Last modified on April 9, 2019, at 17:45


Modernization is the transformation of a society from a traditional way of life to a modern one.


In the economy, modernization involves the systematic use of technology, and is characterized by the Industrial Revolution, with factories, railroads, banking and telegraphs. The economies of Western Europe and the United States modernized in the 19th century. The rest of the world followed much later.


In terms of society, modernization involves individualism (rather than clan orientation), rationality (rather than rote), and systematic organization (rather than whatever was handed down from the past). Complex cooperation with strangers is required for modernity. Meritocracy is adopted, with hiring and promotion due to performance (often on tests) rather than family connections.


Psychologically, a modern personality means a future orientation, rather than the past orientation typical of traditionalism.


In politics, the modernizing parties in American history were the Federalist Party of the 1790s under Alexander Hamilton, the Whig Party of the 1840s under Henry Clay, and the Republican Party after 1860, especially under Abraham Lincoln. During the Progressive Movement (1890s-1920s), all the main parties supported modernization, with Herbert Hoover the exemplar.


Modernity in religion involves a focus on individual salvation rather than group membership, and is characteristic of the First Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening


Postmodern reactions are rooted in modernity but are hostile too it. For example, the radical environmental movement denounces modernity for producing pollution.

Further reading

  • Black, Cyril. The Dynamics of Modernization: A Study in Comparative History (1966)
  • Black, Cyril. The Modernization of Japan and Russia (1975)
  • Brown, Richard D. Modernization: The Transformation of American Life, 1600-1865 (1976)
  • Brown, Richard D. "Modernization and the Modern Personality in Early America, 1600-1865: A Sketch of a Synthesis" Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1972 Win) 2:201-28 in JSTOR
  • Eisenstadt, S. N. ed. The Protestant Ethic and Modernization: A Comparative View (1968)
  • Inglehart, Ronald, and Christian Welzel. Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence by Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel (2005) excerpt and text search, euses comparative political science; emphasizes importance of having a modern personality
  • Jensen, Richard. Illinois: A History (2001), modenizers, traditionalists and post-moderns make state history
  • Jensen, Richard. "On Modernizing Frederick Jackson Turner: The Historiography of Regionalism" Western History Quarterly (1980) 11:307-22 in JSTOR
  • McGuigan, Jim. Modernity and postmodern cultureā€Ž (2006) 200 pages
  • Rodgers, Daniel T. "Tradition, Modernity, and the American Industrial Worker: Reflections and Critique," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 1977 Spring 7:655-81 in JSTOR
  • So, Alvin Y. Social Change and Development: Modernization, Dependency and World-System Theories (1990) 288pp textbook excerpt and text search
  • Tippa, Dean C. "Modernization Theory and the Comparative Study of Societies: A Critical Perspective" Comparative Studies in Society and History (1973) 15:199-226 influential criticism in JSTOR