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Modernization Theory

Discuss about the Comparison and Contrast of Modernization Theory.

The prime function of any theory is to provide a logical explanation of the various social phenomena. A theory can be understood as established relationship between two or more concepts. Theories explain why and how an event occurs.( Gereffi & Wyman,  2014).   In this regard, through the following assignment we will try to understand two major theories of sociology, the modernization theory and the dependency theory. In addition to that we will try to strike a comparison between the two by evaluating the pros and cons of the same and establish its importance in the current global situation.

Modernization theory underlines the processes of transformation or transition of oriental backward societies to modern societies. In other words modernization theory states the actions taken by the countries of South America, Africa and Asia to develop its social political and economical system modeled on those developed by the North American and the other European countries back in the nineteenth century. Since 1950s, the Modernization theory has been one of the major sociological yardsticks to gauge a nation’s development or underdevelopment. Modernization theory tries to understand and analyze the ways backwards societies have become modernized with the course of time, especially their economic modernization. For this purpose development in their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is taken into consideration. In addition to GDP, industrial growth and mechanization too are taken into consideration. (Larrain, 2013). Modernization theorists try to unearth the social economic and political consequence of economic growth and also try to understand phenomena congenial for economical development. Modernization Theory does not mean a society must aim to become “current”, but objectifies to understand the particular societal change that may occur as the society moves towards national development.

Many a time modernization, industrialization and development are erroneously considered as synonymous words. For example industrialization, is an element of modernization. It is the use of inanimate objects to increase the pace of production, accelerate manufacturing process, job diversification and increase in wage labor. Industrialization may or may not exist in relation to social, political or cultural modernization. (Pennycook,2017). 

Development, like industrialization implies economic growth, however modern methods of manufacturing or other components stated by the modernization theory may not be necessary for this growth. For example modernization theory define modernization in relation to economic outcome per capita, other theories may define economic modernization in terms of self dependent production capabilities, equal wealth distribution or the ability to meet the basic economic need of survival.( Ragin, 2013).  While modernization theory may attribute democratic or capitalist institution as major elements of modern society other theories may not. For example Dependency theory focuses attention on the upliftment or development of the less privileged.

Modernization theory states that the process of modernization of a society takes place through an evolutionary process. The evolutionary process is based on various patterns of social differentiation and reestablishment of different structural and cultural elements necessary for the maintenance of the society. According to this theory contemporary society are at a premodern level of the evolutionary process. Gradually such countries will achieve their economic growth and move on to change their social, political and cultural structure in lines to those of the European countries.( Peet,  Hartwick, 2015). As the process accelerates, technologies from these western countries will be imported by the developing countries to push forward the evolutionary process. The theory holds that as technology not only leads to economic growth but also contributes to the various cultural social and other structural change of the society.

Owing to the modernization theory and other related theory a notion has spread its roots in the mind of the commoners. This notion states that economic growth and development of every nation must follow or at least be modeled on the growth structure developed by the European of North American countries. People fail to realize that every county may follow diverse process to achieve economic growth and that the term itself can be relative. For example, a county may hold the growth of its indigenous industries as the icon of economic development against the popular belief of modern mechanized production.( Thapa & Sæbø,2014). This relative idea of economic development and the belief that there can be diverse ways of attaining it led sociological theorists to formulate the dependency theory.

Developed in the 1950, under the leadership of United Nations Economic Commission, Raul Prebisch, Dependency Theory aimed to understand the causes behind the poor economic conditions of the developing countries.( Coronil,2015).   Prebisch and his colleagues were disturbed by the fact that economic development of the advanced countries did not did not lead to the same for the poorer nations. In contrary to that, economic prosperity of the rich counties often unleashed negative consequence for the developing counties, leading to their downfall. 

Dependency theory holds historical economic events have encouraged developing or backward countries to fall back on the advanced ones.  It is this dependency of the developing nation on the developed ones which prevent the former from formulating structures and institutions necessary for their transition to industrial countries. Dependency theory underlines colonialism which resulted due to the unequal power structure between the developed and the less developed countries. During this period new industrialized colonies spread out in the areas which were not under the rule of the major colonial giants.( Nagoda,2015).

Dependency Theory

The major impact of colonization was that the new colonies gained more power and influence at the cost of the developing countries, rendering them poor and powerless.

Though colonialism met with its downfall after the Second World War, its legacy continues under the name of neocolonialism. The so called backward economies were now dominated in the name of international finance and capitalism. As a result some developing counties own a large amount of money to their advanced counterparts, whereas others are obliged to make market for the finished products of the advanced countries.

The theory finds its base on three major beliefs. Firstly, the theory divides the international state into two blocks- the dominant and the dependant, center or the periphery, metropolitan or the satellite. The dominant estates are the advanced countries (North American and European countries) and the dependant one are those countries of Africa, Asia or Latin America. Secondly the theory holds that external elements or forces are of prime importance for the economic activities within the country. The external forces may include the operations of various multinational organizations, foreign economic assistance, communication, international goods market and multiple other ways by which the dominant economies can fulfill their economic interest in foreign countries. Finally the theory holds that the relationship between the dominant and the dependant states are dynamic in nature since the communication between them not only underlines but intensifies unequal power distribution. Moreover the roots of the theory run very deep in the sands of history particularly in the process of “internationalization of capitalism”

Dependency theory was developed as a response of the absolute criticism of the Modernization theory. Thus this lays the foundation of the multiple differences that these two theories might have. However there are a fair few similarities between the two as well.

The most important similarity between the two theories is that both hold that the European or North American countries are the leaders of the world. Owing to their great technological development they have been able to achieve social, economic and political advancements. They are way ahead of the developing economies of the third world countries. Both the theories agree that the experiences and history of the developed countries are imitated by those of the developing countries.( Fägerlind, & Saha, 2016).  However, the later still fails to catch up to the level of development achieved by the former and remain in the backdrop of the world development. On the other hand the developed countries have a major role to play in the integration of all the countries into a global platform. This platform encourages the interaction between the developed and the developing countries. Both the theories opine that this interaction is dynamic in nature.

Both the theories agree to the fact that the developing counties depend heavily on the developed ones and that there exists an unequal power relation between the both. They also agree that it is the Western world which holds a dominant position in the contemporary world; thereby limiting the scope of other ways of development from coming to the forefront. Both the theories are ethnocentric in nature, as they both ignore the possibility of methods, other than the ones followed by the western country, for the economic development of the developing countries. Both the theories believe that economic development of other countries will come by only if the western methods of economic developments are followed. However there are other ways in which development can be brought about. For example China has developed its economy without the use of methods and structures used by the Western countries.( Zeng & Fang,2014).

Though both the modernization theory and the dependency theory have a lot of common platforms they agree on, both of them diverge in a few points. Firstly Modernization theory states that the developed and the developing countries are possibly equal which are right now at different stages of development. In other words, this theory holds that the oriental world must blindly copy the steps for economic development taken by the occident as there are no other successful ways of ensuring economic growth. In order to do this, the developing countries must keep all forms of communication channel and cooperation platforms open. These include economic, social, political and educational spheres. It is the duty of the western countries being in the advanced stages of development to assist the developing countries with technical assistance and educational consultancy to achieve a high level of economic development. In const to the opinions held by the modernization theory, Dependency theory states that the relationship between the developed and the developing counties are not based on cooperation but on modeling their development on that of the developed ones.( Wade,2017).  The developing counties follow the steps taken by the developed ones not because they want to neither because they feel it is right. They imitate the steps taken by the western world to ensure that they are not isolated in the world community and to prevent the western intervention in their domestic policy.

Thus from the above discussion it can be understood that modernization theory is easy to understand. It gave people a direction to look towards. However this theory upholds the ideas of colonialism. It ignores and looks down upon the ways by which developing countries have achieved economic growth. The merit of the dependency theory lies in the fact that it acknowledges the idea that certain economies are not progressing due to imperialism. It also shows that advanced nations ensure that under developed nations stay that way. Though this theory addresses the drawbacks of the modernization theory, it fails to touch upon other major societal aspects.

Comparison of Modernization and Dependency Theories

Though there are few critics of the modernization theory, this theory is the most prevalent one in the current context. This theory has proved to be effective in the development   of backward countries such as Tanzania. (Malatesta & Smith,2014).

The theory vouches for the diversification of economy. This means that income generation of the country should not be dependant only on a particular sector. Tanzania is an agricultural economy. Though there is an industrial sector, it is quite small focusing only on the production of small scale consumer goods. Though the agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy, it is still quite underdeveloped lacking mechanization, storage facilities and poor climatic conditions. All these factors thus make agricultural activities an irregular affair. Thus it is important that Tanzania diversifies its economy by including mining, tourism and industrial sector.

The theory also holds that adequate investments must be made in the social infrastructure. According to the theory, the nation must make scope for the future generation by modernizing its education system and incorporating equal formal education. In this respect Tanzania has a teacher student ration of 49:1 which makes its unequal education distribution explicit. In addition to education, health facilities must also be provided to the population. In this aspect too Tanzania lags behind.( Rosa,2014).  With a total of 6321 health facility all over the country, Tanzania is incapable of providing state of art welfare facilities to the large population it shelters. Following the attributes of the modernization theory, if Tanzania develops a better social infrastructure, it will give rise to a healthier and education population.

Economic development is the key feature of the modernization theory. Thus major focus must be diverted to this end by Tanzania. One way of achieving economic development is by establishing an effective transport system. As effective transport facility helps in the smooth transfer of raw materials to the manufacturing units and also ensures an effective transportation of the finished products to the markets. (Marsh, 2014).Tanzania must develop its road facilities as per international standards. The country must also make an effort to improve its road conditions by distributing it equally throughout the country. Even though the county has airports, there are inadequate planes to transports goods and frets to and fro the country. The inadequacies of the transport facility have led to a slow growth of the industries by reducing the level of exportation to other countries. Tanzania has to import more thus an unequal trade balance has come into being.

Most of the developed countries have an established political secularism. In Tanzania there are multiparty though the most dominant one is the CCM. The various parties have diverging opinion leading to regular political conflict. It is important that the country addresses this political concern at the quickest possible to move forward in the stage of development. (Kyong,2017).


Though critics opine that western influence is not the only path to development, other ways have not proved to be very effective so far, through the example of China is well celebrated. The bottom line of any theory is human development, thus till a theory more effective than modernization theory is developed it is advisable to follow this tried and tested method.


Coronil, F. (2015). 11 Latin American postcolonial studies and global decolonization. Postcolonial Studies: An Anthology, 175.

Fägerlind, I., & Saha, L. J. (2016). Education and national development: A comparative perspective. Elsevier.

Gereffi, G., & Wyman, D. L. (Eds.). (2014). Manufacturing miracles: paths of industrialization in Latin America and East Asia. Princeton University Press.

Kyong-Dong, K. (2017). Selective Modernization and Alternative Modernities: In Search of an Alternative Theory. In Alternative Discourses on Modernization and Development (pp. 77-123). Springer Singapore.

Larrain, J. (2013). Theories of development: Capitalism, colonialism and dependency. John Wiley & Sons.

Malatesta, D., & Smith, C. R. (2014). Lessons from resource dependence theory for contemporary public and nonprofit management. Public Administration Review, 74(1), 14-25.

Marsh, R. M. (2014). Modernization theory, then and now. Comparative Sociology, 13(3), 261-283.

Nagoda, S. (2015). New discourses but same old development approaches? Climate change adaptation policies, chronic food insecurity and development interventions in northwestern Nepal. Global Environmental Change, 35, 570-579.

Peet, R., & Hartwick, E. (2015). Theories of development: Contentions, arguments, alternatives. Guilford Publications.

Pennycook, A. (2017). The cultural politics of English as an international language. Taylor & Francis.

Ragin, C. C. (2013). The comparative method: Moving beyond qualitative and quantitative strategies. Univ of California Press.

Rosa, M. C. (2014). Theories of the South: Limits and perspectives of an emergent movement in social sciences. Current Sociology, 62(6), 851-867.

Thapa, D., & Sæbø, Ø. (2014). Exploring the link between ICT and development in the context of developing countries: a literature review. The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, 64.

Wade, P. (2017). Race and ethnicity in Latin America. Pluto press.

Zeng, J., & Fang, Y. (2014). Between poverty and prosperity: China’s dependent development and the ‘middle-income trap’. Third World Quarterly, 35(6), 1014-1031.

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