Development of Political Modernization Research Paper

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Political modernization, as a concept in the political science literature, embraces today changes in politics and government in individual countries and states derived from major shifts in technology. These changes generally involve significant shifts in the content of work, attitudinal changes, and organizational changes that place pressure on governmental institutions to develop the capacity to process new demands and issues. While the term is frequently used in discourse regarding economic and political development, by retaining a base in the response to revolutions in technology it is possible to establish greater precision and hence a better understanding of what is entailed in these changes in politics and government.

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1. Definitional Problems

Difficulties in distinguishing between political modernization and political development remain very much linked with the revival of the comparative politics field in the 1960s in the shift from the study of political institutions to political behavior. An important subset of this literature is studies of political development and modernization. Lack of precision in the use of ‘development’ and ‘modernization’ led to considerable debate during the 1970s. The core issue centered around whether or not this literature was identified with the imposition of Western values and perceptions of politics on the developing world. As a consequence, during the 1980s most standard texts in the field opted for a discussion of political change, reviewed the literature on development and modernization, and focused their attention on distinguishing among democratic and nondemocratic forms of governance. But during the 1990s yet another revolution in technology linked to information technology, the growth of knowledge-based industries, and the globalization of economic processes produced major realignment in politics and economics, the outcome of which has been a revival of interest in political modernization. Today discussions of modernization are closely tied to those cultural, economic, and political changes that are shifting the focus of this discourse away from national states to global perspectives on change in the contemporary world.

2. Evolution of the Concept

Gabriel A. Almond played a major role in comparative politics in the 1960s by calling for more work on and attention to the dynamics of politics in the developing word. Critical of the focus of scholarship at the time on formal institutions in the advanced industrial countries, Almond in particular looked to the discipline of sociology for constructs and ideas more relevant to identifying patterns and processes in politics tied to political behavior. In the outpouring of new research on the developing countries during this decade, an important subset became identified with studies of political development and modernization. While most of this work used these terms interchangeably, a number of scholars attempted to introduce greater precision by arguing that the source of change in politics, economics, and society was technological change and that one needed to clarify exactly what was the nature of this change.

Focusing attention on the industrial revolution and the way in which it had transformed Western European societies and politics, the political modernization literature centered attention on the differential impact of these events on politics outside Europe and North America. A key idea in the political modernization literature of the 1960s and 1970s was that revolutionary changes in the nature of work triggered first by manufacturing and later mass-based industries necessitated fundamental changes in the way in which government was organized and how people thought about politics. Drawing on the work of Marion Levy, C. E. Black, David Apter, and Dankwart Rustow focused on different aspects of modernization. The problem they identified was the fact that the impact of the industrial revolution on traditional societies, far removed from the source of economic transformations, had generated a very different set of dynamics. But scholars differed considerably in how they explained the consequence of these changes. Generally speaking, the literature on political development took a broader focus in seeking to explain the evolution of political institutions, but in the process opened up a debate over the values that guided this research and writing, especially in its reliance on Anglo–US norms. This was especially the case with Gabriel Almond’s and Samuel Huntington’s writings on development and modernization in the developing countries.

3. Advances in Modernization Theory

The response to the concentration of this new industrial order first in Western Europe, its expansion to North America, followed by the emergence of modern Japan, triggered a debate over the sources of differential development levels. Especially after World War II, it became clear that some national societies were better able than others to meet the new challenges posed by these shifts in technology. Advances in science and technology enabled the early comers to the industrial revolution to respond to new breakthroughs in the organization of work, production, and scientific knowledge which increasingly separated them from the rest of the world. But much of the world had not accompanied these changes and could not easily establish a basis of self-sustaining economic activity that could respond to these changes in technology.

This newer literature, as can be seen in Ronald Ingelhart’s work, has sought empirically to establish the interrelationships between cultural, economic, and political change. By comparing and contrasting these interactions in a broader array of countries, this work has moved beyond a simple dichotomy of the world into developed and developing countries. Nevertheless, a debate continues over whether or not these perspectives on development (largely heuristic) and modernization (mostly empirical) are closely identified with competing cultural constructs of reality, especially when one enters the political world. Hence, in reading works in this genre it is always useful to keep in mind that many scholars continue to see an overlap among these concepts of development, modernization, and westernization. This concern has continued from the 1960s down through the 1990s, as can be seen in the recent translation of Bertrand Badie’s Etat Importe (2000).

The political modernization literature, consequently, has gained new life with the new emphasis on the globalization of economic forces and the internationalization of policy issues linked to development and modernization, as cutting edge economic concerns have shifted from mass industries to knowledge-based industries identified with computer-based technologies. In the process a whole new literature has emerged which links structural adjustment economic policies, in the creation of market economies worldwide, with fundamental change in the institutions of state and society. As was true at the outset of this interest in modernization in the 1960s, by the end of the 1990s convergence in economics, politics, and culture has spawned an interdisciplinary literature on globalization. In both contexts, one can identify a continuing subset of concerns with political modernization. But downsizing the state, shifting the focus of attention in modernization initiatives downward and outward, beyond the confines of historic concepts of the national state, has taken on a whole new meaning and set of challenges, as can be seen in the works of Castells and Appadurai. In this context, structural adjustment economic policies have placed enormous pressure on existing national states to reduce public employment while raising the level of expertise required of civil servants, in order to deal with increasingly complex issues in regulatory policy. In this new global setting, political modernization today, likewise, has made it possible for small states, hitherto highly vulnerable politically, to become competitive internationally in those instance where high concentrations of capital, skilled human resources, and innovative leadership can be amassed. Alternatively, one can also identify an even larger number of economic and political restructuring initiatives linked to decentralization and regionalization in larger national states when new partnerships are forged among state and local governments, postsecondary educational institutions, and firms linked to the new technologies.


  1. Almond G A 1970 Political Development: Essays in Heuristic Theory. Little Brown, Boston
  2. Almond G A, Coleman J S 1960 The Politics of the Developing Areas. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
  3. Appadurai A 1996 Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN
  4. Apter D E 1965 The Politics of Modernization. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
  5. Badie B 2000 Etat Importe—The Imported State: The Westernization of the Political Order. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA
  6. Black C E 1966 The Dynamics of Modernization. Harper and Row, New York
  7. Castells M 2000 The Information Age: The Rise of the Network Society. Blackwell Publishers, Malden, MA
  8. Inglehart R 1997 Modernization and Post-Modernization: Cultural, Economic and Political Change in 43 Societies. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
  9. Levy M J 1966 Modernization and the Structure of Societies. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
  10. Rustow D A 1967 A World of Nations: Problems of Political Modernization. Brookings Institution, Washington, DC
  11. Weiner M, Huntington S P 1987 Understanding Political Development: An Analytic Study. HarperCollins, New York


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