Chapter 1: What is Modernization?


The concept of modernization comes from a view of societies as having a standard uni-linear evolutionary pattern, as described in the social evolutionism theories.

According to this each society would evolve inexorably from barbarism to ever greater levels of development and civilization. The more modern states would be wealthier and more powerful, and their citizens freer and having a higher standard of living. This was the standard view in the social sciences for many decades with its foremost advocate being Talcott Parsons. This theory stressed the importance of societies being open to change and saw reactionary forces as restricting development.

Maintaining tradition for tradition's sake was thought to be harmful to progress and development.


Talcott Parsons: One of the Great Names in Articulating Modernization

Considering the interrelation of these specialized roles as well as functionally differentiated collectivities (e.g., firms, political parties), the society can be analyzed as a complex system of interrelated functional subsystems, namely:
  • The economy -- societal adaptation to its action and non-action environmental systems
  • The polity -- societal goal attainment
  • The societal community -- the integration of its diverse social components
  • The cultrual system -- the latency processes and units that function to reproduce societal culture

Parsons elaborated upon the idea that each of these systems also developed some specialized symbolic mechanisms of interaction analogous to money in the economy, e.g.., influence in the societal community.

Various processes of "interchange" among the subsystems of the societal system were postulated.

The most elaborate of Parsons's use of functional systems analysis with the AGIL scheme appear in two collaborative books, Economy and Society (with N. Smelser, 1956) and The American University (with G. Platt, 1973).

Parsons contributed to the field of social evolutionism and neoevolutionism. He divided evolution into four subprocesses:

1) differentiation, which creates functional subsystems of the main system, as discussed above;

2) adaptation, where those systems evolve into more efficient versions;

3) inclusion of elements previously excluded from the given systems; and

4) generalization of values, increasing the legitimization of the ever-more complex system.


This approach has been heavily criticized, mainly because it conflated modernization with Westernization. In this model, the modernization of a society required the destruction of the indigenous culture and its replacement by a more Westernized one.

Technically modernity simply refers to the present, and any society still in existence is therefore modern.

Proponents of modernization typically view only Western society as being truly modern arguing that others are primitive or unevolved by comparison.

This view sees unmodernized societies as inferior even if they have the same standard of living as western societies.

Opponents of this view argue that modernity is independent of culture and can be adapted to any society.

Japan is cited as an example by both sides. Some see it as proof that a thoroughly modern way of life can exist in a non-western society. Others argue that Japan has become distinctly more western as a result of its modernization.

In addition, this view is accused of being Eurocentric, as modernization began in Europe and has long been regarded as reaching its most advanced stage in Europe (by Europeans), and in Europe overseas (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc).


What about modernization in the Middle East?

First look at the human development index:

How measured?


What is modernization? How does it differ from modernity? Is there a possibility of modernization without westernization? P. 3

* It is the unsettling process of moving from traditional (agrarians, male-dominated, autocratic or oligarchic, metaphysically driven) society into a modern one.  

* To be more specific:

The modernization process (e.g. high literacy, economic development, mobilization of workers and peasants, modern communication and so forth) will transform traditional societies into merit-based (not ascriptive), participatory (not parochial) and functionally specialized  (not functionally diffusive) societies.


Why the modernization is process unsettling and creates instability? Huntington’s equation.
Is the boom in oil and other resources (ex. phosphates) prices help modernization? P. 4

Yes: it created the modernization manifestations.

Yet: it did not create political development.

The dilemma of higher GDP but lower human development index compared to Latin America.


Can a political regime control the outcome of the modernization process once it starts? P. 7 Generally speaking no. But it happened in the Middle East at a high cost (oppression).



Typology of Political Systems in the Middle East (P.9)











H for short time


Relatively H/L

Very L




Low afterwards







Not important







Israel, Turkey


Iran, Sudan

Lebanon, Somalia, Algeria


Saudi Arabia, Oman,

Malaysia Egypt, Morocco, Qatar, Bahrain

Iraq under Saddam, Syria, Libya, Iran under Shah


The typology yields the following conclusion: modernization and political development are dynamic and not the same. That is why countries are shifting from one pattern to another. For example:


Algeria shifted from (anarchic) immediately after the revolution of 1962, then became  (repressive) under Ben Bella. In 1988, Algeria under Benjedid aspired to become (democratic) but the victory of the Islamic Front in 1991 was going to take it in the direction of (clerical). Wthe intervention of the army in 1992 it went back to (repressive) until the Islamists started the current civil war which made Algeria move back to (anarchic).