Modernization theory is used to explain the process of modernization within societies. Modernization refers to a model of a progressive transition from a 'pre-modern' or 'traditional' to a 'modern' society. Modernization theory originated from the ideas of German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920), which provided the basis for the modernization paradigm developed by Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902–1979). The theory looks at the internal factors of a country while assuming that with assistance, "traditional" countries can be brought to development in the same manner more developed countries have been. Modernization theory was a dominant paradigm in the social sciences in the 1950s and 1960s, then went into a deep eclipse. It made a comeback after 1991 but remains a controversial model.
Historians link modernization to the processes of urbanization and industrialization and the spread of education. As Kendall (2007) notes, "Urbanization accompanied modernization and the rapid process of industrialization." In sociological critical theory, modernization is linked to an overarching process of rationalisation. When modernization increases within a society, the individual becomes increasingly important, eventually replacing the family or community as the fundamental unit of society.
Global trade has grown continuously since the European discovery of new continents in the Early modern period; it increased particularly as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the mid-20th century adoption of the shipping container.
With the many apparent positive attributes to globalization there are also negative consequences. The dominant, neoliberal model of globalization often increases disparities between a society's rich and its poor. In major cities of developing countries there exist pockets where technologies of the modernised world, computers, cell phones and satellite television, exist alongside stark poverty. Globalists are globalization modernization theorists and argue that globalization is positive for everyone, as its benefits must eventually extend to all members of society, including vulnerable groups such as women and children.
Larry Diamond and Juan Linz, who worked with Lipset in the book, Democracy in Developing Countries: Latin America, argue that economic performance affects the development of democracy in at least three ways. First, they argue that economic growth is more important for democracy than given levels of socioeconomic development. Second, socioeconomic development generates social changes that can potentially facilitate democratization. Third, socioeconomic development promotes other changes, like organization of the middle class, which is conducive to democracy.
One historical problem with that argument has always been Germany whose economic modernization in the 19th century came long before the democratization after 1918. Berman, however, concludes that a process of democratization was underway in Imperial Germany, for "during these years Germans developed many of the habits and mores that are now thought by political scientists to augur healthy political development".
Peerenboom explores the relationships among democracy, the rule of law and their relationship to wealth by pointing to examples of Asian countries, such as Taiwan and South Korea, which have successfully democratized only after economic growth reached relatively high levels and to examples of countries such as the Philippines, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and India, which sought to democratize at lower levels of wealth but have not done as well.
Modernization of the health sector of developing nations recognizes that transitioning from 'traditional' to 'modern' is not merely the advancement in technology and the introduction of Western practices; implementing modern healthcare requires the reorganization of political agenda and, in turn, an increase in funding by feeders and resources towards public health. However, rather than replicating the stages of developed nations, whose roots of modernization are found with the context of industrialization or colonialism, underdeveloped nations should apply proximal interventions to target rural communities and focus on prevention strategies rather than curative solutions. That has been successfully exhibited by the Christian Medical Commission and in China through 'barefoot doctors'. Additionally, a strong advocate of the DE-emphasis of medical institutions was Halfdan T. Mahler, the WHO General Director from 1973 to 1988. Related ideas have been proposed at international conferences such as Alma-Ats and the "Health and Population in Development" conference, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation in Italy in 1979, and selective primary healthcare and GOBI were discussed (although they have both been strongly criticized by supporters of comprehensive healthcare). Overall, however, this is not to say that the nations of the Global South can function independently from Western states; significant funding is received from well-intention programs, foundations, and charities that target epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis that have substantially improved the lives of millions of people and impeded future development.
Kennedy and his top advisers were working from implicit ideological assumptions regarding modernization. They firmly believed modernity was not only good for the target populations, but was essential to avoid communism on the one hand or extreme control of traditional rural society by the very rich landowners on the other. They believed America had a duty, as the most modern country in the world, to promulgate this ideal to the poor nations of the Third World. They wanted programs that were altruistic, and benevolent×and also tough, energetic, and determined. It was benevolence with a foreign policy purpose. Michael Latham has identified how this ideology worked out in three major programs the Alliance for Progress, the Peace Corps, and the strategic hamlet program in South Vietnam. However, Latham argues that the ideology was a non-coercive version of the modernization goals of the imperialistic of Britain, France and other European countries in the 19th century .
Modernization theory has also been accused of being Eurocentric, as modernization began in Europe, with the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution and the Revolutions of 1848 (Macionis 953) and has long been regarded as reaching its most advanced stage in Europe. Anthropologists typically make their criticism one step further and say that the view is ethnocentric and is specific to Western culture.
Dependency models arose from a growing association of southern hemisphere nationalists (from Latin America and Africa) and Marxists. It was their reaction against modernization theory, which held that all societies progress through similar stages of development, that today's underdeveloped areas are thus in a similar situation to that of today's developed areas at some time in the past, and that, therefore, the task of helping the underdeveloped areas out of poverty is to accelerate them along this supposed common path of development, by various means such as investment, technology transfers, and closer integration into the world market. Dependency theory rejected this view, arguing that underdeveloped countries are not merely primitive versions of developed countries, but have unique features and structures of their own; and, importantly, are in the situation of being the weaker members in a world market economy.