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Modernization

Modernization describes the processes that increase the amount of specialization and differentiation of structure in societies resulting in the move from an undeveloped society to developed, technologically driven society (Irwin 1975). By this definition, the level of modernity within a society is judged by the sophistication of its technology, particularly as it relates to infrastructure, industry, and the like. However, it is important to note the inherent ethnocentric bias of such assessment. Why do we assume that those living in semi-peripheral and peripheral nations would find it so wonderful to become more like the core nations? Is modernization always positive?

One contradiction of all kinds of technology is that they often promise time-saving benefits, but somehow fail to deliver. How many times have you ground your teeth in frustration at an internet site that refused to load or at a dropped call on your cell phone? Despite time-saving devices such as dishwashers, washing machines, and, now, remote control vacuum cleaners, the average amount of time spent on housework is the same today as it was fifty years ago. And the dubious benefits of 24/7 email and immediate information have simply increased the amount of time employees are expected to be responsive and available. While once businesses had to travel at the speed of the United States postal system, sending something off and waiting until it was received before the next stage, today the immediacy of information transfer means there are no such breaks.

Further, the internet bought us information, but at a cost. The morass of information means that there is as much poor information available as trustworthy sources. There is a delicate line to walk when core nations seek to bring the assumed benefits of modernization to more traditional cultures. For one, there are obvious pro-capitalist biases that go into such attempts, and it is short-sighted for western governments and social scientists to assume all other countries aspire to follow in their footsteps. Additionally, there can be a kind of neo-liberal defense of rural cultures, ignoring the often crushing poverty and diseases that exist in peripheral nations and focusing only on a nostalgic mythology of the happy peasant. It takes a very careful hand to understand both the need for cultural identity and preservation as well as the hopes for future growth.

Summary

There are numerous and varied causes of social change. Four common causes, as recognized by social scientists, are technology, social institutions, population, and the environment. All four of these areas can impact when and how society changes. And they are all interrelated: a change in one area can lead to changes throughout. Modernization is a typical result of social change. Modernization refers to the process of increased differentiation and specialization within a society, particularly around its industry and infrastructure. While this assumes that more modern societies are better, there has been significant pushback on this western-centric view that all peripheral and semi-peripheral countries should aspire to be like North America and Western Europe.

Short answer

Consider one of the major social movements of the 20th century, from civil rights in the United States to Gandhi’s nonviolent protests in India. How would technology have changed it? Would change have come more quickly or more slowly? Defend your opinion.

Discuss the digital divide in the context of modernization. Is there a real concern that poorer communities are lacking in technology? Why or why not?

Which theory do you think better explains the global economy: dependency theory (global inequity is due to the exploitation of peripheral and semi-peripheral nations by core nations) or modernization theory? Remember to justify your answer and provide specific examples.

Do you think that modernization is good or bad? Explain, using examples.

References

CBS News. 2011. “Record Year for Billion Dollar Disasters.” CBS News , Dec 11. Retrieved December 26, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Freidman, Thomas. 2005. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century . New York, NY: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.

Irwin, Patrick. 1975. “An Operational Definition of Societal Modernization.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 23:595–613.

Miller, Laura. 2010. “Fresh Hell: What’s Behind the Boom in Dystopian Fiction for Young Readers?” The New Yorker , June 14. Retrieved December 26, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

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Source:  OpenStax, Fuller's introduction to sociology. OpenStax CNX. Aug 23, 2013 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11563/1.1
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