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Social Sci LibreTexts

3.2: Modernization

What it means to be modern is a concept that has changed over time. In the 5th century AD, Roman converts to Christianity used term to differentiate themselves from “barbarians.” Barbarians were non-Christian peoples, particularly people of the Jewish faith. During the Renaissance to be modern one had to cultivate a lifestyle based on classical Greek and Roman civilizations, while in the Enlightenment period rationalism, science-based knowledge, and the pursuit of “progress” was the hallmark of modernity. What all of these definitions have in common is that the people in power defined what it meant to be modern. This practice continues today with “modern” being synonymous with the Western industrial world led by the United States. Time must be reckoned in a linear manner; scientific knowledge and legal-rational institutions reign supreme. Technology, a capitalist economy, and a democratic political system are considered characteristics of modernity. Modernization then is a process of cultural and socio-economic change whereby less developed countries (LDCs) acquire characteristics of western, industrialized societies. It should be noted that this definition is used primarily by European-derived cultures. Modernization implies that other societies should be more like “us;” otherwise, that society is inferior. This is the legacy of European colonialism.