Published 14 Dec 2016

How does modernization manifest itself in U.S. society?

The concept of modernization is one that encompasses the idea of a shift in the type of economy and the location of the workforce. It involves the development of the society from farming and domestically driven economies to ones that are driven by industrialization and characterized by a large population of urban dwellers who facilitate the industrial workforce. This type of shift necessarily takes with it a high level of rural-urban migration. It also involves a shift from home employment to factory employment and the development of large organizations.

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According to Max Weber, modernization is a phenomenon that is largely in opposition to tradition (Bellah, 1999). Social psychological theories have posited a certain relationship between the economic development and modernization of a country on the one hand, and the way in which its power dynamic is structured on the other (Inkeles, 1972). From the changes that occur as a result of modernization often follow certain socio-political trends that necessitate a shift in the relationships among those persons who live within that society. This shift has a significant effect on how power is exerted between persons who perform in different traditional roles.

The manifestation is in a lessening of the close-contact social relationships between inpiduals (such as family members and religious leaders) and, conversely, an upsurge in what might be termed secondary relationships (such as employee-boss relationships). This has come about as a direct result of the modernization that has occurred in several countries, of which the United States is a major representative.

What are the consequences of modernization?

Modernization has necessarily led to the creation of large organizations which are often concentrated in dense urban centers. These organizations are significant in the positions that they hold within the economic sector. They represent the entities that control the major portion of the wealth created within the nation, and as a result, have tended toward the exertion of more and more influence over the actions of inpiduals who depend upon them financially (Inkeles, 1972).

Because of their role in training people to fill money-earning positions, educators too have noticed an increase in their influence compared with that of parents and even religious leaders, and this has also occurred as a result of modernization (1972). As this has taken place, these same inpiduals have demonstrated that such primary relationships as parental and sibling relationships have begun to influence their lives and actions to a decreasing extent. It is this that has been the major driving force behind the shift of power evident in the post-industrial era of modernization (Zhang & Thomas, 1994).

Is modernization a world-wide trend?

While the extent to which it occurs does vary depending on the culture of the society, this evidence of modernization can be seen in all the developed countries and in many developing countries (Inkeles, 1972; Zhang & Thomas, 1994). The developed countries of the world all demonstrate an explosion of corporations and urbanization since the industrialization that occurred within the 19th century. Despite the distance between European countries such as France or Britain and the United States, the social, economic and geographic structure of the society demonstrates how modernization trends have designated urbanization as being the most practical method of facilitating the post-industrial explosion of co-operative commerce.

What such countries also have in common is a wealth of inpiduals who break (or slacken) ties of proximity to their families in order to make connections within the corporate world. The influx of persons into urban centers has created such conditions in which anonymity is widespread and people are held less closely to the standards and traditions of their parents. Conformity, as a result, has become far less evident in the behaviors of inpiduals, especially the youth in developed and even developing countries. However, in such countries as China where political and academic leaders had already exerted a high level of influence over inpiduals, this trend has necessarily been less evident (Zhang & Thomas, 1994).

Is modernization likely to continue in the U.S.?

The likelihood of modernization to continue in the United States seems very high. The modernization trends described above have been witnessed in the historical development of the United States and much of the wider world. The future of modernization in this country can therefore be gauged from the progress of the power relations that exist between persons in this society. Modernization has also proven itself to be effective in the financial empowerment of not just the corporate moguls but also of the countless inpiduals that work for them (Zhang & Thomas, 1994).

Furthermore, though many urban centers of industrialism do exist across the country, the nation cannot be said to be completely saturated, as still more persons exist that continue to make themselves available for employment within these centers. In addition to these persons, rural people continue to flock to urbanized areas. Also contributing to this continued trend of modernization is the fact that the resources within the United States that are used to facilitate this (though finite) have not yet been completely consumed, and non-indigenous resources can be obtained from other countries. In light of this, entrepreneurs are likely to continue creating new manufacturing businesses that will grow up into corporations. These are likely in turn to expand their operations into new areas that are likely to grow into new urban centers.

Which theorist best reflects your perceptions of modernization?

Max Webers theory of modernization as one that is in conflict with tradition does appear to hold up to scrutiny when viewed in a practical light. The breaking of ties with one’s family that occurs on such a large scale in rural areas (upon inpidual migration to urban centers) appears to facilitate subsequent breaks with traditions of the family. Also, the distance over which parents and other primary relations have now to exert their influence does point toward a reduction in the power that such relations have over inpiduals. In moving from parent, home and town to the sphere of influence of (and to dependence on) of the industrial leaders (corporate bosses), people adjust their focuses to conform to the wishes of those who have the ability to influence their financial security.

Educators too share this increased level of influence, it would seem, because of the emphasis placed on education for improving one’s quality of life. While modernization is not inherently politically, socially, or traditionally influential, Weber seems to be right in his suggestion that the phenomenon creates a context in which those persons who have operated in traditional roles of influence lose their power. Yet it seems also to have created for the inpidual a situation of freedom and anonymity (especially in urban centers) in which those who choose may release themselves even further from those traditions that had once dictated how they live.


  • Bellah, R. M. “Cultural identity and Asian modernization.” Cultural Identity and Modernization in Asian Countries. Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University. Available:
  • Inkeles, A (1972). “Modernizing influences: Causes and consequences of inpidual change in six developing countries.” Centro-Sociale, 19, 106-108.
  • Zhang, J. & D. L. Thomas. (1994). “Modernization theory revisited: a cross-cultural study of adolescent conformity to significant others in mainland China, Taiwan, and the USA.” Adolescence. Winter. Available:
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