Modernization Theory of Gender Development

Here you will find the Modernization Theory of Gender Development which is famous due to its way of communication and use of media in a traditional way.

History and Orientation of Modernization Theory

A macro-theory with historical and sociological inspiration. Developed in large-scale historical research investigating the effects of the modernization process on human communication.

Modernization means the appearance of modes of social life or organization which emerged in Europe from about the seventeenth century onwards and which subsequently became more or less worldwide in their influence.

Modernization theories explain the changing ways of communication and media use in traditional and post-modern societies.

Core Assumptions and Statements

Modernization theory has evolved in three waves. The first wave appeared in the 1950s and 1960s. One made the attempt to explain the diffusion of Western styles of living, technological innovations, and individualist types of communication as the superiority of secular, materialist, Western, and individualist culture and of individual motivation and achievement:

  • This first wave of theory produced three variants
  • Economic development: mass media promote the global diffusion of many technical and social innovations that are essential to modernization.
  • Literacy and cultural development: mass media can teach literacy and other essential skills and techniques. They encourage a ‘state of mind favorable to modernity, e.g. the imagination of an alternative way of life beyond the traditional way.
  • National identity development: mass media could support national identities in new nations (colonies) and support attention to democratic policies.

Most of these theories have been discredited because of their pro-Western bias.

The second wave of modernization theory is a part of the critical theory that was popular in the 1970s and 1980s. It does not support but criticizes the influence of Western modernization. This is held to be a case of Western cultural and economic imperialism or dominance.

One of the theories concerned is the media dependency theory. Peripheral (developing) countries are assumed to be dependent on mass media at the core.

The third wave of modernization theory rising in the 1990s is the theory of late-, high- or post-modernity. It tries to be more neutral, not in favor or against Western modernization. Rather it attempts to unearth the contradictions in the modernization process and to explain the consequences of modernity for individuals in contemporary society.

Giddens showed that modern society is characterized by time-space instantiation and disembedding mechanisms. Traditional society is based on direct interaction between people living close to each other.

Modern societies stretch further and further across space and time using mass media and interactive media. Disembedding mechanisms such as money, symbolic means, English as the lingua franca, and the Internet help to lift out activities in an abstract or online form that were once embedded in particular material goods and in places.

Monetization theory is largely based on the view that to develop means to become modern by adopting Western cultural values and social institutions. It is suggested that undeveloped societies subscribe to value systems and institutions that hinder the development process.

Development as an Evolutionary Process

The leading modernization thinker, Bill Rostow, suggested that development should be seen as an evolutionary process in which countries progress up a development ladder of five stages.

  • Undeveloped societies are ‘traditional societies dominated by institutions such as families, tribes, and clans, within which roles are ascribed (i.e. people are born into them) rather than achieved. Production is agricultural.
  • The ‘pre-conditions for the take-off stage involve the introduction of material factors such as capital and technology from the West in the form of capital investment by Western companies and official aid.
  • The ‘take-off stage is the most important and involves traditional attitudes and social institutions being overcome and replaced with their Western equivalents. For example, achievement replaces ascription and the nuclear family replaces the extended family or clan/tribe as people become more geographically mobile in their search for work in the factories set up by Western companies.
  • The ‘drive to the maturity stage is marked by the export of manufactured goods to the West as the country takes its place in the international trading system.
  • Development is achieved in the final stage which Rostow calls the age of high mass consumption. In this stage, the majority of citizens live in urban rather than rural areas and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Life expectancy is high and most citizens have access to health care and free education.

Modernization and Culture Change

Other modernization writers such as Parsons have stressed the need for cultural change in the LDCs if development is to come about. In particular, traditional religions such as Islam and Hinduism are seen to be a problem because they are perceived to be:

  • Anti-science and anti-secular
  • Ascriptive and therefore an obstacle to both social and geographical mobility
  • Responsible for “population explosions”.

Criticisms of Modernization Theory

Modernization theory has been very influential, particularly on US foreign policy. But it has attracted four key criticisms:

  • It implies that traditional values and institutions have little or no value compared with their Western equivalents. However, there is evidence from Japan and the ‘Asian Tigers’ that the traditional (e.g. religion and extended family) can exist successfully alongside the modern.
  • It assumes Western forms of capitalism to be the ideal and conveniently ignores the social and economic problems that are common in those societies, e.g. high divorce rates, crime, poverty, suicide, etc.
  • Western encouragement of LDC élites has created inequalities in wealth and power which have led to human rights abuses. In particular, the USA has propped up abusive right-wing regimes because they are anti-communist.
  • In its emphasis on internal obstacles, modernization theory underestimates the external obstacles to development.

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