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HIST 1112 – Modernization Theory

HIST 1112 – Modernization Theory


Lecture 17, we call this modernization. In the late 50s and early 60s, certain intellectuals
in the United States came up with what we call today a modernization theory. I’m going to characterize it for you. It argues this – colonized and/or agricultural
states will copy Western industrial powers with the resultant cultural changes; governments
will take responsibility for education; governments will be tolerant of various religious beliefs;
and in intellectual life there will be a greater emphasis put on science, education, technology;
in family life, presumably a reduction in birth rate, as families will not need as many
children as they are no longer on the farm. Now criticisms of this modernization theory
– First, people have argued that no single factor can account or explain such vast changes. Societies don’t move at the same rate. Modernization theory generally leaves religion
out, and of course, you do that at your own peril as a historian because religion can
be quite powerful – as we see today. Another criticism, modernization theory doesn’t
predict behavior; it doesn’t predict things like crime rates, for instance. Modernization theory doesn’t take account
of nations who take a different course from the traditional Western course – an example,
the Soviet Union did not become Western in its politics. In fact, it became the world’s first communist
country with a centrally-planned economy instead of reliance on the market. Modernization theory is distinctly Eurocentric,
another criticism. So let’s go into this a bit further, this
criticism about Eurocentrism. There is an implied racial superiority when
we talk about Eurocentrism. You have a sort of temperate Europe over arid
Asia and tropical Africa. So not only do we have the sort of racial
superiority, but we have a superiority of climate –Western freedom and rationality
over oriental despotism, another sort of stereotype. European technical superiority is emphasized
while forgetting that the West got many of its ideas and innovations – technological
inventions – from China and other places in the East. Europeans tend to equate modernization with
civilization. In other words, to be civilized you have to
have these technological advances or these cultural attributes. For instance, you can talk about the French
civilizing mission in Northwest Africa during the age of imperialism. Here, the French seek to reconcile their aggressive
imperialism with the republican idea – when I say republican idea I’m talking about
representative government. The French and Northwest Africa, in their
civilizing mission, assume that their culture is superior and indeed it is their duty to
pass this superior culture on to the Africans. The French civilizing mission in Northwest
Africa, it could be turned both ways. Those opposed to the French civilizing mission
in African, or in Southeast Asia for that matter, can be labeled as barbarian, as they
are opposed to progress; civilization; modernity – these are presumably positive things,
yet when they’re cloaked in imperialism they can be brutal things as well. Finally, it is worth repeating that Europe’s
rapid modernization is due primarily to four factors – First, Europe’s exploitation
of cheap, non-European labor; second, Europe’s possession of the New World’s resources
– in an earlier lecture we talked about the fact that Europe’s great leap forward
occurred in large part because Europe had grassed those resources, those commodities
available in the New World; third, Europe’s insatiable curiosity about the rest of the
world; and fourth, the spread of Christianity across the globe provided both a noble motive
and a clever cover for expansionism. Some common trends as we talk about modernization
– We see an increasing concern about public health – again, with modernization you have
urbanization; industrialization – people flocking to the cities, leaving the farms
behind – when you suddenly gather millions of people into cities you could have serious
public health issues. So in public health, we tend to think of Western
engineering, Western medicine; the desire to clean up the cities; make them safe for
people to live in. You have the inoculations for disease, the
attempt to prevent contagions, the creation of infrastructure in cities – you think
about sewers, clean sources of water. Another factor of modernization, of course,
is education. We have here an expansion of schooling to
nearly everyone, the addition of science and technology to the curriculum. Colonial schooling improved with missionaries. Of course, this is again, a part of the imperial
project, and of course, religion is one of those justifications for imperialism – the
idea being that we are bringing our superior religion to these native peoples. China sent students to learn from other societies. A quote from the McNeill’s book that we’ve
used throughout this semester, The Human Web, quote, “Industrialization rewarded literacy
in basic education as never before, so increasing numbers of people sought it and many states
saw fit to subsidize it – talking about education. For the first time, millions of children spend
several years in formal schooling – learning to read and write, to love the fatherland,
and to accept discipline from people outside their families. Military technology another sort of symptom
of modernization, those periphery nations that we’ve talked about tend to try to copy
Western institutions – new training; new weapons to Africans and Asians; colonial protectorates
established whereby the indigenous policy and military forces are trained by the cores,
to look after the core’s interest. We see a good example of this, for instance,
in Cuba in the first half of the 20th century. Cuba was essentially a protectorate of the
United States. Cuban leadership looked after America’s
interest in Cuba as opposed to the Cuban’s interest. So let’s draw some conclusions here. Those instruments of modernization – science,
technology, the telegraph, printing press, railroads, steamships, the machine gun, the
rifled steel cannon – all these became instruments of the state and of the state’s various
departments – it’s navies, armies, police, tax collectors, and so on. Also in conclusion, European faith in science
– The Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, demonstrated to Europeans that science has
the capacity to explain the world. Well – if it can explain the world, perhaps
it can explain our behavior, and maybe even explain government and how power works. Notice that the course that all college students
have to take is called Political Science, not Political Arts. So the urge to Reform society, to improve
it, comes directly from this faith in Enlightenment ideas that man can recognize his problems
and then devise solutions for those problems. So – a brief survey of modernization. Thank you.

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