Modernization Theory

Published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, International Relations, 2010, DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.013.266

24 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2019

Date Written: March 01, 2010


Modernization theory studies the process of social evolution and the development of societies. There are two levels of analysis in classical modernization theory: the microcosmic evaluations of modernization, which focuses on the componential elements of social modernization; and the macrocosmic studies of modernization focused on the empirical trajectories and manifest processes of the modernization of nations and their societies, economies, and polities. However, there are two key sources of problems with classical modernization theory. The first is the determinism implied in the logic of modernization, while the second relates to the specific development patterns that modernization theory must contend with. A contemporary theory on modernization relates structural change at a higher level of analysis to instrumental action at a lower level of analysis, doing so within a stochastic framework rather than the deterministic one that classical modernization theory implied. In addition, the refocused attention of social scientists on the process of development has led to a renewed interest in the characterization of the relationship between economic development and democratization. The transformation of knowledge into economic development can be examined by looking at the weightless economy — a collection of “weightless” knowledge products such as software, the Internet, and electronic databases. It is closely connected to a weightless political concept called the credible polity, which is a government that creates institutions that credibly protect property rights and are also transparent in their functioning to all members of its society.

Keywords: modernization theory, classical modernization theory, contemporary modernization theory, economic development, democratization, weightless economy, credible polity, social modernization

JEL Classification: B20, O10, P50

Suggested Citation

Goorha, Prateek, Modernization Theory (March 01, 2010). Published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, International Relations, 2010, DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.013.266, Available at SSRN:

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