This article provides information about the critique of modernisation theories based on the dependency theory of development:
In analysing the assets of the modernisation theories, it should be understood that this school of thought emerged in the early years of the 1950s, and began to disappear in the 1970s when belief in it started to wane. In the light of this, it could be presupposed that the weaknesses of modernisation theories outnumber its strengths; otherwise the theories would still be relevant today.
The main quality of the modernisation theory is its simplicity the objective is already visible in the image of the West, and the path to follow is laid out by the history of Western evolution. All that remains is for the traditional society to recognise what is needed, from examination of other “takeoffs” to modernity, for their own culture to evolve.
Having already achieved their goal, the modern societies can assist in the evolution of the traditional society (although in reality this is far from the truth), by reference to their own history, and so essentially modernisation becomes a form of mimicking a case of “what works for them should work for us”. The same concept was already covered in the term “Westernisation” (effectively referring to the mimicking of the West), but the word “Modernisation” has far less geocentric connotations, and as a result gains much more affection from developing societies who are keen to retain some sense of their own history.
Other Side of Coin:
i. The straightforward approach of advancing a society by way of itself evolving internally is, though easy to grasp and as such having strong exterior appeal, far too basic to incorporate into the world system we see today.
The very fact that there are modernised societies to “look up to” entails that a communication and possible co-operation between North and South already exists, and that there are therefore links and ties already in place – not necessarily to the extent that dependency theorists would go, arguing that the South cannot grow without the severing off the North’s stranglehold, but nonetheless significant ties in the organisation of society, which mean that the target society cannot be solely regarded as an internal entity; there is little hope of avoiding international factors in today’s global village.
To resolve this, some thinkers have developed the theory of diffusionism, which bears many of the characteristics of modernisation, but accepts the diffusion of ideas, products, and workforce between both modernised and traditional societies.
ii. Another criticism put forth is that while the developing countries struggle to update its social, political, and economic structures to those of the developed countries, it is extremely likely that the modernised country will continue to grow at the same or possibly faster rate that the developing country will find it difficult to catch up.
Though global evolutionary equality is not a particular goal of the modernisation theory, it is surely one of the aims of development as a whole, and something that is worth pursuing. If this “closing of the gap” cannot be easily achieved by the performance of an established theory, such as seems to be the case with modernisation, then it is clearly not a comprehensive cure for the problem of development.
It is also argued that since the modernisation theory is typically a Western phenomenon, its roots obviously must lie around capitalist society — the developing world is to be a mirror image of the civilised world which generally embraces capitalism. For example, it is automatically assumed by thinkers like Rostow that this is the correct way for an underdeveloped society to develop, without considering the implications or alternatives.
iii. Rostow also failed to consider that an economy could reach the fifth stage without going through all the stages or a particular stage. For instance, it has been pointed out that countries like Canada and Australia entered the stage of mass consumption even before reaching the stage of maturity.
This was happening, in recent times, with the oil rich countries also. There are limits to a particular country’s growth. As there might be instances when a particular country should be regarded as “fully developed” even though it might not have reached the standards of the Western countries like the U.S.A., because it might have exhausted all its natural resources, manpower and capital, which set the limit of growth. With respect to the less developed countries, it is felt that Rostow did not take into account crucial factors like unemployment, underemployment, poverty, lack of infrastructure, nature of the government, etc.
iv. The most well known reaction to theories of modernisation is that of its antithesis, the Theory of Dependency. The dependency theory takes a far more global view and postulates that the difficulties in development are not due solely to the internal workings of the country or region in question, but have more to do with the global structures imposed by the developed onto the less developed.
This is best illustrated by Andre Gunder Frank’s conceptualisation of international relations as a chain of “metropolis-satellite” relationships. Frank (of the socialist tradition) suggests that there is an unseen hierarchical structure to world relations: the chain begins with the first metropolis (usually attributed to the USA) that has no satellites i.e., that has no strong dependencies on any other region and continues downwards; the next layer consists of still strong metropolises, but still require the USA or other well-developed Western societies in some way; until much further down we reach the ultimate satellite, which is dependent on everything above it for existence.
Frank argues that these dependence links are both the key and the problem when an inability to develop arises. The sanctions imposed, often consciously, by the metropolises to which the satellite is dependent, strip the freedom of the satellite society to evolve and grow, because all of their output is effectively consumed by the upper society.
v. This theory is actually visible in reality, with the situation revolving around aid to the developing world, where the interest rates and terms are so harshly imposed that the recipient country will always be at the mercy of the donor.
Frank feels that it is the dismantling of these dependency relations that is the solution to the problem of development: notably, though, this is a very socialist perspective, since the release of such restrictions allows for much freer and potentially diverse global system, one which does not fit well with traditional capitalist characteristics.
vi. Finally, it has been pointed out that modernisation theory itself has produced nothing truly visible yet. This is not because there has been no development in the past 50 years. There has been evolution related to both fields of thought, but the theories themselves are so indistinct and vague.
Modernisation theory does not paint a very precise picture of what should be happening, and more particularly, how it should be occurring. As a motivational aid, this theory is an excellent boost to the drive of a developing society, but it is not the solution. What is remains to be seen.