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Modernization

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Around the world, millions of people are witnessing a revolutionary transformation of their day-to-day life. Contemporary social scientists use the term modernization to describe the farreaching process by which periphery nations move from traditional or less developed institutions to those characteristic of more developed societies.

Wendell Bell, whose definition of modernization we are using, notes that modern societies tend to be urban, literate, and industrial. These societies have sophisticated transportation and media systems. Their families tend to be organized within the nuclear family unit rather than the extended-family model. Thus, members of societies that undergo modernization must shift their allegiance from traditional sources of authority, such as parents and priests, to newer authorities, such as government officials.

Many sociologists are quick to note that terms such as modernization and even development contain an ethnocentric bias. The unstated assumption behind these terms is that "they" (people living in developing countries) are struggling to become more like "us" (in the core industrialized nations). Viewed from a conflict perspective, these terms perpetuate the dominant ideology of capitalist societies.

The term modernization also suggests positive change. Yet change, if it comes, often comes slowly, and when it does, it tends to serve the affluent segments of industrial nations. This truism seems to apply to the spread of the latest electronic technologies to the developing world.

A similar criticism has been made of modernization theory, a functionalist approach that proposes that modernization and development will gradually improve the lives of people in developing nations. According to this theory, even though countries develop at uneven rates, the development of peripheral countries will be assisted by innovations transferred from the industrialized world. Critics of modernization theory, including dependency theorists, counter that any such technology transfer only increases the dominance of core nations over developing countries and facilitates further exploitation.

When we see all the Coca-Cola and IBM signs going up in developing countries, it is easy to assume that globalization and economic change are effecting cultural change. But that is not always the case, researchers note. Distinctive cultural traditions, such as a particular religious orientation or a nationalistic iden-tity, often persist, and can soften the impact of modernization on a developing nation. Some contemporary sociologists emphasize that both industrialized and developing countries are "modern." Researchers increasingly view modernization as movement along a series of social indicators - among them degree of urbanization, energy use, literacy, political democracy, and use of birth control. Clearly, some of these are subjective indicators; even in industrialized nations, not everyone would agree that wider use of birth control represents an example of progress.



Current modernization studies generally take a convergence perspective. Using the indicators noted above, researchers focus on how societies are moving closer together, despite traditional differences. From a conflict perspective, the modernization of developing countries often perpetuates their dependence on and continued exploitation by more industrialized nations. Conflict theorists view such continuing dependence on foreign powers as an example of contemporary neocolonialism.

Stratification Within Nations:


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