government functions. The state's gradual assumption of responsibility for the education of all children, public health activities, mass military conscription, and some preliminary regulatory and welfare functions fall in the category of structural modernization, in altering the relationship between state and society.

The modernization of social frameworks could include at least three other facets. First, with industrialization and also the legal changes encouraged by the French Revolution (including equality before the law and the abolition of guilds), social class, based on property, earnings, and to a lesser extent education, began to replace social order or estate, based on legal privilege as well as property, as the structure for social relationships. With this shift also came new popular definitions of, and interest in, social mobility; it seemed possible and desirable for more people to acquire schooling and money and so move up in status. Earnings replaced inherited legal status as the building block for social hierarchy.

Second, many modernization theorists were also comfortable with the idea of cultural modernization, whereby Europeans increasingly embraced a belief in progress and science and a growing interest in individual identities. These changes were associated with the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, particularly as now understood by cultural-social historians eager to probe popular beliefs as well as more formal intellectual activities. The decline of credence in magic, or at least public approval of beliefs rooted in magic, and their replacement by more rational calculations such as insurable risk would be part of a cultural modernization that redefined the structures of life as much as the fundamental alterations in government functions did. In a similar vein, though less strictly tied to the Enlightenment, the rise of national identities, replacing or modifying more traditional local and religious loyalties, were taken by some historians as signs of a modernizing mentality in western Europe. This development, beginning around the time of the French Revolution, was actively encouraged by expanding networks of newspapers and state-sponsored schools in the nineteenth century.

Finally, the idea of a modernization of health continues to appeal to some scholars. At first gradually and unevenly, then by the later nineteenth century quite rapidly, health conditions improved in western Europe. Measures such as vaccination, gains in food supply and the reliability of food transportation, the ultimate impact of public health programs such as sewage systems, and in the long run the results of more sanitary and effective medical procedures did improve longevity—while at the same time tolerance for traditional high levels of mortality decreased.

With structural modernization defined, some modernization theorists turned to related (perhaps resultant, perhaps merely concomitant) changes in people's behaviors, particularly in private areas over which they have greatest control, and in the values they apply to their behaviors and their environment. Here is where the modernization of the family entered. The concept of family modernization included growing emphasis on the nuclear unit as opposed to more extended family relationships. It also included, ultimately, a commitment to unprecedented levels of birth control, designed both to protect the family's economic standing and to permit greater attention to, and expenditure on, individual children. It could include reevaluation of traditional child discipline. In some formulations, family modernization also meant the transition of the family from a unit largely intended as the basis for economic production, and formed with this goal in mind through arranged marriages and dowries, to a unit more focused on emotional and recreational satisfactions, with production increasingly moving out of the domestic setting.

Some social historians applied the idea of behavioral modernization, within the framework established by cultural modernization, to other developments they identified in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, especially in the west. Naming was one example. We know that by the late eighteenth century western Europeans had changed practices of naming infants in at least three respects, on average. First, they named infants relatively early, rather than waiting, as some Irish peasants once did, as much as two years to make sure the infant survived. Second, they no longer reused a name after a child died: new names were attached to each child born. Third, they gradually began to favor names based on criteria other than family tradition or religious figures, a shift that began to generate a certain faddism in name popularities that has continued to the present day. This set of changes can be taken as a sign of secularization in outlook and also of individuation, as parents came to see children as individual figures and to seek names that would encourage each child to do the same.

Similarly, historians of crime and historically minded criminologists explored the application of modernization theory to their area of interest. They examined how modernization brought a reduction in the ratio of crimes of violence to those of property, along with changes in policing and crime techniques. Some scholars, noting the unquestionable decline in murders per capita in western Europe from the Middle Ages at least until the late twentieth century, also discussed more effective social control and personal restraint and the link between these social and behavioral changes and broader processes of political and economic modernization.

The modernization of protest, particularly when it involved new beliefs about the relevance of political rights and a new capacity to raise novel demands, even more clearly linked behavioral changes to the larger patterns of structural modernization, including the redefinitions of the state. New state functions increased popular belief that the state should be a target of protest and that overtly political means could be used to obtain new rights.

On another, personal front, heightened consumer interests, now traced clearly to the eighteenth century in western Europe, seemed to signal a new commitment to materialism and material progress and also a new capacity to express personal meaning and identity in the acquisition of objects such as clothing—another possible sign of personal modernization. Few social historians have shared the sociological theorists' enthusiasm for a sweeping modernization statement that would attribute crime, education, protest, and consumerism to a modernized, as opposed to traditional, personality, but obviously social history findings have established ingredients that seem to reflect significant shifts in this direction.


The above presentation of the main lines of structural and associated behavioral modernization suggests a tidy package—which is what advocates of the theory seek. Modernization, according to its advocates, should link a variety of major changes that distinguish a traditional from a fully modern society, and its clarity in summing up changes in western Europe should permit application of an empirically derived modernization model to other areas.

Yet, even in its most successful formulations, modernization theory has some obvious weaknesses and raises several crucial questions—some would add, like any very ambitious social-historical theory. Most obviously, causation was unclear. Modernization theory was primarily descriptive, talking about linkages whose concomitant occurrence could be traced. Unlike Marxism, it does not really seek to assess what would cause the whole process to start. Yet the interconnections among trends that modernization theory insists upon imply causation. The problem is that the theory itself does not clearly stipulate priorities; it does not clearly indicate what factors came first in launching the whole process. To the extent that most social historians, confronted with some of the big changes in modern history, also seek to explore the factors that prompted them, modernization tantalizes more than it satisfies.

What, for example, was the role of education in the European modernization process? Many non-European observers, looking in the nineteenth century at Europe's industrialization, felt that education was a key factor in causing economic change. Thus Muhammed Ali, the reform leader who seized power in Egypt in the 1820s and 1830s, sent students to European technical schools. Japanese reformers in the 1860s, like Yukichi Fukuzawa, saw educational reform as the key means of introducing Western-like commitments to science and innovation into Japanese culture. But actual educational change occurred very slowly in European social history. Literacy had advanced by the later eighteenth century, though often to rudimentary levels, but exposure to formal schooling was in most places haphazard and incomplete until after the 1860s. Further, several social historians have shown that until the late nineteenth century the connection between educational achievement and industrial development was loose at best—as witnessed by the individual success of relatively uneducated workers or, at a more macro level, the industrial achievements but educational lag of Great Britain. So the question of where education fits in the causation stream of European modernization goes unanswered.

The issue of technology change is another example. Modernization theory obviously assumes major changes in industrial and military technology, and technology levels form one of the most obvious contrasts between traditional and modern societies. But modernization theory does not indicate causal priorities, whether new technology causes or results from basic initial modernization. Once again, the theory invites causal analysis—from what stage of structural or behavioral modernization did a key invention like the steam engine flow, for example—but offers no clear resolution.

Linked to the problem of causation is modernization theory's chronological imprecision, particularly when applied to European social history. When, in time, does modernization definitively begin? Unlike Japan after 1868, western Europe made no explicit decision to reform in modernizing directions. The above discussion suggests the eighteenth century as seedbed, but many historians would place key changes earlier. Was the Renaissance, with its more secular outlook and commercial emphasis, part of the modernization process? Some medievalists, eager to claim their period's role in ongoing trends, have argued that the inception of the modern European state goes back to the twelfth century, when greater centralization, expansion of governmental function, and the beginnings of bureaucratic specialization can clearly be traced. How can this claim, empirically accurate, be assessed in terms of modernization theory? Because the criteria for the inception of modernization are vague, answering chronological questions of this sort is difficult. Yet, without the capacity to deal with these issues, can the theory be of use in European social history?

Problems of chronological origins are not necessarily irresolvable. Because modernization theory insists on the cooccurrence of major changes, it is possible to argue that a single strand of development, such as the expansion of the central monarchies in the high Middle Ages, does not constitute the process, however much such changes may unintentionally prepare the way. But the theory remains vague, and this kind of sorting out has not occurred.

The same problems of definition, causation, and chronological precision apply when the theory is extended to other parts of Europe. Russia provides a classic example. Peter the Great's selective Westernization program, initiated around 1700, brought major change to Russia. Military technology and organization, aspects of economic production (particularly in metallurgy and arms), and elite culture and education all shifted significantly. Virtually all surveys of Russian history refer to Peter's major role in Russian modernization. But is this when modernization began in Russia? Did Peter's forceful changes merely accelerate earlier developments, or were his initiatives too lopsided and forced to initiate a broad modernization? Again, the answer to when modernization begins may be sought in the coherence of change, particularly in terms of social history. A historical setting like eighteenth-century Russia, in which commerce and merchant groups did not significantly advance, mass culture was unaltered, and conditions of serfdom became more rigorous, is not a setting that clearly suggests modernization. Dissociation of Peter's reforms from modernization would not downgrade the reforms' significance, but it would remind us that not all major change, even within the last three centuries, can be lumped under a single heading. Yet modernization theory is not in fact historically precise enough to permit a definitive response to this aspect of the Russian case: the issue of when modernization begins opens more questions than answers.

The same issue of definition applies to the end of the modernization process. At what point, and by what criteria, can one say that a society is modernized, such that further major change no longer attaches to a modernization process? When a society is urban, industrial, bureaucratized, individualistic—is it modernized? Current theoretical formulations that refer to postmodern societies, as in western Europe after World War II, suggest an end to the modernization process and its replacement with another set of basic trends. But the postmodern concept, outside of specific realms such as art and architecture, is itself rather vague. Some basic modernizing features seem to persist, in western Europe and elsewhere, for example, in the changes in peasant habits that see peasants become avid consumers, eager for complex technology, with reduced interest in the land. The result is another incompletely resolved problem for analysis: Is the concept of modernization useful in dealing with advanced industrial societies in the twenty-first century and, if not, when and by what criteria did its utility cease?

Issues of causation and chronology are joined by those of geography. Here, to be sure, modernization theory is quite clear: basically similar processes should occur when a society modernizes, regardless of where it is located. Yet most European social historians remain attached to older historical habits that insist, to some degree at least, on peculiarities of place. They are thus inclined to point to significant distinctions between the modern history of, say, France and that of England—even though in modernization theory the two nations should be readily coupled. French industrialization emphasized craft products more than British industrialization did, it relied on a larger female labor force, and it generated a more politically radical working class. Modernization would insist on the common elements in the industrialization process, and perhaps rightly so; but many social historians would be uncomfortable with dismissing these important regional differences. And if this problem applies to two close Western neighbors, the comparative issues loom even larger if eastern and western Europe are to be seen sharing a historical dynamic (if at slightly different times), or if the United States (a clearly modernizing society) is amalgamated with western European history. Modernization theory can make allowance for differences in specific context in terms of when the basic process of change begins, but it does not so readily accommodate other distinctions.

This problem of geography relates, in turn, to a final general set of questions, this one about the traditional society from which modernization departs. At an extreme, modernization theorists, in their enthusiasm for common processes of change, might imply an undifferentiated traditional society, which change will itself gradually erase. Comparative scholars more commonly noted the importance of different traditional contexts, caused, for example, by religious distinctions: thus Russia's Christianity contrasted with Japan's cultural heritage, leading to sensitive discussions of different paths to modernization. Even with these allowances, however, the emphasis on common processes remained strong.

Yet most social historians, looking at parts of Europe before the eighteenth century, remain far more interested in regional patterns. Guild structures, for example, loomed far larger in eighteenth-century Germany than in England. Would this difference be wiped away by a common modernization, or would it produce deep differences in the process of change in both countries? Family systems, too, varied considerably. In many parts of Europe, social historians have discovered that the nuclear family was the predominant unit by the later Middle Ages. Thus the assumption by some modernization theorists that a common traditional extended family pattern everywhere inevitably yielded to nuclear family organization loses accuracy in the case of western Europe and much of North America. In other words, empirically "traditional" societies varied greatly, and to the extent these variations continued to affect aspects of modern social history, the resulting diversity seriously compromises modernization's accuracy and claim to universality.


Modernization theory not only raises huge historical issues, it also has provoked ringing dissent and attack. Social historians were reacting vigorously against the theory by the early 1980s: while one held out for "better than no model at all," other comments included "too big and slippery for deft manipulation," "historically crude," "elusive," and "inadequate . . . for comprehending the diversity of the human experience during several centuries of social transformation."

By this point, modernization theory ceased to be applied to many aspects of historical change. Historians who had used modernization to describe changes in protest or family patterns, for example, dropped the reference. Models of changes in protest forms and goals persisted or, as in the case of the family, the links between traditional and more recent patterns might be reevaluated and made more complicated; but either way, modernization no longer seemed to help. Modernization theory seemed irrelevant to major new discoveries, such as the existence of an active consumer culture in western Europe in the eighteenth century. Even when this early culture was directly linked to more recent consumer patterns, analysts no longer made modernization references at all; the links were evaluated and explained more discretely. New findings in the history of crime—for example, that violence shifted in the late nineteenth century from attacks against relative strangers to attacks against family members—similarly implied no new facet of modernization.

Three basic objections emerged by the mid-1970s. First, and most vigorously, scholars from various disciplines objected to modernization's ethnocentric qualities: that all societies should be measured and all predictions should be founded on western Europe as a standard model. This critique was an extension of the geographical homogenization questions about modernization, and it has proved very powerful. Modernization references still are applied to "non-Western" societies such as Latin America and China on the basis of presumed previous Western trends, but all-out partisans are now few in number.

Second, modernization's characteristic optimism drew criticism, even when applied to western Europe. The blanket notion that modern people are in all ways better off than premodern people is not now widely accepted. Here social historians like E. P. Thompson have contributed powerfully, though earlier theories such as Marxism already constrained optimism. Studies of the relationship between modern work and premodern work, in terms of stress and satisfaction alike, call linear progressive models into question; many features of work have arguably deteriorated with greater time pressures, de-skilling, and removal from community life. The same applies to aspects of leisure, or community cohesion, or even child rearing (which once was seen as a dramatic area of modern advance). Ironically, these evaluative objections do not destroy other features of the theory: a society might modernize and get worse, or at least generate mixed results. But in practice, greater skepticism about the benefits of modern life has contributed to modernization's fall from grace.

Finally, and most important in terms of European social history, modernization's implications of ultimate, basic uniformity in the direction of change have drawn attack. Precisely because social historians see societies composed of radically different groups, they have trouble accepting common ultimate dynamics. What does modernization mean, for example, when the experiences and values of workers and the middle class vary so? Where modernization theory once assumed that, ultimately, peasants would modernize (technologically, politically, and culturally) and so merge with urban groups, social historians are now more prone to note persistent distinctions, based on differences in power and prior class culture.

The new levels of attention historians paid to gender called forth similar objections, along with an obvious empirical problem. Modernization theory had focused very little on the issue of gender. Historians now asked, did men and women "modernize" in the same ways? If modernization meant individuation, for example, how can this apply to the special domestic, subservient ideology created for women in the most "modern," middle-class families in western Europe during the century of industrialization? More fundamentally, does modernization mean more or less formal participation for women in the workforce? The answer is clearly less (except for key cases like Russia, where industrialization proved compatible with continuing high levels of women's work). But if the modernization process persists into the mid-twentieth century, then it embraces a massive reinsertion of women into the labor force. Applying the modernization formula is immensely complicated, precisely because of the diverse experiences of different social classes and of men and women.

The combined force of these objections accounts for the waning commitment to modernization theory; its moment of glory in social history has thus far proved brief. In the international arena, world economy theory, arguing for the durable importance of economic relationships first set up in the fifteenth century, is now far more widely used than modernization; it stresses diversity between dominant and subordinate international trading areas and is often pessimistic about outcomes, in marked contrast to the modernization model.

For European social history itself, no model with modernization's sweep has arrived to reclaim the power of synthesis: no overarching framework unites various facets of social change. Important theoretical statements have been devised or revived: considerable work on personal habits and family relationships, for example, utilizes Norbert Elias's theory of the "civilizing process," in which, beginning with the European upper classes, people gained and expected greater restraint over the body and over emotions. But this theory's range of application is more limited than modernization's.

Yet modernization theory has not perished. A group of staunch partisans, mainly survivors of the ambitious cluster of sociologists who first delineated the theory in the 1950s, continues productive work, in general statements and also in using the theory to frame the modern social and political history of places like Russia or China. Gilbert Rozman's syntheses are a case in point. A second locus of the theory involves the casual references to a city "becoming modern" or peasants "responding to modernization" in social history studies that shy away from larger theoretical pronouncements. This second use suggests the ongoing momentum of the theory in summing up related changes in societal structure, and perhaps some ongoing utility as well.

Finally, though hesitantly, a few social historians have tried to refine the theory by noting the key difficulties attached and urging a more selective application. Here, the basic approach is twofold. First, addressing both western European and world history, these cautious advocates urge a clearer agreement on what did, in fact, change very widely—the commitment to mass education is a case in point—where modernization really can describe seemingly universal social impulses. At the same time, areas of greater diversity or complexity must simply be dropped, in an admission that modernization cannot accurately cover all facets of social change and continuity. Thus it is silly to talk of the "modernization of women" without immediate restrictions and complications—even in western European society alone. The second component of the refinement of modernization theory involves urging social historian critics to see the forest as well as the trees, to look at longer-run patterns as well as short-term complexities. For example, critics argue that talking about a shared modernization process makes little sense for middle-class owners and factory workers in the 1870s, despite some common involvements in new levels of schooling, work organizations, and the like. But others would respond that looking at a broader picture, as class differentiations ultimately moderated somewhat, may provide greater support for the idea of participation in common processes—processes that would not produce identical cultures or behaviors, but that would bring some genuine convergence.

Since 1980 modernization theory has inspired relatively little new work in social history. References are infrequent, sometimes dismissive, casual at best, beyond the core of true believers. Yet the need and, perhaps, the possibility for some overarching linkages among major facets of social change over the past three centuries is hard to deny. This, surely, is why modernization continues to crop up as a subliminal scholarly shorthand, in dealing with huge processes such as technology and culture—both in western European history and in the history of places like Russia and Spain, whose relationship to Western history forms part of the essential analytical framework.

See alsoGenerations of Social History (volume 1), the sectionThe Periods of Social History (volume 1), and the other articles in this section.


Black, Cyril E., et al. The Modernization of Japan and Russia. New York, 1975. An important historical application and comparative work.

Black, Cyril E., and L. Carl Brown, eds. Modernization in the Middle East. Princeton, N.J., 1992. One of the most recent full uses of the theory.

Brown, Richard D. Modernization:The Transformation of American Life, 1600–1865. 1976. Reprint, Prospect Heights, Ill., 1988. Applies the theory to social history.

Eisenstadt, S. N. Tradition, Change, and Modernity. 1973. Reprint, Melbourne, Fla., 1983. A classic statement of the theory.

Inkeles, Alex. One World Emerging?: Convergence and Divergence in Industrial Societies. Boulder, Colo., 1998. A full statement by a slightly chastened true believer.

Inkeles, Alex, and David Smith. Becoming Modern: Individual Changes in Six Developing Countries. Cambridge, Mass., 1976.

Lee, Joseph. Modernization of Irish Society, 1848–1919. Dublin, 1989.

Lerner, Daniel. The Passing of Traditional Society. Glencoe, Ill., 1958. Offers an early statement.

Levy, Marion J., Jr. Modernization and the Structure of Societies. 1966. Reprint, New Brunswick, N.J., 1996.

Rozman, Gilbert, ed. The Modernization of China. New York, 1981. A very challenging application.

Stearns, Peter N. European Society in Upheaval. 2d ed. New York, 1975. Applies modernization as a framework for modern social history; the approach was dropped in the third edition.

Tipps, Dean C. "Modernization and the Comparative Study of Societies: A Critical Perspective." Comparative Studies in Society and History 15 (1973): 199–226.

Weiker, Walter. Modernization of Turkey: From Ataturk to the Present. New York, 1981.

Weiner, Myron, ed. Modernization: The Dynamics of Growth. New York, 1966. Includes some of the strongest statements about personality modernization.


views updated May 21 2018



Modernization was a theory of global social change, as well as an American political project. Articulated across several disciplines by American social scientists from the 1950s through the 1970s, the concept of modernization defined a universal, historical process through which traditional societies became modern. It proposed to map a global, evolutionary pattern in which cultural values, economic systems, and political institutions moved along an incremental, linear path toward the rational economy, liberal society, and democratic order that theorists identified most clearly with countries like the United States. In this approach, tradition and modernity marked endpoints of a common, historical scale. All societies, considered as integrated, organic wholes, moved from one point of historical equilibrium to another as they systematically abandoned institutions shaped by fatalism, family authority, local affinity, and religious constraints in favor of activist orientations, market economies, and liberal political institutions. Theorists believed, moreover, that this natural process could be decisively accelerated. Through a careful study of the traditional world, proponents of modernization hoped to identify the essential levers of social change. They also aspired to promote the diffusion of the advanced forms of knowledge, technology, and financial assistance necessary to promote a destabilizing yet necessary transition toward a democratic, capitalist endpoint. At the peak of the cold war, modernization embodied the highest aspirations of American liberalism. In addition to defining the historical course of global change, modernization also promised the tools necessary to direct it.

Rooted in Enlightenment models of progress, modernization theory first appeared in the work of American sociologists. Talcott Parsons (19021979) and Edward Shils (19111995) provided much of the inspiration for the concept by framing a holistic view of social systems. As they argued, values and cultural norms, transmitted through social institutions, played vital roles in regulating human behavior and ensuring individual action consistent with the social order. Societies, therefore, were integrated, functioning units. When institutions and cultural values distributed resources and mediated conflict in harmony with the needs of individuals, societies rested at points of balanced consensus. Different historical points of equilibrium, moreover, could be identified in the form of pattern variables that defined the dichotomy between primitive and advanced societies. Primitive societies functioned to meet individual needs, but they did so through institutions characterized by a reverence for ascribed status, particularism, diffuse roles, and an orientation toward the collective. Advanced societies, however, reflected values of achieved status, universalism, specific social roles, and self-orientation. In books like The Social System (1951) and Structure and Process in Modern Societies (1960), Parsons argued that if a society were under enough strain, then it would make the dramatic shift from one historical pole to the other. Modernization, sociologists insisted, was a global force, transcending all lines of culture or history. As Daniel Lerner (19171980) claimed in The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East : The same basic model appears on all continents of the world, regardless of variations in race, color, or creed (1958, p. viii).

Modernization also proved attractive to political scientists searching for an overarching theory to analyze the changes of the postwar world. Scholars like Gabriel Almond (19112002), Myron Weiner (19311999), and Lucian Pye all adapted Parsons's functionalist assumptions. As they argued, specialists studying diverse regions could contribute to a more integrative approach by positing universal functions that all political systems needed to fulfill. By correlating functions with specific political structures, they could map the overall, universal patterns of transformation. By applying that model, as Pye did in Politics, Personality, and Nation Building: Burma's Search for Identity (1962), political scientists sought to analyze the way that modern markets, values, and technologies awakened new aspirations among previously fatalistic, traditional peoples and spurred them to create new political forms.

Modernization also took hold among economists concerned with development. For many scholars, poverty, high population growth, and lack of infrastructure made the problems of emerging countries so different from advanced ones that standard macroeconomic theory had to be modified by an approach stressing behavioral and cultural obstacles as well as structural ones. Walt W. Rostow (19162003), author of The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (1960), argued that compound interest and investment remained the primary engines for change, but he also emphasized that the passage from traditional fatalism and pre-Newtonian science through a take-off to the age of high mass consumption required new, activist attitudes toward the natural world, as well as habits of efficiency and advances in transportation and communications.

Theories of modernization were profoundly shaped by the cold war context. Many American policymakers and social scientists viewed the post-World War II (19391945) collapse of European empires with profound anxiety. Decolonization opened doors for progressive change, but it also appeared to accelerate what many theorists and policymakers called a revolution of rising expectations in the emerging nations of the world. Destitution, violence, and anticolonial politics, U.S. officials feared, created opportunities for Soviet expansion and subversion. Communists, Rostow and others warned, were scavengers of the transitional process, opportunists that sought to derail the natural course of change. It was imperative, therefore, for the United States to accelerate the process of modernization and drive decolonizing societies through the dangerous window of instability toward progress. As the cold war moved into the third world, theorists and policymakers began a symbiotic relationship. Many scholars moved from academia into government service to promote the use of foreign aid, technical assistance, propaganda, civil-service training, and military advising as key tools for managing the future of the developing world. Rostow, for example, joined the State Department of President John F. Kennedy (19171963) and later became Lyndon Johnson's (19081973) national security adviser, while Pye advised the Agency for International Development. Government funding, in turn, flowed into social scientific research. The Central Intelligence Agency provided support for Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for International Studies, and the National Defense Education Act (1958) channeled federal funds into research on human behavior, area studies, and language programs.

In practice, however, modernization largely failed. Poverty turned out to be far more intractable than modernizers expected, and neither U.S. aid nor World Bank loans produced decisive economic take-offs in the 1960s. Agencies like the Peace Corps did promote gains in literacy, but because modernization tended to fold all matters of local politics and culture into its universal, linear model, theorists often ignored problems created by oligarchies that had little intention of promoting liberal reforms. From the mid-1950s through the final American withdrawal, the Vietnam War (19571975) was understood as a project in modernization. U.S. advisers aspired to create a new, modern South Vietnamese nation-state where one had never existed before, yet despite massive investments in economic aid, administrative training, and promises to build a Tennessee Valley Authority on the Mekong River, repressive regimes continued to alienate much of South Vietnam's population. Vietnamese culture also mattered in ways that the linear model of modernization failed to take into account as the historically rooted vision of an independent, united Vietnam prevailed over a government that, in the eyes of many, was simply the latest manifestation of foreign, imperial control. While modernization won few hearts and minds in Vietnam, its failure provided striking evidence that the traditional world was not so easily malleable after all.

By the early 1970s, modernization had largely collapsed as a scholarly paradigm. Conservatives like Robert Nisbet (19131996) and Samuel Huntington rejected it as a failed liberal dream, a naive vision of consensual reform. From the political Left, scholars like André Gunder Frank (19292005) and Immanuel Wallerstein challenged modernization with dependency and world-systems models. Instead of linear progress, they argued that contact between Western metropoles and Southern Hemisphere satellites produced patterns of exploitation and impoverishment. Other scholars attacked the ethnocentric tone of modernization, its resonance with imperial claims, its universal assumptions, and its tendency to favor consensus, authority, and order in ways that precluded a serious consideration of class conflict and power relations.

Many of modernization's underlying assumptions and aspirations, however, have continued to thrive in public policy and popular debate. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 stimulated renewed claims that the world was indeed converging on a liberal, capitalist, democratic endpoint. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, calls for the United States to promote transformative nation building as part of a global war on terror also reflected the durability of assumptions that America might chart the future of a traditional world.

SEE ALSO Developing Countries; Development Economics; Liberalism; Modernity


Cooper, Frederick, and Randall Packard, eds. 1997. International Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Eisenstadt, S. N. 1974. Studies of Modernization and Sociological Theory. History and Theory 13 (3): 225252.

Gilman, Nils. 2003. Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Latham, Michael. 2000. Modernization as Ideology: American Social Science and Nation Building in the Kennedy Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lerner, Daniel. 1958. Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Rostow, W. W. 1960. The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Tipps, Dean C. 1973. Modernization Theory and the Comparative Study of Societies: A Critical Perspective. Comparative Studies in Society and History 15 (2): 199226.

Michael E. Latham


views updated Jun 11 2018


The term modernization conjures images of social change in the direction of general improvement over the past. In contemporary social sciences, the notion has been the basis of a theoretical orientationvariously referred to as modernization theory, approach, paradigm, or frameworkto the study of the development of Third World or underdeveloped societies. The conception of development as a process of modernization gained prominence in the period after World War II, but its popularity ebbed in the 1960s. There were rival definitions of modernization in the social sciences; this entry, however, will be concerned mainly with the use of the term for a general theoretical orientationa set of linked assumptions framing analysis of and debates about the nature and challenges of development. In this regard modernization was a historically unique type of social change, which was inexorable, transformational in its effects, and progressive in its consequences. The main institutional pillars for modern society were industrialism and the nation-state.

A product primarily of American social science, the modernization approach was inspired by two important and concurrent developments of the postwar era, the disintegration of European colonial empires and the Cold War. The emergence of many new nations out of the ashes of European colonial empires generated unprecedented intellectual and policy interest in their economic, political, social, and cultural makeup and development. With the United States and the Soviet Union as the two superpowers and respective leaders of the Western and Eastern blocs, the Cold War was, among other things, a competition between two ideologiesliberal capitalism versus socialismeach claiming to be the superior path to modernity. This ideological contest framed the superpowers' rivalry for the allegiances of developing countries. Modernization theory, directly or indirectly, was concerned with resolving the problems of underdevelopment by promoting market-based economies and pluralistic political systems. The approach thus appeared to be scholarship guided by and in support of specific Western policy objectives. The intellectual roots of modernization theory lie in pre-Socratic Western thinking about social change, and more immediately in the European Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which gave birth to modern social sciences. The Enlightenment embodied a critique of the "Old Order," when European societies were at the threshold of industrialization and exposed to social dislocations that would only intensify. Convinced of the inevitable demise of the old feudal order and of absolutism, Enlightenment intellectuals propounded the "Idea of Progress," a dogma about the immanence and desirability of change. In opposition to defenders of the Old Order, of social arrangements governed by and political authority legitimated by religion and tradition, they argued that rational knowledge of society, based on scientific investigation and freed from religious dogma and superstition, was possible and represented a superior form of knowledge. Once validated and acted on, such knowledge would advance the material and cultural emancipation of society. The founders of modern social sciences, prominent among them Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, and Max Weber, were products of the Enlightenment and enamored of the idea of progress as a universal historical process leading to a single modernity. In Marx's famous theory of history, for example, societies progressed through modes of productionprimitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and communismand their corresponding political structures. In general, nineteenth-century evolutionary theories of social change were equally all-embracing, relied on dichotomous conceptions in which societies were characterized as composed of traditional and modern attributes, and saw social change as a process of structural changes resulting in the preeminence of the attributes of modernity. However conceived, emergent industrial societies and modern nation-states of the West represented the most advanced stage of societal transformation. They predicted the future of underdeveloped societies, the majority of which at the close of the nineteenth century had effectively been colonized by European states.

Modernization theory adopted the narrative of progress of nineteenth-century evolutionary theories of social change. It dispensed with the racist overtones of many, which tended to separate societies into "civilized" and "savage" and doubted the possibility of development of the latter. Adopting the nation-state as its main unit of analysis, the theory defined development as an endogenously driven process and maintained that modernization was a goal attainable by all societies. Retaining but elaborating the dichotomous conceptions of earlier evolutionary theories, the modernization approach conceived of underdeveloped societies as comprising traditional and modern sectors. The traditional sector was rural and agrarian, its sociopolitical organization defined by religion, superstition, primordial loyalties, and similar forces. In contrast, the modern sector was urban, its economy dominated by industry; social standing was determined by economic position (social class) and hence the result of personal achievement, and secularism defined the organization of social relations and public life. In effect, this equated development with the increasing Westernization of underdeveloped societies through elaboration of market-based economies and liberal, pluralistic political systems. One of the most famous articulations of the approach, W. W. Rostow's The Stages of Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, made this explicit. Modeling his analysis on Marx's theory of history, but blunt about his intention to present liberal capitalism as the superior path to modernity, Rostow argued that economies progressed through five historical phases: traditional, preconditions for takeoff, takeoff, drive to maturity, and the age of high mass consumption. Contrary to Marx, who saw capitalism as a way station to the ultimate modern societystateless communismRostow argued that highmass-consumption society, of which the United States was the most fully realized incarnation, was the end of the modernization process.

In general, the two key conditions for successful modernization were economic growth through industrialization and modernizing elites with the "psychocultural attributes" to guide their societies through the process. Modernization of underdeveloped societies could be realized in a shorter period than had been the case for Western societies. In bequeathing ex-colonies with modern economic enclaves and Westernized elites, colonial rule had laid the foundations for accelerating the process. Interestingly, the narrative of progress that undergirded the approach resonated with the nationalist aspirations of Third World elites. The promise of development of their societies served as a ubiquitous trope for the legitimization of their power. Although they adopted different ideological positions, modernization for them was fundamentally about the elaboration of the two projects of economic development through industrialization and nation-state building.

The modernization approach was subjected, as the 1960s unfolded, to increasingly blistering criticism, brought on by the realities of Third World societies, which mocked its excessive optimism. The record of economic growth in developing societies was at best mixed, and what growth occurred appeared to be accompanied by increases in mass poverty and economic inequality. Whereas modernization theory presumed economic growth that expanded social groups and engendered behavioral changes that favored the emergence of pluralistic political systems, instability and authoritarian rule appeared to be the norm. Against this backdrop, criticisms centered on the theory's ideological character, its limitations as a conceptual framework, and its contributions to the foreign policy objectives ofespeciallythe American government. The ethnocentrism of the approach, with its dichotomous constructs like "tradition" and "modern"transparently, abstractions from vague and generalized images of the nature of changes in Western societies attending the rise of industrialism and the modern nation-statedrew fire. Based on such ideal types, the approach imagined the historically contingent experiences of Western societies as relevant to all societies. Moreover, in implying that "modern" and "traditional" were self-contained, it lacked definitional specificity and was of dubious analytical value, for social structures and relations in all societies were complex, shaped by the interpenetration of traditional and modern attributes, however defined. This was obviously the case in developing societies that had felt the impact of European colonization.

For conservative critics, such as the political scientist Samuel Huntington, the ethnocentrism and teleology of modernization theory made it a poor guide to public policy. The conjecture of an unproblematic causal link between economic development and the advance of pluralistic political systems encouraged a moralistic approach to policy toward the developing world, which promoted democracy even if it was not necessarily in the best interest of the United States. The social dislocations caused by economic development fed political instability; therefore, the creation of political orderthe institutionalization of political authoritywas a precondition for economic development and democracy. According to this argument, the main objective of American policy toward the developing world ought to be support of regimes that are capable of maintaining order and amicably disposed toward America's economic and strategic interests.

Radical critics, on the other hand, such as dependency and world system theorists, dismissed modernization theory as well as its conservative critics as engaged in providing intellectual justification for American imperial designs. In adopting the nation-state as the primary unit of analysis and positing modernization as a primarily endogenously driven process, they were both guilty of misleading representation of underdevelopment as an "original condition." Capitalism was a hierarchically organized global system, with nations or regions belonging to the core, semicore, or periphery of the system. The pace and pattern of development of "national" economies were contingent on the manner of incorporation and position of countries or regions within the world capitalist system and its corresponding hierarchy of nation-states. The underdevelopment of peripheral Third World societies followed from their incorporation, through colonialism, as subservient members in the world capitalist system and the shaping of their economies to serve the interests of dominant core states. Their governing elites were not altruistic agents of progressive social change but groups primarily interested in advancing their class interests. This they did in part by the use of state power to create and manage beneficial alliances between themselves and foreign capitalists. For radical critics, then, modernization theory and its conservative critics were both advocating an approach to development that favored the expansion of the world capitalist system.

In the 1980s, modernization theory and its radical alternatives were queried by many influenced by the postmodernist turn in cultural and social analysis. For this new group of critics, variously labeled postmodernist, poststructuralist, or post-development theorists, modernization theorists and their radical critics had more in common than they dared to admit, for their understanding of development was rooted in the dogma of linear progress. Consequently, they were equally guilty of advocating, in the name of development, policies that fostered the repression and disempowerment of marginalized groups in Third World societies, whose right to determine their own futures they denied. The combined weight of criticisms leveled against it robbed modernization theory of its allure. But despite the changing conceptual and normative vocabularies at the twentieth century's end, modernization theory's goal of a world of receding mass poverty and disease and of social and political interactions marked by civility instead of incessant conflict remains a pivotal concern in development analysis.

See also Dependency ; Modernization Theory ; Progress, Idea of ; World Systems Theory, Latin America .


Engerman, David C. et al., eds. Staging Growth: Modernization, Development, and the Global Cold War. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.

Frank, Andre. "The Sociology of Development and the Underdevelopment of Sociology." 1967. In Dependence and Underdevelopment, edited by James Cockcroft et al. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1972.

Huntington, Samuel. "The Change to Change: Modernization, Development, and Politics." In Comparative Modernization: A Reader, edited by Cyril Black. New York: Free Press, 1976.

Janos, Andrew C. Politics and Paradigms: Changing Theories of Change in Social Science. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1986.

Lee, Raymond. "Modernization, Postmodernism, and Development." Current Sociology 42, no. 2 (1994).

Rostow, Walt W. The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge, U. K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1960.

Tipps, Dean. "Modernization Theory and the Comparative Study of Society: A Critical Perspective." Comparative Studies in Society and History 15, no. 2 (1973): 199226.

Dickson Eyoh


views updated May 23 2018


Modernization is a slippery term with manifold relations to science and technology. In a narrow sense, it is often synonymous with bringing more advanced science or technology to bear, as in modernizing a construction process or production plant. In a broader sense, social scientists describe modernity as a particular form of culture or society dependent on and supportive of science and technology, with the process of creating such a society defined as modernization. (Related concepts are urbanization, the concentration of population into cities, and secularization, the recasting of society from a basis in religious beliefs to one based on rationality, science, and technology.)

Insofar as modernization in the broader sense connotes an undermining of traditional values and is presented as a program with its own normative character, it is also of ethical significance, and has been assessed in both positive and negative terms.

Modernization is a somewhat more neutral term for a concept known in the nineteenth century as the "civilizing" process, and during the first half of the twentieth century as "Westernization." The term gained widespread currency in the 1950s, but began attracting substantial criticism during the 1960s.

Positive Assessments

In social, economic, and political theory, modernization is characterized by the achievement of industrialization, high urbanization, secularization, and rationalization. In a 1983 essay submitted for a symposium on Cultural Identity and Modernization in Asian Countries at Japan's Kokugakuin University, Robert M. Bellah analyzed the tension between tradition and modernization, then noted that when these forces successfully collaborate, the results may be remarkable: "A viable tradition should continue to guide individuals and societies in their quest for what is truly good, and modernization should simply supply more effective means for that quest" (Bellah 1983, Internet site). Bellah concludes that although the marriage of tradition and modernization is often over-stated, "the amazingly successful economic modernization" of Japan and the Pacific Rim countries is largely due to "[t]he spirit of the people, their work ethic, their social discipline, their ability to cooperate ... all ... more or less rooted in one or another aspect of the tradition."

The Cold War vision of modernization as a weapon against the spread of Communism strongly differed from this vision of a consensual and beneficial partnership between tradition and the modern. In an influential 1968 article, Samuel Huntington urged "forced-draft urbanization and modernization which rapidly brings the country in question out of the phase in which a rural revolutionary movement can hope to generate sufficient strength to come to power." Rather than basing modernization on the consent of the governed, Huntington posited that less developed nations could be dragged into modernity—an approach applied in the Strategic Hamlets Program in Vietnam, where populations were forcibly removed at gunpoint to new "modern" surroundings, and their old homes burned.

Thus, proponents of modernization saw the process in two entirely different lights: one as a good that could be forced on subjects regardless of their wishes, and the other as a consensual step, greatly desired by the participants, toward participation in "a world of industrial, competitive nations interacting in a capitalist, free-trade, global framework" (Adas 2003, p. 37).

Critical Assessments

While modernization sounds more neutral than a phrase such as "Westernization," critics complain that it nonetheless carries with it substantial Western baggage. Modernization assumes that the sole criteria of success of a society are gross national product (GNP) and the degree of industrialization. Underlying the theory of modernization is an almost entirely unexamined premise that all other nations should seek to imitate the West, and particularly the United States.

The process of modernization has been described as a cover for the introduction of capitalism without regard for the well-being of local populations. Rather than elevating all nations to equal opportunity participation in free markets, thereby lifting their citizens to higher living standards, critics say that modernization leads perversely to increased impoverishment and greater dependency of former colonies. "Modernization and development have previously been built on considerable exploitation of certain segments of the society and have involved a degree of ruthlessness. Imperialism aided them substantially" (Dube 1988, p. 5). Modernization, of course, also brings with it the glitches experienced by Western capitalist nations, including cycles of recession, inflation, and unemployment.

Other critics question whether it is really an absolute good to eliminate diversity and make people the same everywhere. Ironically, modernization, like Marxism, holds that there is a universal historical process in which "a single modernity" will eventually emerge (Gilman 2003, p. 56).

Modernization has also been said to be based on the premise that science and technology can solve all human problems, rendering unnecessary any specific consideration of ethical implications of their introduction. Yet high technology may lead to high unemployment in third world countries, and therefore modernization theory needs to be modified by the addition of an ethical element, wholly lacking from the work of most writers on the topic. One view is that science and technology should specifically be used to address "social needs ... tempered with distributive justice" (Dube 1988, p. 32).

The countervailing forces to modernization include fundamentalism, anomie, violence, decay of norms, and the dysfunction of social institutions. Aslam Siddiqi offers an interesting critique from a Third World and Islamic perspective in a 1974 work; he says that modernization is an essentially materialistic concept lacking higher ethical value. "Human personality has no sanctity ... Abundance of goods is its greatest achievement, and hedonism is the proper way of life" (p. 13). Siddiqi does not propose the rejection of science and technology, but instead says that it is necessary to "identify the framework for society and to find accommodations between modernization and Islamic requirements" (p. 194).


The term modernization is invested with meanings that are better unpacked and examined individually, to see what assumptions are necessary to support them. While in the early twenty-first century, few people argue that a decentralized, agrarian, low-technology way of life is preferable, there is a consensus that development has moral implications that require close analysis and planning.


SEE ALSO Building Codes;Development Ethics;Enlightenment Social Theory;Green Revolution;Industrial Revolution;Secularization;Sustainability and Sustainable Development;Urbanization.


Adas, Michael. (2003). "Modernization and the American Revival of the Scientific and Technological Standards of Social Achievement and Human Worth." In Staging Growth: Modernization, Development, and the Global Cold War, ed. David C. Engerman et al. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Dube, S.C. (1988). Modernization and Development: The Search for Alternative Paradigms. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed Books.

Gilman, Nils. "Modernization Theory, the Highest Stage of American Intellectual History." In Staging Growth: Modernization, Development, and the Global Cold War, ed. David
C. Engerman et al. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Huntington, Samuel (1968). "The Bases of Accommodation." Foreign Affairs 46(4): 642–656.

Siddiqi, Aslam. (1974). Modernization Menaces Muslims. Lahore, Pakistan: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf.


Bellah, Robert M. (1983). "Cultural Identity and Asian Modernization." Available from


views updated May 14 2018


process of sociocultural change in the middle east that began about 1800 with european colonial expansion into the area.

Modernization is the term commonly used to denote the process of social change that the Middle East (and other parts of the world) has been experiencing for the last two hundred years. It may be traced to the Industrial Revolution and the impact of European industrial expansion and colonialism that was continually promoted by European agentsmerchants, bankers, consuls, administrators, and missionaries. This process was embraced by early modernizing monarchs such as Selim III and Mahmud II of the Ottoman Empire and Muhammad Ali of Egypt. Five aspects may be distinguished: economic, political, social, intellectual, and psychological.

Economic Aspects

The Middle East has long been integrated in the world market. The region has mainly exported primary products, agricultural goods such as cotton, tobacco, fruits, and coffee; recently, it became the prime producer and exporter of petroleum. To facilitate both export and the importation of manufactured goods, certain raw materials, and foodstuffs, a network for mechanized transport was developed (railroads, seaports, river traffic, roads [with bridges and tunnels], airports), along with a banking and finance system. This entailed vast investments of foreign and, more recently, national capital. A large manufacturing sector has been established, and the region encompasses the world's most abundant petroleum depositsexploited by a large production and exporting industry.

Political Aspects

Modernization here constitutes the emergence of centralized nation-states. In addition to the ruling bodies, large, and usually cumbrous, civil services administer the various countries and provide social services. Taxation has risen steadily as a proportion of Gross National Product. Suffrage often excludes women, but elections are held for presidents and parliaments (although in practice many countries are under a one-party dictatorship). The prevailing political ideology is nationalismutilizing certain elements of socialismmainly as the outcome of working toward independence from European imperialism during the twentieth century.

Social Aspects

Many changes have occurred because of the great increase in population; the sharp fall in death rates has not been matched by a decline in birthrates, so the population has increased at about 3 percent per annum (including both immigration and emigration). Cities have grown to the point where more than 50 percent of the population is urban. Family structure has consequently shown some changes; most young middle-class couples live on their own and make their own decisions, instead of following the practices and decisions of their patriarch. Social services have been greatly expanded; those that were provided by religious or private philanthropy are now usually provided by the state. Education is available to almost all boys of school age (and to the majority of girls), and the literacy rate has risen from an average 5 percent in the early nineteenth century to an average of more than 50 percent today (in Israel, more than 90 percent).

Intellectual/Psychological Aspects

Intellectual modernization meant, originally, the absorption by a small elite of the bulk of Western science, scholarship, literature, and to a smaller extent, the arts. This was achieved primarily through the French language, but British and American sources have been increasingly used. Diffusion of Western-style culture has resulted in the establishment of a vast network of Western-style schools, which are secular and therefore distinct from the traditional Muslim/Christian/Hebrew schools. They include many universities and technical and research institutes.

Although printing was available in the eighteenth century, it became significant only during the nineteenth century, when books and pamphlets were followed by newspapers and periodicals that reached the general reading public. Concurrently, the traditional written languagesmainly, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and Hebrewwhich were highly elaborate, formal, and remote from everyday speech, have been both simplified and enriched. New and hitherto unknown literary genres have developed, notably novels and plays, based on Western models. It is perhaps in them that one sees most clearly the psychological modernization that has occurredthe growing individualism, the weakening of traditional ways, and the participation in what may be called a world culture. The expanding fundamentalist tendencies in both Islam and Judaism may be explained by sociopolitical problems that continue to need attention, not by a growing traditionalism.


Berkes, Niyazi. The Development of Secularism in Turkey. Montreal: McGill University Press, 1964; reprint, New York: Routledge, 1998.

Black, Cyril E., and Brown, L. Carl, eds. Modernization in the Middle East: The Ottoman Empire and Its Afro-Asian Successors. Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1992.

Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 17981939. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1991.

Issawi, Charles. An Economic History of the Middle East and North Africa. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 3d edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

charles issawi


views updated May 23 2018

modernization, modernization theory A term and approach that came into widespread use in the early 1960s, as a consequence of the efforts by a group of development specialists in the United States to develop an alternative to the Marxist account of social development.

In its most sophisticated variants, modernization theory explains modernization by reference to the onset of the process that Talcott Parsons refers to as structural differentiation. This is a process which may be triggered in many different ways, but which is most likely to be initiated by changes in either technology or values (as in Parson's ‘pattern variable’ schema). As a result of this process, institutions multiply, the simple structures of traditional societies are transformed into the complex ones of modern societies, and values come to bear a striking resemblance to those current in the United States of the 1960s.

A good example of the genre is the work of the American comparative sociologist Alex Inkeles, best known for his many studies of the attitudinal aspects of modernization, mostly using survey data and psychological tests to explore ‘the process whereby people move from being traditional to become modern personalities’ (see, for example, his article on ‘Industrial Man’ in the American journal of Sociology, 1960, and the jointly authored Becoming Modern, 1974
). These sorts of studies of national character and personality type are also now thought to be contentious. See also DEVELOPMENT, SOCIOLOGY OF.