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What is Modernization Theory?

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Modernization theory focuses on how societies modernize. It is based on historical research and aims to describe how a society becomes modern. Supporters of this theory have used these ideas to provide a template for how countries that are considered ‘underdeveloped’ should develop. This is a theory that causes a lot of debate and is not accepted universally.

Although a lot of the work on modernization theory has occurred since the sixties it has actually been around for much longer than this. It was during the Age of Enlightenment (the eighteenth century) that philosophers began to discuss how societies develop. This was a time when a lot of change was occurring and much of this was due to emerging technologies. These early philosophers believed that a society could almost completely change within a generation, and there is a lot of evidence to support this assertion.

The Influence of Modernization Theory

These days a lot of the focus of modernization theory is on how improvements in communication technology have impacted our world. The rise of the internet has without doubt completely changed the world we live in; almost every society has been impacted by this new technology. One interesting idea is that we are developing a universal culture because of the fact that we now communicate so much with other people around the world. Not only are we learning about different cultures but we are being influenced by them as well.

Modernization theory is interested in both the negative and positive effects of changes within society. One interesting consequence of the modern world is that there seems to be a growing gap between the rich and the poor. There is also the argument that while technology can bring huge benefits to a society it can also just lead to a new form of misery for the disadvantaged.

Some supporters of modernization claim that forcing a society to change might not be such a bad thing. Traditions can be viewed as an obstacle to progress and so eliminating them could turn out to be beneficial.

Criticisms of Modernization Theory

Modernization theory has been the subject of a lot of criticism over the years. A lot of the criticism stems from the fact that it has been focused on a certain type of modernization; those societies that emerged in Western Europe during the eighteenth century. Many proponents of the theory work under the assumption that those countries that have developed in a different way than their model are behind.

Despite the criticism of modernization theory it is important to emphasize that it is considered value free. While some may use the knowledge provided within this theory to justify controversial arguments this is not the purpose of this field of study; the aim is to examine both the benefits and disadvantages of modernization.

Modernization theory provides an interesting look at our world and this is why it continues to be studied today. It helps us understand our modern world a bit better and contains predictions of how we can expect things to be in the future.

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Meet the Author

Anthony Carter currently resides in Fife, Scotland with his wife Lisa, and their three wonderful children. As a senior editor for various publications, if he's not reading and writing, you would find him photographing and traveling to some of the most far-flung locations around the world.

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