Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Modernisation, Shmodernisation

Excuse the potted summaries of my development studies lectures. They are part of my 'diary', which will contribute to a portion of my course work grade.

A couple of weeks into the lectures, we got to Modernization Theory, the starting point for any discussion of development theories. This comes from the period around the end of the Second World War, when there was a surge of interest in how the poor benighted masses of the world could improve their lives by becoming much more like us in the West.

On the one hand, getting the starving natives to the point of having a refrigerator and a car in the driveway would make them less susceptible to the Red Peril. On the other hand, if you were a communist, modernisation had to be part of the glorious dialectical march of history.

According to the standard view, modernisation happens along a number of different dimensions. To the uninitiated, a lot of this will look less like a theory than the set of assumptions we still go by most of the time.

Population -- high birth and death rates give way to a period of rapid population growth, then finally to a stabilising population with both birth and death rates low.

Economy -- subsistence agriculture with little specialisation and exchange through reciprocity eventually sees production removed from consumption, a high degree of specialisation, and exchange through money rather than reciprocity.

Society -- tribal societies where kinship networks dominate and social status is inherited give way to meritocractic societies based on the nuclear family and a secular, scientific education. Class becomes a key organising factor of society.

Politics -- tribal groups with local control and close association between political and religious leaders give way to the modern democractic state with mass participation in politics based on political parties, separation of church and state, and mass communication through the media.

Geography -- modernisation diffuses through space, with transport, trade and urban centres hastening the process of modernisaton and vice versa. The spread of modernisation can be measured by things like kms of roads, telephone connections, kids in school, and newspaper circulation (and nowadays mobile phones and internet connections).

Although we are about to learn about all the critiques of modernization theory and how it has been superceded by theories that are more sophisticated or diametrically opposed, much of it clearly still drives how we think about the world. For example, a lot of people might have had deep reservations about the likelihood of the neoconservative dream of turning Iraq into a 'modern, secular liberal democracy' and thereby 'transforming the Middle East'. More people still rejected the means by which it was to be achieved. But there was certainly a general sense that it was a desirable goal.

1 comment:

Sekar Kedaton said...

Very interesting to know this...