Weaknesses and strenths of modernization theory


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A small article on modernization theory for social scientists like me.

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Weaknesses and strenths of modernization theory

  1. 1. Modernization Theory, Strengths and Weaknesses By Watila Development is an elusive concept to define. It is not simply an increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is rather multidimensional and there are no universally accepted approaches which can work as a utility and panacea for development. Development encompasses the advancement of agriculture, village and cottage industries, the socio-economic infrastructure, human resources, community services, human rights and the political environment. Phenomenally, development is the end result of the interactions between various physical, technological, economic, social, cultural and political institutional factors (Singh, 1999). The thrust of this paper is however, not on definition of terms but a chronicle of the modernization theory, its basic tenants and its critical appreciation in the development context of the third world countries. In development discourse the modernization movement of the 1950s and 1960s is an economic theory that is rooted in capitalism. The concept of modernization incorporates the full spectrum of the transition and drastic transformation that a traditional society has to undergo in order to become modern (Hussain et al., 1981). Modernization is about Africa following the developmental footsteps of Europe. According to modernity, policies intended to raise the standard of living of the poor often consist of disseminating knowledge and information about more efficient techniques of production. The modernization theory assumes a total change of policies intended to raise the standard of living of the poor often consist of disseminating knowledge and information about more efficient techniques of production. For instance , the agriculture modernization process involves encouraging farmers to try new crops, new production methods and new marketing skills (Ellis and Biggs, 2001). In general, modernization led to the introduction of hybrids, the greenhouse technology, genetically modified (GMO) food,
  2. 2. use of artificial fertilizers, insecticides, tractors and the application of other scientific knowledge to replace traditional agricultural practices. Smith (1973, 61) pointed out that modernization is about exchanging of older agriculture practices with something more recent. It therefore, suffice that modernization theory is a unilinear process by which a society has to go through in order to develop. In this vein, the modernization theory assumes that any society goes through various stages of development. These are the period of primitive society, preparation for take-off, take-off, drive to maturity and the period of mass consumption. With the above scheme, it is possible to plot African nations on the linear development path. The above view is rather too theoretical. Most economies in Africa invest in agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. It is therefore not easy to classify economies into neat categories as suggested by the Rostowian linear development theory. The linear development paradigm is also shared by Gabriel (1991) who argues that the basic argument of the movement to modernity is related to the increase in the so called modern values of production such as automation, the use of computers, specialization, and application of science in production of economic goods and services. Modernity theorists believe that nations advance to modernity at different paces depending on their adaptability and versatility. There is an element of truth in the above idea. However, it must also be appreciated that wars, conflict, natural disasters and pandemics may force poor countries to move back and forth on their way to development. The recent devastating political conflict in Zimbabwe and the current conflict in Libya and Sudan have robbed the
  3. 3. nations of their development gains. The above idea demonstrates that the road to development is not always smooth; it has ups and downs (Matunhu, 2011). Modernization theory has shown a lot of backdrops both in theory and practice. One, it assumes a top down approach to development or it emphasizes the concentration of development in metropolitan centres and the peripheral cities will benefit through a “trickle-down effect”. In addition, the modernists also pointed out that the developed nations should be the lighthouse by which all developing countries should look up to in developing their nations. Modernists erroneously present the development theory as a dichotomous movement from an original terminal situation to an achieved situation with the help of the developed countries as Sachs (1992:1 in Matunhu 2011) writes: “Like a towering lighthouse guiding sailors towards the coast, development stood as the idea which oriented emerging nations in their journey through post war history. . . the countries of the south proclaimed modernization as their primary aspiration after they had been freed from colonial domination”. This therefore created a dependency syndrome since third world countries depended on aid from outside. The modernization theory was a “one-size-fit all” which did not take into consideration the conditions which existed in Europe and America during their time of development and the conditions in third world countries. In I will Marry When I Want where Ngugi rhetorically asks “since when did a person try to build his hut exactly like his neighbor?” Ngugi presents an argument against the alleged universal applicability of the Modernization Theory. The analogy is insightful in that it contests the fallacy that two or more societies or races can have the same solutions to their social problems when they have different cultures and histories. Ngugi is
  4. 4. contending that trajectories to modernity will invariably be different because of these historical and cultural nuances (Ngugi, 1981; Moyo and Gonye 2011, 91). For example, the hybrid maize crops which were brought to Zambia under the GTZ organization did not suit the soils and the aid turned into an appalling fiasco. This rather compromised the livelihoods because the cassava crop was destroyed and replaced by the new hybrid maize crop. The systems theory also criticizes modernization theory as creating dependency and exploitation of the poor. The core countries exploit the poor periphery countries (Wallerstein, 1970) Another deficiency of modernization theory and the reason why it is not relevant to third world countries is that the theory is criticized for failing to consider the poor as the centerpiece in poverty reduction initiatives. By ignoring the involvement and participation of the target community, modernity achieves the marginalization of their commitment, creativity and support of the intervention strategies. The intervention strategy becomes an imposed strategy and such a strategy fails to construct adequate notions of both the causal powers of social structures and the role of human agency in shaping social relations in general (Mlambo, 1997). The most notable weakness of the modernization theory is its oversimplified view of social change (Coetzee et al., 2007: 101). Human nature has a propensity to resist change in favour of the status quo. Change is resisted because it brings in elements of uncertainty. For instance development strategies such as New Partnership for Africa‟s Development (NEPAD) were drafted, packaged and sent to Africa for implementation. Because of its elitist nature, NEPAD has received condemnation from many African Heads of States and Government. The post-
  5. 5. colonial states in the continent need to engineer a new theory to socioeconomic prosperity of Africa. The other intriguing weaknesses of the modernization theory is that it is based on deterministic reason which states that within the linear model of socio-economic development, changes are initiated externally. The determinist reason gives little room for the reciprocal relationship between causation from within the developing region and from outside the developing region. The premise encourages the foreign powers to prescribe the route to Africa‟s development. For instance, in the 1980s Africa was victim of the failed IMF-imposed economic structural adjustment programme (ESAP). The ESAP project failed because it was developed with a total disregard of the cultural, social, political and traditional values of the recipient countries. Broadly expressed, the ESAP project was a „Eurocentric‟ experiment which failed to pull the continent out of poverty and underdevelopment (Kanyenze, 2003). Simply put, ESAP created the new millennium poor person of Zimbabwe. Between 20 500 and 30 000 persons were retrenched by 1994 (Mlambo, 1997). Western creditors convinced the government to disregard the plight of the multiplying retrenchees, who themselves instinctively turned to their women and children for additional sustenance. This indirectly increased pressure on the poor rural lands (Muzondidya, 2009: 189). Ideas of modernization impoverished Africa. The theory failed to recognize the creativity and initiative of the Africans. Instead it places value on externally sourced aid without attending to the inhibiting conditionalities attached to such aid. The failure of the theory to attend to such conditionalities may demonstrate the hidden hand behind the metropolitan states‟ application of
  6. 6. the theory to Africa. The theory‟s emphasis on the supremacy of the metropolis in the development of Africa is a cause of concern in contemporary discourse on Africa‟s development. It is this supremacy of the metropolis that altered Africa‟s superstructure of beliefs and value system. According to Rodney (1972), the colonial conquest that followed the 1884 to 1885‟s Berlin Conference (partition of Africa) established a comprehensive economic and political domination of Africa by the West. Africa‟s endogenous development path was discarded in favour of an „external driven development path‟ which was and is still manipulated by the metropolis. There has to be a paradigm shift if Africa is to reclaim its right to chat a new way to development. Sustainability and participatory issues were left out in modernization theory both in its theory and practice. The emphasis on metropolitan centres to spearhead development shows that the local people who are direct actors and not recipients of development were not involved in the identification of problems, planning, formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Hence, this theory was an alien and is still an alien to the third world countries. Sustainability issues are just but an insult on the injury. Development projects under modernization theories did not take into account the continuity after the aid and there was no provision for self drive for development. Moreover, the modernization approach failed to recognize the local indigenous knowledge systems for comprehensive development strategies which will spur sustainable livelihoods (Mararike, 2011). In conclusion, the above essay has interrogated the modernization theory by highlighting its major assumptions, its applicability in the third world countries and the major weaknesses
  7. 7. aligned to it. The theory has shown that it is a one size fit all and does not take into account participants as directors of development. Moreso, Sustainability is a dominant deficiency both in theory and practice. The theory is entirely an economic measure of development which assumes the development of the economy particularly the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will eventually spiral down to the last person in the development ladder. This economic growth does not imply economic development, technological advancement, human rights advancement and democracy, or social and cultural progress. In fact, this theory has led to massive exploitation and expropriation of the poor countries by the rich. In essence, modernization theory has shown that it is borrowed from foreigners and is not applicable both in theory and practice and this is evidenced by a series of approaches developed after it such as the actor oriented approach, participatory development and sustainable development.
  8. 8. REFERENCES Coetzee KJ, Graaf J, Heindricks F, Wood G (2007). Development: Theory, Policy and Practice. Cape Town: Oxford University Press. Ellis F, Biggs S (2001). Development Policy Review, 19(4): 437-448. Gabriel T (1991). The Human Factor in Rural Development. London: Belhaven Press Hussain A, Tribe K (1981). Marxism and the Agrarian Question: German Social Democracy and the Peasantry 1890-1907. Hong Kong: MacMillain Press Ltd. Kanyenze, G (2003). “The Performance of the Zimbabwean Economy, 1980-2000” in Darnolf S, Laakso (Eds). Twenty Years of Independence in Zimbabwe: From Liberation to Authoritarianism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Mararike, C. G (2011) Survival Strategies in Rural Zimbabwe: The Role of Assets, Indigenous Knowledge and Organizations. 2nd Ed. (1st Ed pub in 1999) Harare, Best Practices Books Matunhu, J (2011). A critique of modernization and dependency theories in Africa: Critical assessment. African Journal of History and Culture Vol. 3(5), pp. 65-72, June 2011 Mlambo, A.S (1997). The Economic Structural Adjustment Programme: The Case of Zimbabwe, 1990-1995. Harare: University of Zimbabwe Publications
  9. 9. Moyo, T and Gonye, J (2011) Apemanship: A critique of the modernization theory in Ngugi‟ s selected works and Clement Chihota‟ s”Shipwreck” in No More Plastic Balls. Journal of English and literature Vol. 2(4), pp. 89-95, May 2011 Muzondidya J (2009). “From Buoyancy to Crisis, 1980-1997” in Raftopoulos, B, Mlambo A. (Eds). Becoming Zimbabwe: A History from the Pre-colonial Period to 2008. Harare: Weaver Press. Ngugi, W (1981). Writers in Politics: A Re-engagement with issues of literature and society. Oxford: James Currey. Rodney, W (1972) How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Washington, D.C. Howard University Press Singh K (1999), Rural Development: Principles Policies and Management, Sage Publications, New Delhi Smith AD (1973). The Concept of Social Change. London: Routledge and Kjegab Paul. Wallerstein, I. (1974). The modern World System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press.
  10. 10. NAME: CHUPICAL SHOLLAH MANUEL ASSIGNMENT QUESTION: Critically discuss the relevance of the modernization or dependency theory to development in Third world countries.