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Social Evolution, Economic Development and Culture

Social Evolution, Economic Development and Culture

What it Means to Take Japan Seriously

Ronald Dore and D. Hugh Whittaker

Social Evolution, Economic Development and Culture brings together Ronald Dore’s key writings for the first time, making his work accessible across a wide range of social science disciplines. It produces a distinctive perspective with four interlinking themes – technology-driven social evolution, late development, culture and polemics. These are highly topical in the current context of rapid technological innovation and socio-economic change, globalization and accompanying policy choices.

Chapter 9: The modernizer as a special case: Japanese factory legislation, 1882-1911*

Ronald Dore and D. Hugh Whittaker

Subjects: asian studies, asian development, asian economics, development studies, asian development, economics and finance, asian economics, evolutionary economics


The ‘modernizer’ is a special species of the genus ‘innovator’ and one which only in the last century has appeared in large numbers on the human scene. There have, to be sure, been groups and individuals at many moments in world history who would qualify under the definition of the modernizer which I propose to use: ‘one who seeks the transformation of his own society or segments of it in imitation of models drawn from another country or countries’. Those Japanese court officials of the seventh century who tried to remould their country on the model of T’ang China are a case in point, and one could probably find many examples on the fringes of the great empires of the past. But it is only in the last century of Western colonialism and rapid technological change that this has become a world-wide phenomenon. It is also only in the last century that the doctrine of human progress has achieved such implicit world-wide acceptance that the imitated models have been seen not simply as ‘superior’ but also as ‘more advanced’ - further ahead, that is, in some imputed scale of linear progressive development. The consciousness of backwardness, the concept of underdevelopment, are relatively new. The backward late-developer has obvious advantages which have been discussed by writers as diverse as Leon Trotsky, Thorstein Veblen, and Alexander Gerschenkron. The steam engine does not have to be invented twice. But the modernizer of a late-developing nation suffers from certain psychological disabilities too. In a...

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