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Redesign of an existing structure to make it look new, or contemporary in style, as opposed to restoration.
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  1. the overall societal process, including INDUSTRIALIZATION, by which previously agrarian, historical and contemporary societies become developed. The overall contrast usually drawn is between premodern and modernized societies. The term includes a wider range of social processes than industrialization (see also POLITICAL MODERNIZATION). In classical sociological theory, modernization was conceptualized by DURKHEIM as involving a process of SOCIAL DIFFERENTIATION, by WEBER as a process of RATIONALIZATION, and by MARX as a process of COMMODIFICATION.
  2. the more particular model of societal development, suggested especially by US functionalist sociologists in the 1950s and 60s, in which the decisive factor in modernization is the overcoming and replacement of traditional values and patterns of motivation hostile to social change and economic growth. In more general terms, structural-functionalist theories also emphasize the process of SOCIAL DIFFERENTIATION involved in modernization, including political PLURALISM (see also TRADITIONAL SOCIETIES, ACHIEVEMENT MOTIVATION).
While modernization 1 is an open-ended concept, modernization 2 has been widely criticized as a Western-centred approach. This criticism has been directed at the use of the concept (in the 1950s and 60s) by the STRUCTURAL-FUNCTIONALIST theorists, influenced by the work of PARSONS, to examine the prospects of development in THIRD WORLD societies.

Whilst there are important differences between authors, the main tenets of the structural-functionalist theory are:

  1. modern society is contrasted with TRADITIONAL SOCIETY which is seen as hindering economic development;
  2. change occurs through evolutionary stages which are broadly similar for all societies;
  3. Third World countries need agents to help them break out of tradition;
  4. such agents for change may either come from within the society, such as modernizing élites, or may come from outside, for example with the injection of capital or education models;
  5. DUAL ECONOMIES AND DUAL SOCIETIES may exist in contemporary Third World countries. Some regions persist in traditional forms, whilst others, especially urban areas, experience modernization;
  6. both the preferred and likely outcome are societies similar to those in Western Europe and the US. In this last respect authors share similar assumptions to CONVERGENCE theorists.

The criticisms came primarily from DEPENDENCY THEORY and UNDERDEVELOPMENT theorists in the late 1960s and subsequently. The main critical points were:

  1. modernization theory concentrated on internal social processes, thus ignoring the effects of COLONIALISM and NEOCOLONIALISM on the structure of Third World societies;
  2. the contrast between modern and traditional was both oversimplified and erroneous. FRANK argued that existing Third World societies were not in any sense traditional because they had been changed by centuries of contact with Northern countries. The obstacles to change were a creation of this contact;
  3. these were not dual societies because often the so-called traditional sectors were an integral part of the national economy;
  4. the evolutionary approach imposed a Western model of development and denied the possibility of novel forms of society emerging in the Third World;
  5. behind modernization theory were both political and ideological concerns. Many of the main theorists were from the US, involved in governmental advisory roles and explicitly committed to the curtailment of socialism or communism in the Third World. This was particularly seen in the 1960s when the US's ‘Alliance for Progress’ programme in Latin America was instituted in response to the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and which adopted many of the suggested policies and aims deriving from modernization theory. See also EVOLUTIONARY THEORY, NEOEVOLUTIONISM, SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT, SOCIAL CHANGE, IMPERIALISM, CONVERGENCE.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
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