Modernization Theory


DePaul University, USA

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs173

Modernization theory is a social science paradigm created after World War II by researchers in the United States to explain the increased importance of “Third World” or “developing” countries, comprised mostly of former colonial territories in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The theory, heavily based on the nineteenth-century sociological perspective known as functionalism, considers societies to be similar to complex biological organisms. It assumes that all societies are involved in a linear, evolutionary process that transforms traditional societies into modern ones, often labeled as “progress” or “development.” “Modern” societies are defined as fitting the characteristics of the United States and Western Europe during the mid-twentieth century – all other types of societies are characterized as traditional.

The basic characteristics of a modern society are as follows: high levels of industrialization and urbanization, nuclear family structure, high rates of spatial and economic mobility, self-sustained economic growth through local demand, and high levels of mass consumption. Democratization was also seen as integral to the modernization process, as only societies with liberal democracies had achieved high levels of modernization. The theory did not consider economic, social, and political equality between men and women to be a part of modernization.

Modernization theory asserts ...

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