traditional societya nonindustrial, predominantly rural society which is presumed to be static and contrasted with a modern, changing, INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY. The concept is widely used in the social sciences, but over the last few decades has come to be seen as very problematic and therefore avoided by many sociologists. The problems involved in its usages are:
- it is a term which has been used to describe a wide variety of societies which in fact differ markedly from each other (see AGRARIAN SOCIETY, TRIBAL SOCIETY, ANCIENT SOCIETY, FEUDAL SOCIETY);
- whilst the rates of SOCIAL CHANGE in such societies are slower than in industrial societies, it is erroneous to accept that no change occurs;
- the term gained usage within sociology when systematic knowledge of nonindustrial societies was weak, and increased knowledge no longer warrants the usage;
- it is associated with MODERNIZATION theory which has been criticized for delineating an oversimplified contrast between traditional and modern;
- the oversimplifications involved in the term lead either to a romanticized or a pejorative view of such societies.
An example of the problematic use of the term is when commentators argue that contemporary Japanese society differs from Western European society because of the stronger survival of traditional society within Japan. This ignores the facts that all societies carry features from the past in their present social arrangements, no societies have complete breaks between so-called traditional and modern, and that such features from the past may be more striking to Western observers because of their unfamiliarity, thus adding Eurocentricity to the list of problems. Further, in the case of Japan, in the 19th century the state actively decided to promote what were seen as aspects of traditional Japan for political purposes and for the establishment of Japanese national identity. Thus what is seen as ‘traditional’ is as likely to be an invention (see Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983).