Practice Question – Discuss Yogendra Singh’s thesis on Modernization of Indian Tradition. And evaluate its applicability in the present day context. (20 Marks)

Approach – Introduction, Explain Singh’s theory of modernisation, Apply it to contemporary society (global and local), Criticism. Conclusion



By the end of the Second World War many of the countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America had failed to develop and remained poor, despite exposure to capitalism. There was concern amongst the leaders of the western developed countries, especially the United States, that communism might spread into many of these countries, potentially harming American business interests abroad and diminishing U.S. Power. In this context, in the late 1940s, modernisation theory was developed, which aimed to provide a specifically non-communist solution to poverty in the developing world – Its aim was to spread a specifically industrialised, capitalist model of development through the promotion of Western, democratic values.



Modernization theory studies the process of social evolution and the development of societies. There are two levels of analysis in classical modernization theory: the microcosmic evaluations of modernization, which focuses on the componential elements of social modernization; and the macrocosmic studies of modernization focused on the empirical trajectories and manifest processes of the modernization of nations and their societies, economies, and polities.

Modernisation is an outcome of various social processes. The major events in this historical development began after the IInd world war and these include the emergence of America (US) as a superpower in the globe which had the result of trying to styme the rise of communism. To bring about this aim of ‘containment ‘ the US invested greatly in the strengthening
of the economic base of certain countries including Western Europe, South Korea and Japan. Modernisation also stems from the growth of the communist movements in China Vietnam, Soviet Union (now no longer existing as a communist bloc) and Cuba. The third of these processes include the factors of decolonialisation in Asia and Africa and the termination of colonies controlled by European powers.

At this point of time the former colonies had to face the challenge of adopting some appropriate model of growth. In this they were assisted and helped by the US which sent vast teams of social scientists to study the ground situation in the new nations states. The idea behind this move of the US was to see how capitalist ideologies could be used in the economic growth of these nations most of whom were poor due to the long period of colonisation which had greatly debilitated their resources and has been deeply exploited. This included the export of raw materials which were turned into products and commodities and reexported to the colonies so as to make great economic profits. This strategy of supplanting capitalism and capitalist ideologies was no doubt also an attempt to the influence of communist ideology and to destroy it over a period of time. There is thus a great dimension of political maneuvers and ideology which is involved in the process of Modernisation. Thus the scholars in all fields of social science studied these societies and their findings began to be published soon after
the IInd world war. The main tools of analysis and of subsequent published included primarily the evolutionary theory and secondly the functionalist theory.



  • The economic aspect where the mass media helped to spread technological innovations that were at the core of Modernisation.
  • Cultural development including education and literacy rates. This too was aided by the mass media which can promote modernity.
  • Identify development especially a rational identity was also helped by the media including the process of nation building and elections.



Yogendra Singh points out at the beginning of his analysis that prior to Modernisation the traditions of India were based on the various principles of hierarchy, holism, continuity and transcendence. These were the basic aspects of tradition. These factors to some extent existed also in the traditional west. However as Singh notes Indian and Western tradition were
in fact divergent to each other. This arose specifically from their own differing historical background their specific social and cultural heritage and overall social situation. Singh asks whether despite these differences would it lead to a universal model of Modernisation? Singh distinguishes between social change and Modernisation. Social change as such need not necessarily imply Modernisation. However the changes which were ortho-genetic and hetero- genetic were pre-modern. Thus the Islamic tradition in India was heterogenetic and was established by conquest. Thus endogenous change in Hinduism were confined to Sanskritisation. This in itself was based on a historical process which took many generations and was positional alone not structural. Modernisation in India commenced with its contact with the west which brought about vast changes in the Indian social structure. However it cannot be said that all contacts led to Modernisation.

During the British period Modernisation was selective and sequential. It was not in synchronisation with family caste and village. These areas were not of much concern by the British, more so after the revolt of 1857. British administration felt that these structures were not dynamic and were autonomous, especially the village and caste system. Caste was considered
in the army and bureaucracy, and in the national movement of a communal electorate was introduced. Singh feels these factors influenced the post colonial Modernisation process. The process of Modernisation found expression and ground in the freedom struggle of India led by Mahatma Gandhi whose actions and mobilisation of the masses led to what Singh calls a new political culture of Modernisation.




There are no examples of countries that have followed a Modernisation Theory approach to development. No countries have followed Rostow’s “5 stages of growth” in their entirety. Remember, “Modernisation Theory” is a very old theory which was partly created with the intention of justifying the position of western capitalist countries, many of whom were colonial powers at the time, and discrediting Communism. This is why it is such a weak theory.

Modernization Theory assumes that western civilisation is technically and morally superior to traditional societies. Implies that traditional values in the developing world have little value compared to those of the West. Many developed countries have huge inequalities and the greater the level of inequality the greater the degree of other problems: High crime rates, suicide rates, poor health problems such as cancer and drug abuse.

Post-Development thinkers argue that the model is flawed for assuming that countries need the help of outside forces. The central role is on experts and money coming in from the outside, parachuted in, and this downgrades the role of local knowledge and initiatives. This approach can be seen as demeaning and dehumanising for local populations.



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