Social Evolution, Economic Development and Culture
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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.
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Chapter 2: On the possibility and desirability of a theory of modernization*

Ronald Dore and D. Hugh Whittaker


The verb ‘modernize’ has a valuable use for which it is not easy to find a substitute. The political leaders and intellectuals of most developing countries desire to transform their country. They wish to see transformations in their economy, usually in their political system and educational system; often, also, in family life and in religious and cultural matters. Usually, the model for their reforming efforts is some other country [or countries] more economically developed than their own…. Clearly, wholesale and rapid ‘modernization’ in this sense is a neat epitomization of the policy aims of the Meiji leaders of Japan in the 1870s, or Kemal Ataturk in Turkey in the 1920s, or of countless other political leaders since. This sense of ‘modernization’ may be paraphrased as follows: ‘The transformation of the economic, political, legal, social or cultural life of a nation in accordance with models derived from other contemporary societies thought to be more “advanced”.’ It is a use of the word which implies nothing specific about the content of this transformation, its goals or its methods. There are as many forms of modernization as there are modernizing leaders. There is a second, different, sense of the word which is particularly common in recent academic discussions. In this usage the deliberate transformations implied in the first sense are assimilated to the ‘unengineered’ transformations of societies like England and the USA during their periods of industrialization, all being seen as different examples of a single unitary historical process. This second sense...

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