Initially, I would like to clarify the use of the terms “Modernization” and “Westernization” but it is difficult to easily conceptualize and formulate precise definitions that all can agree. For this essay Modernization, at least in minimalist conceptualization, involves what S.P. Huntington (1996:68) described as “industrialization, urbanization, increasing level of literacy, education, wealth and social mobility, and more complex and diversified occupational structures”. Westernization, on the other hand, is seen as the “conversion to the ways of western civilization”. Westernization is the social process in which non-western peoples are assimilated into the western culture or “assimilated into European culture”. Westernization and Europeanization can be used interchangeably from this point.
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There is no denying the fact that ‘modernization process first occurred in the west through the twin processes of industrialization and commercialization’ (Emerson, 1960:43) It was the industrial revolution that warmed the whole movement of change from a traditional agricultural society to modern industrialized and commercialized one. Vishnevsky (2006:9) stated that “modernization forms a great axis around which history’s main events have turned since the end of the 18th century, the time of the industrial revolution in England and the Great French Revolution, and gradually spread to ever more new countries and regions, especially in the 20th century”. This drives us to the question at hand: Is Modernization synonymous with westernization? Can non-western societies modernize along different path or must become westernize to achieve modernization? In this essay, I will argue that Modernization is not synonymous, identical and interchangeable with Westernization. To demonstrate my argument, the essay will precede within the framework of challenging theories and assumption that equated modernization with westernization particularly the modernization theory.
Modernization theory focuses on a type of modernization believed to have originated in Europe during the 18th century, which brought different social values and technological advancement into a new era. It describes the way emerging technologies and systems of production and consumption could bring about a more increasingly homogenized world. It is simple logic that this theory asserts the idea that modernization as a homogenizing process (Black, 1966). In the sense all modernizing nations are become changing in to western culture, and underdeveloped countries should acquire characteristics which are common to developed western countries to modernize. The fundamental question is; are all modernizing nations are going to achieve the same final objective and values, or the distinct values and traditions of different societies mean that they will remain separate and unique. The current modernization practice shows that significant differences exist between modernizing countries. It is worthy of mentioning the example of China which is increasingly modernizing but without losing its unique cultural values and political variables. Huntington (1996:20) described that “non-western civilizations” generally are reaffirming the values of their own, rather than assimilating with the west. He also stated that even after achieving modernization status it is less likely to observe cultural similarity, rather communities can differ from one another. Take the case of Japan although initially adopted westernization as a model but now retaining its own culture and tradition. Many non-Western countries are gradually raising up to par with the United States, Great Britain and other modernized European countries thus making it difficult to maintain the west’s cultural influence internationally. Thus one can’t but agree with Huntington’s idea that modernization is far from producing a universal civilization throughout the world and westernization of other non-western nations (1996:20)
It is still said that to become modern is to act and work like western. Westernization has been considered as yardstick for modernization. I strongly believe that modernization is a complex set of processes that can’t be easily conceptualized to a single factor and a uni-dimension view. But modernization theorists make the claim that western capitalist values and practices are the basis for modernizing other societies. It is all about non-western societies to follow the footsteps of western countries to be modern. Here it is obviously difficult to give a full consent to this idea. Certainly, westernization is one way of economic development and it “remains an important model for achievement of modernizationâ€¦.” (Liu, 1997:43) But, it is not and will be the only universal model. It is difficult to say that western model of modernization as a model of global applicability.
This assumption of looking modernization as uni-linear process is far from being criticized and challenged, not only in non-western countries but also by western politicians and scholars. Apart from criticism, Mohammed M. Ali (1997: 14- 15) puts forward the idea of Islamic modernization which means the advancement of knowledge and science based on Islamic epistemology, as the first prerequisite for Islamic modernization. Presumably the development of new assumption by some African and Latin American scholars and politicians like “neo-liberalism is a dead end” might indicate the struggle to find alternative model of modernization. Beyond assumptions, taking in to consideration the current modernization process in China is a clear indicator for the existence of alternative way of economic development and modernization which is something different from western way of development. The way Chinese societies modernize, leaves no doubt that homogenising and hegemonic assumptions of western program of modernity and modernization theory were not realized. What we see instead, according to Dubley (2008: 16), in many non-western countries, all on their path to modernize, there is very little disposition to imitate the western model.
All these points make us to subscribe to the idea of Eisenstadt (2002: 2-3) who stated that there are multiple modernities, and western pattern of modernization is not the only “authentic” modernity, though it enjoy historical precedence and continue to be a basic reframing point for others. So, the non-western societies have to look for their own model of modernization, instead of trying to make themselves copies of the west (Darmaputera, 1988: 2002).
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The assumption of equating modernization with westernization not only provides little room for alternative way of modernization but also provides a monopoly of wisdom to the western societies. The non-western societies have to adopt their technologies, models and values to modernize. I agree that western technologies and values are significant, although not all. But the underlying assumption undermines others ability to innovate. It is clearly a top-down approach of modernization. Islamic civilizations lead the world one time in history. Africa had its own way of modernization and development before its contact with European. Is current technological innovation a western product only? Today, Japan has become the world leading in various aspects of modernity more importantly in electronics. No one has a monopoly of power over wisdom, creativity and innovation. Non-western societies have the potential to create new things but the overall structural relationship with the west has to be rearranged in such a way that they can realize and implement it.
In conclusion, in light with the current modernization practices and historical experiences modernization is not synonymous, identical or interchangeable with westernization. The experience shows that it is the expansion of the west and globalization which has promoted both the modernization and westernization of non-western societies. Modernization in itself has no premise of westernizing other societies and creating a more homogenous world. Of course, modernization can’t exclude westernization in certain aspects. But there is nothing uniquely western about technology and industrialization. Using western technology for efficient production and service delivery is not being westernized.
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