Max Weber's modernisation theory and applications, including the case of capoeira in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, containerisation, and consumer capitalism. (Note: part 1 given by a colleague, so I won't be posting it.)
‘The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and
intellectualization and, above all, by the disenchantment of
the world. Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values
have retreated from public life either into the transcendental
realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and
personal human relations.’
Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation
1FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701
FOAR701: Research paradigms (2016)
Modernisation theory: case studies
Department of Anthropology
Faculty of Arts
– A. R. Radcliffe-Brown
‘On the concept of function in social
science,’ American Anthropologist 37: 401
…one ‘explanation’ of a social system will be its
history, where we know it — the detailed account
of how it came to be, what it is and where it is.
Another ‘explanation’ of the same system is
obtained by showing… that it is a special
exemplification of laws of social psychology or
social functioning. The two kinds of explanation do
not conflict but supplement one another.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 3
Painter Charles Baudelaire,
‘The Painter of Modern Life’
ephemeral experience of life
in the city…
Portrait of Baudelaire, by Gustave Courbet c. 1848
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 4
Transition from ‘traditional’ to ‘modern’
Change in the nature of
subjectivity linked to change
in economy, politics &
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 5
Key components of modernisation theory
• Strong diachronic foundation for analysis.
• Periodisation crucial, with focus on discontinuities.
• Ideal typical modelling (use of ‘ideal types’).
• ‘Idealism’: societies & institutions elaborate core principles (even if
these are not articulated; contrast to materialism).
• Emphasis on ‘rationalisation’ (whether or not ‘rational,’ a ‘logic’ or
tendency in a society worked out over time).
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 6
Contrast of modernisation theory (Weber)
• For Weber, emergence of capitalism in US (& not in Germany) is the
explanatory problem; unlike Marx, he does not see capitalism as inevitable.
• Weber: generative conditions are day-to-day practices, motivated by a
particular interpretation of core theological concepts (pre-destination,
• Individuals are thoroughly socialised (encultured) & act to bring world into
consistency with their principles (rationalisation, institutionalisation).
• Causation is not automatic, nor is only one set of conditions sufficient to
create social predisposition for capitalism (or other formation).
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 7
Again, the theory is widely
divided; for example, in
anthropology, discussion of
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701
Case study: capoeira in Brazil
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 9
photo by Greg Downey2
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 10
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701
The ‘old guard’ (velha guarda)
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701
Monopolising violence Modern state & its
subjectsFACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 25
Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro The disenchantment of the
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 26
Military police occupy
‘Complexo do Alemão’ 2010, Rio de Janeiro
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 27
‘Modernisation’ is a
radical re-ordering of
The ‘capoeiras’’ identities became
Modernity meant an end to
Capoeira became a ‘martial art’
and ‘physical education.’
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 28
Variety of historical
• Hygiene revolution
• Demographic transition
• McDonaldisation (George Ritzer)
• Disneyification (Sharon Zukin, Alan
Bryman, Jeff Ferrell)
• Enlightenment (Horkheimer &
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR70129
Modern trade: Globalisation Containerisation
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 30
• 1955, Malcolm McLean invents
the intermodal container.
• International Organisation for
• Reduced the cost of international
shipping (producing cheap
imports), while also removing the
need for longshoremen.
• Increased globalisation, ease of
• Has made ports one of the most
automated industries. Leading
the way in robotics.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR70131
• Huge decrease in shipping costs.
1956: cost to ship = $5.86/ton
2016: = $.16/ton
• 90% of all items purchased today
have been carried inside a
2.5 cents to ship a sweater;
before, 25% of cost was shipping.
• 17 million+ containers in the
• The largest container ship can
carry over 17,000 TEUs.
Only the size of Straits of Malacca
may limit size.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR70132
Romantic Ethic and
the Spirit of
Colin Campbell points out that
also required rupture of
Instead of a ‘work ethic,’ the
production of new needs.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 33
• Uniqueness of personality &
expression of ‘self.’
• Restless desire & consumption as
end in itself; not ‘Protestant’…
• Patterns of consumption disrupted
— no guide.
Advertising to cultivate new needs
• Campbell: consumption is the
attempt to make daydreams real.
• Effect was paradoxical given that
romantics rejected industrial
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 34
“the course of development involves… the
bringing in of calculation into the traditional
brotherhood, displacing the old religious
– Max Weber
General Economic History (Dover 2003): 356.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 35
Focus on a key
That innovation often as much a
logic or psychological state as it
was a technology.
For example, modernisation
unleashed by theological
innovation; link between
democracy & wealth.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 36
For Weber, replacement of
traditions, norms & emotions (like
loyalty) with efficiency, means-
rationalisation, and calculation.
Linked both to modernisation &
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 37
“Rational calculation… reduces every worker
to a cog in this bureaucratic machine and,
seeing himself in this light, he will merely ask
how to transform himself… to a bigger cog…
The passion for bureaucratization at this
meeting drives us to despair.”
– Max Weber
Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive
Sociology. (U of California Press, 1978): lix.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 38
• If Marx & Engels predicted
irresolvable conflict, Weber
(Some would say the Soviet
Union was precisely what
Weber, not Marx, anticipated.)
• Lenin, just after Russian
revolution, vowed to organise
‘the whole national economy on
the lines of the postal
• In Weber, not ‘progress’: fear of
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR70139
The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to
do so.…This order is now bound to the technical and
economic conditions of machine production which today
determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into
this mechanism… with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so
determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is
burnt. In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should
only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak,
which can be thrown aside at any moment.” But fate
decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage.
– Max Weber
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirt of Capitalism. (Taylor &
Francis, 2005 ): 123.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 40
Strengths of ‘modernisation’ paradigm
• Evolutionary and diachronic, but supple in terms of what sort of
rationalisation is occurring…
• Ideal types, as long as they are clearly posted as heuristics, are
evocative & facilitate comparative analysis.
• Recognises that fundamental change has occurred: speed of social
• Agnostic about causation — held out the possibility of weak causation,
multiple causation and ‘predisposing’ conditions.
• Relationship between principle and instantiation in day-to-day
practice & technology captures complex phenomena (ideational as well
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 41
Criticism of modernisation paradigm
• Confounds modernisation with other processes (such as
Westernisation, Americanisation, neoliberalisation…).
• Eurocentric & social evolutionist.
• Hides that ‘modern’ condition depends upon history of
exploitation of ‘underdeveloped’ countries (e.g.,
underdevelopment theory like Andre Gunder Frank).
• Politically naive in taking ‘democracy’ claims at face value.
• Multiple ‘modernities’ (Shmuel Eisenstadt) and holdovers of the
pre-modern in contemporary systems.
• Simplifies dynamics of transition & the way that parts of society
‘advance’ at different paces due to internal tensions.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 42
Thanks for your
Bibliography online at iLearn
Photos public domain at Pixabay
or as indicated.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 43
• Bauman, Zygmunt. 1989. Modernity and the Holocaust. Cornell University Press.
• Campbell, Colin. 2005. The romantic ethic and the spirit of modern consumerism. WritersPrintShop.
(parallel article in Sociological Analysis here)
• Cassis, Youssef. 2006. Capitals of Capital: A History of International Financial Centres, 1780-2005.
Cambridge University Press.
• Eisenstadt, Shmuel Noah. 2003. Comparative Civilizations and Multiple Modernities, 2 vols. Brill.
• Ferrell, Jeff. 2001. Tearing Down the Streets: Adventures in Urban Anarchy. St. Martin's Press.
• Graeber, David. 2015. The Utopia of rules: On technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of
bureaucracy. Melville House.
• Marc Levinson. 2006. The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World
Economy Bigger. Princeton University Press.
• Ritzer, George. 2009. The McDonaldization of Society. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press.
• Stearns, Peter N. 2006. Consumerism in world history: The global transformation of desire.
• Weber, Max. 2005 (1930) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Taylor & Francis.
(online edition here)
• Zukin, Sharon. 1996. The Cultures of Cities. Blackwell Publishing.
FACULTY OF ARTS | FOAR701 44