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Modernization theory was developed in the 1950s and 1960s as part of capitalism explanations on how society should be ‘modernized’. The theory assumes that traditional societies should undergo dramatic changes so that modernization can be achieved. In particular, modernization is viewed as part of progress based on European and American developmental stages1. The theory is also based on the assumption that the living conditions of the poor can be improved through the dissemination of knowledge and information on how poor countries can adopt efficient production techniques2. This paper analyzes criticism of modernization based on the Collapse of Modernization Theory and the Mobile Personality Theory (empathy).
The collapse of Modernization Theory
The Cold War is viewed as a turning point towards the collapse of modernization theory. Failures to ‘modernize’ other regions through war and revolutionary development led to the collapse of modernization theory3. Modernization was viewed as a social and economical process of improving living conditions in regions viewed as poor and traditional. Wars such as the Vietnam War and the Cold War led to massive failures.
The enthusiasm of modernizers who viewed modernization theory as the key to the development of the world was very low after failures of the Vietnam War and Cold War. In particular, the inability to of modernizers to implement regime in Iran led to failures, policymakers in Europe and the United States realized that development could not be used to counter insurance4.
Apart from the failures of the Vietnam War, the events in the United States led to the collapse of modernization. The United States was affected by high levels of urban riots such as Watts’s riots in Los Angeles5. As a result, the United States could not convince other countries that they were the modernizers of the world when the situation within the country became worse. Riots within the United States in the 1960s idealized the United States as the endpoint in the process of achieving development. Riots and racial activism led to questions about the economic and political maturity of the United States to implement the principle of modernization in other regions of the world6.
Furthermore, environmentalists questioned economic growth policies that exploited the environment. In the end, an attack on government officials whose actions sustained the Vietnam War was witnessed. The media also engaged in intense debates about viewing the cultures of other parts of the world as primitive. The media claimed that there were no superior and inferior cultures and societies. As a result, the collapse of the modernization theory was motivated by the need to challenge the notion that there are primitive societies in the world.
The mobile personality theory (empathy)
Criticism of modernization theory is based on the assumption that people from western cultures have became habituated to the sense of change and attained to various rhythms. In particular, there is no need to assume that certain cultures are superior because they live in Europe or the United States. Currently, several people are unbound by their native soil. Even in many centuries and generations ago, no person was bound by their native community or region.
The freedom and will to move in the world challenged the nation that there are civilized communities and cultures in certain parts of the world7. The movement of people around the world should not be viewed in relation to people driven by war or famine. The movement was initiated by persons who have recognized the importance of personal choice to seek elsewhere their versions of a better life.
Physical mobility did not take place alone without social mobility. While moving around the world, persons of different cultures challenged the nation of superior cultures by intermarrying and living in communities viewed as traditional and primitive8. Through social mobility as well as physical mobility, there was a need to establish institutions appropriate to the process of socialization and physical mobility. Social change is a normal process in any society. Modernization theory views social changes as well as the need for institutions as a unique experience of industrialized countries. Modernizers and capitalists should understand that each society has institutions and channels of opportunity.
Social institutions created based on voluntary participation if mobile individuals challenged the assumption from modernization theory that social institutions are implemented by policymakers9. In Africa, cultures viewed as traditional had democratic principles on how voluntary participation based on skills could be achieved within institutions. Modernization theory fails by referring to traditional culture sin Africa as primitive10.
The Cold War and the Vietnam War were the beginning of the decline of modernization theory. The United States, as champions of modernization failed to influence civil rule and governance in Iran and the larger Middle East. Also, riots and civil rights movements of the 1960s challenged the ability and credibility of the United States to modernize the rest of the world. In relation to the mobile personality theory (empathy), movement of people around the world is voluntary. As a result, different cultures interact and develop institutions. Physical and social mobility is not part of modernization as assumed in modernization theory.
Gilman, Nils. “The collapse of modernization theory,” in “Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America.” (New York: JHU Press, 2007).
Latham, Micheal. “Modernization as ideology.” (Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
Lerner, Daniel. “The passing of traditional society: Modernizing the Middle East.” (London: Cambridge Press, 1958).
Latham, Micheal. “American social science, modernization theory, and the Cold War,” In modernization as Ideology. (Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
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Latham, Micheal. “Modernization at War: counterinsurgency and the strategic Hamlet Program in Vietnam,” In Modernization as Ideology. (Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
- Latham Micheal. “Modernization as ideology.” (Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 36-40.
- Latham Micheal. “American social science, modernization theory, and the Cold War,” In modernization as Ideology. (Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 68.
- Gilman Nils. “The collapse of modernization theory,” in “Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America.” (New York: JHU Press, 2007), 72.
- Ibid, 46.
- Ibid, 59.
- Ibid, 85.
- Le Lerner Daniel. “The passing of traditional society: Modernizing the Middle East.” (London: Cambridge Press, 1958), 56.
- Ibid, 35.
- Lerner Daniel. “The passing of traditional society: Modernizing the Middle East.” (London: Cambridge Press, 1958), 47.
- Program in Vietnam,” In Modernization as Ideology. (Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000),76.