(Also Modernization) is a concept in the sphere of social sciences that refers to process in which society goes through industrialization, urbanization and other social changes that completely transforms the lives of individuals. The concept of modernization comes from a view of societies as having a standard 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. 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). According to the Social theorist Peter Wagner (Social theorist), modernization can be seen as processes, and as offensives.
The former view is commonly projected by politicians and the media, and suggests that it is developments, such as new data technology or dated laws, which make modernization necessary or preferable. This view makes critique of modernization difficult, since it implies that it is these developments which control the limits of human interaction, and not vice versa. The latter view of modernization as offensives argues that both the developments and the altered opportunities made available by these developments, are shaped and controlled by human agents.
The view of modernization as offensives therefore sees it as a product of human planning and action, an active process capable of being both changed and criticized. Modernization is most likely one of the most influential happenings in society. A WORD ON DEVELOPMENT When we use the word development we imply a process or movement, presumably forward, upward or generally toward something better than what was. But this immediately raises all sorts of questions. Take the case of the man in the village who has spent the day fishing.
Today, in many parts of the Pacific he is liable to bring his catch into his home to feed his own household. In years past, he may have felt obliged to share his catch with his whole lineage group and possibly a good part of the village as well. By today’s standards the fisherman could be called provident and enterprising for providing inexpensive protein for his family; by yesterday’s norms he would be judged stingy for failing to share his catch with the wide circle of kinfolk towards whom he was obligated.
By which norms should he be judged? The matter becomes still more complicated when we consider other possibilities. Suppose the way the man disposes of his fish is intimately bound up with other values and attitudes that are the effect of modernization. Suppose the very same values which lead him to limit the distribution of his fish also dictate that he will avoid beating his wife, send his daughter to school and take disciplinary action against a brother-in-law who is working under him in a government bureau.
Does this pattern of values to which the man now subscribes represent genuine development or regression? What if the very changes that undermine his broad kin group are also responsible for greater individual freedom and a vision that looks beyond the boundaries of the village for the first time? The ethical dilemmas of modernization do not yield easy answers. In taking up the difficult theme of the ethics of development, there are three important premises we must keep firmly in mind.
First, since development is a process or movement, we must remember it is relevant to ask: where have we come from? where are we now? and where are we headed? The danger is that ignoring the first and last, we may focus exclusively at where we are now. Only when we consider all three can we make adequate ethical judgements on development. The second thing to remember is that change rarely happens piecemeal and in isolation. Modernization involves not so much discrete elements as clusters of interrelated attitudes and values that are of a piece.
One buys what the world calls development or modernization in wholesale lots rather than by the single item. This is not to say that a people on the path to development are doomed to become carbon copies of the industrialized nations of the world. They have real choices. But each choice made entails various other elements implicit in and related to the first, although they may not be perceived as such at the outset. An option for the money economy, for instance, implies much more than a decision to replace barter with a single medium of exchange, as we well know.
The same can be said of bank accounts and refrigerators, which offer people the means of preserving resources that formerly would have had to be distributed immediately. If this should seem unduly fatalistic, then it is well to keep in mind our third premise. Years ago it was fashionable for cultural anthropologists to regard societies or cultures as complex bits of machinery, like the old-fashioned spring watch, in which every part was interrelated. An alteration in one of the parts would invariably change, and often damage, the functioning of the entire machine.
Lately we have come to realize that societies are as organic as the people who form them. Like the human body, a society can adapt to stresses and changes in their environment and even to the viruses and bacteria that assail its inner workings. Societies, then, are capable of healing themselves. And they can do so even as they retain their own distinctiveness. With this in mind, then, I would like to describe three of the broad areas of change that modernization is bringing to island societies, at least those in Micronesia, the part of the Pacific in which I have worked for the past twenty years.
My hope, of course, is that at least some of this will have application to societies in Papua New Guinea as well. The three broad areas of change we will consider here are related to some of the sub-themes taken up in other volumes in this series. We will first examine kin group or tribal loyalties as opposed to the demands of the state. Then we shall take up the tension between the nuclear family and the extended family. Finally, we will look at the relations between the sexes as they have been altered in recent years.