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A look at the different elements that are contained in the process of modernization

See Article History Modernization, in sociology, the transformation from a traditional, rural, agrarian society to a secularurban, industrial society. Modern society is industrial society.

To modernize a society is, first of all, to industrialize it. Historically, the rise of modern society has been inextricably linked with the emergence of industrial society. All the features that are associated with modernity can be shown to be related to the set of changes that, no more than two centuries ago, brought into being the industrial type of society. This suggests that the terms industrialism and industrial society imply far more than the economic and technological components that make up their core.

Industrialism is a way of life that encompasses profound economic, social, political, and cultural changes. It is by undergoing the comprehensive transformation of industrialization that societies become modern. Modernization is a continuous and open-ended process.

Historically, the span of time over which it has occurred must be measured in centuries, although there are examples of accelerated modernization. In either case, modernization is not a once-and-for-all-time achievement. There seems to be a dynamic principle built into the very fabric of modern societies that does not allow them to settle, or to achieve equilibrium.

Their development is always irregular and uneven. This is a persistent source of strain and conflict in modern societies. Such a condition is not confined to the internal development of individual states. It can be seen on a global scale, as modernization extends outward from its original Western base to take in the whole world.


The existence of unevenly and unequally developed nations introduces a fundamental element of instability into the world system of states. Modernization seems to have two main phases. Up to a certain point in its course, it carries the institutions and values of society along with it, in what is generally regarded as a progressive, upward movement.

Initial resistance to modernization may be sharp and prolonged, but it is generally doomed to failure. Beyond some point, however, modernization begins a look at the different elements that are contained in the process of modernization breed discontent on an increasing scale. This is due in part to rising expectations provoked by the early successes and dynamism of modern society. Groups tend to make escalating demands on the communityand these demands become increasingly difficult to meet.

More seriously, modernization on an intensified level and on a world scale brings new social and material strains that may threaten the very growth and expansion on which modern society is founded.

In this second phase, modern societies find themselves faced with an array of new problems whose solutions often seem beyond the competence of the traditional nation-state.

At the same time, the world remains dominated by a system of just such sovereign nation-states of unequal strengths and conflicting interests. Yet challenge and response are the essence of modern society.

In considering its nature and development, what stands out initially at least is not so much the difficulties and dangers as the extraordinary success with which modern society has mastered the most profound and far-reaching revolution in human history.

This article discusses the processes of modernization and industrialization from a very general and primarily sociological point of view. It does so also, it should be remembered, from a position within the very processes it describes. The phenomena of industrialization and modernization that are taken to have begun some two centuries ago and that were not until much later identified as distinct and novel concepts have not yet arrived at any recognizable closure.

The end of the story, if there is one, is thus not in sight, and the question of an ultimate judgment on the nature and value of this vast historical movement is unanswerable. Becoming modern The revolution of modernity If one imagines all of human social evolution charted on a 12-hour clock, then the modern industrial epoch represents the last five minutes, no more.

For more than half a million years, small bands of what we may agree were human beings roamed the earth as hunters and gatherers. With simple stone tools and a social order based on kinship ties they successfully preserved the human species against predators and natural calamities.

In observing contemporary Australian Aboriginals, the San Bushmen of southern Africa, the Eskimo, the Negritos in Malaysia and the Philippinesand Pygmy groups in Africa, a glimpse may be had of the social life of the Paleolithic period Old Stone Age —the oldest and most enduring type of human society.

About 10,000 bc some of these hunters and gatherers took to cultivating the earth and domesticating animals. It is this process that is somewhat misleadingly called the Neolithic revolutionimplying that new stone tools were at the root of this vast change.

  1. This article discusses the processes of modernization and industrialization from a very general and primarily sociological point of view.
  2. Certain episodes and tendencies in the British case were pointed to as characterizing industrial development as such.
  3. It came to symbolize and to embody not just the economic and technological changes that lay at its heart, but other political, social, and cultural changes that appeared to be organically connected with it, whether as causes, concomitants , or consequences.

It is now generally accepted that the new technology was not the principal factor. Nevertheless what took place was undoubtedly a revolution. Mobile bands became settled village communities. The development of the plow raised the productivity of the land a thousandfold, and in response the human population of the planet increased dramatically.

More significantly, herding and agriculture for the first time created a surplus of food. This allowed some members of the population to abandon subsistence activities and become artisans, merchants, priests, and bureaucrats. This division of labour took place in a newly concentrated physical environment. In the 4th millennium bc cities arose, and with them trade, markets, government, laws, and armies.

The technology and social organization of the Neolithic revolution remained the basis of all civilization until the coming of industrialism. With remarkably few additions—the invention of the stirrup was an important one—what served ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt of the third and second millennia bc served as the foundation of all the states and empires of the ancient world, from China and India to Greece and Rome.

  • Not until the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe did humankind make another leap comparable to that of the Neolithic revolution;
  • Their development is always irregular and uneven.

And it served equally the European Middle Ages, which in some respects, notably in technology, actually fell back from the achievements of the ancient world. Not until the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe did humankind make another leap comparable to that of the Neolithic revolution.

It is against this very slowly evolutionary background that the revolution that underlay modernity must be seen.

It is one of just two quantum jumps that human social evolution has made since the primal hunting and gathering stage of early Homo sapiens. The Neolithic or agricultural revolution produced, paradoxically, urban civilization; the Industrial Revolution lifted humankind onto a new plane of technological development that vastly increased the scope for transforming the material environment. In its speed and scale the change brought about by the Industrial Revolution has had, indeed, a greater impact on human life than the Neolithic revolution.

Neolithic civilization remained throughout confined by a sharply limited technical and economic base; industrial civilization knows no such limits. Nevertheless, an understanding of agrarian society is essential to the analysis of industrial society, for it is largely through the contrast with its agrarian past that modern society stands out. The meaning of the modern is to be found as much in what it renounces as in what it aspires to.

The West and the world Just as some groups of hunters and gatherers gave rise to agrarian society, some agrarian societies gave rise to industrial society. The shift toward modernity took place between the 16th and 18th centuries, and it originated in the countries of northwestern Europe—especially England, the Netherlands, northern France, and northern Germany. This change could not have been expected.

Compared to the Mediterranean, not to mention Arabic and Chinese civilizations, northwestern Europe early in the 16th century was backward, technically and culturally.

In the 16th and 17th centuries it was still absorbing the commercial and artistic innovations of the Italian city-states of the Renaissance and making piratical raids, where it could, on the wealthy Spanish empire. It seemed an unlikely candidate for future economic leadership of Europe. Yet it was there that the changes took place that propelled those particular societies into the forefront of world development.

One reason advanced for this is that northwestern Europe was the origin and heartland of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. In his great work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism 1904the German sociologist Max Weber suggested that Roman Catholicism and to an even greater extent such Eastern religions as Hinduism and Buddhism were essentially otherworldly religions.

They placed doctrinal emphasis on religious contemplation and the life hereafter. It broke down the distinction between the church and the world, between the monastery and the marketplace. Every man was a priest; everything he did, at work or at play, he did in the sight of God.

Weber sought to show that Protestantism, and especially its Puritan variety, developed a particular type of character that valued frugality and hard work. Protestantism particularly promoted a work ethic.

For the Protestant, all work, all occupations, were in a sense a religious vocation. Such an attitude was admirably suited—though not intentionally—to the development of industrial capitalism. The Protestant nations, therefore, according to Weber, invented modern capitalism and so launched the world on a course that it still follows.

In either case, their mutual accommodation remains striking. In a similarly persuasive way, the rationality of the Protestant work ethic has seemed linked to the development of modern science. This, too, took place largely in northwestern Europe in the course of the 17th century.

In no other place, at no other time, was there anything like the scientific revolution of these years in England, France, and the Netherlands. It is true that the Industrial Revolution, in its early phases at least, did not depend on the theoretical science of Isaac Newton, Robert Boyleor others of the period.

What was crucial was the rationalist culture and the scientific habits of mind that this culture nurtured. Moreover, the scientific method of observation, hypothesisexperimentation, and verification could be applied not only to nature but also to society. Eventually, toward the end of the 18th century, what would later be called social science —economics and sociology especially—began to find a place alongside natural science.

The scientific outlook—skeptical, autonomousapplying fixed standards of observation to continually changing phenomena, to reach conclusions that were never to be considered more than provisional—became the hallmark of modern society. Already, by the 17th century, a look at the different elements that are contained in the process of modernization Europe had embarked on the course of transoceanic expansion that was to become one of its most notable features in the succeeding centuries.

The colonization of America, although uneven, added a vast new domain to the West. In wealth, resources, and physical power, the West took a commanding lead over the rest of the world.

From the enormous potentialities of science and industry, it acquired a momentum and a dynamism that pointed to a future immeasurably grander than anything previously achieved. For the first time, moralists and philosophers began to conceive of the possibility that the modern world might come to be the equal and even the superior of the ancient world of Greece and Rome. The idea of progress, and with it that of modernism, was born. The world was growing in power and enlightenment and, so far as anyone could see, would continue indefinitely to do so.

Western society was not merely plunging ahead on its own; it was paving the way for the rest of the world. Both were part of a broader pattern of change that, since the Renaissance and Reformation, had set the West on a different path of development from that of the rest of the world. This pattern included the individualism and, in the end, the secularismthat was the Protestant legacy.

It also included the rise of science, as a method and as a practice. Both of these culminated in explosive events toward the end of the 18th century. The first helped provoke political revolutions in America and France. The second, in creating an atmosphere conducive to technological innovationwas one of the chief elements in the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain.

The American and French revolutions established the political character of modern society as constitutional and democraticmeaning not necessarily that every government thenceforward was of such character but that even those most conspicuously not so frequently claimed to be.

That the new democratic legitimation could be, and would be, claimed by popular or constitutional dictatorships such as those of Napoleon III in France or Adolf Hitler in Germany only showed how central the double ideal of democracy and constitutional justification had become.