Difference between Westernization and Modernization

Key Difference: Westernization deals with ideas, religion and culture. Modernization is limited to adoption of technology and industrialization.

Westernization and modernization are two ideologies that are under constant debate. When we talk about modernization, it is often considered to be in hand with westernization. The discussions revolve around the main question: Does modernization mean the same thing as westernization?

If we look at the definitions of each, the terms are completely different from each other and refer to different processes. Now that we have established that these terms are different, we now come to the question: Is modernization possible without westernization? Actually, yes it is. Let’s try and answer both the answers in a little more detail.

The theory of modernization covers the progression of a society from a pre-modern or traditional society to a more modern society.  This is believed to be done by adapting and developing their societal structures, which in turn can also change cultural structures (although it is not necessary).  According to the theory, traditional societies will develop as they adopt more modern practices. People who tout modernization claim that modern states are wealthier, powerful and enjoy a much higher standard of living.

According to political scientist Samuel Huntington modernization consists of “industrialization; urbanization; increasing levels of literacy, education, wealth, and social mobilization; and more complex and diverse occupational structures.” This means that in order for a country to be more modernized, they must look to upgrade their technology, form of communication, production levels, etc. The Industrial Revolution is the perfect example of modernity, as it brought forth many machines that changed the way production was being conducted in Europe and the United States.

If we now talk about westernization, we must understand that westernization is more related to practices, religion and cultural changes. So, if we were to adopt western ‘ideas’ we would adopt their way their culture works, rather than how their economy runs. Westernization can be dated back to the European colonization, where developed countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Spain, etc. had taken over other parts of the countries and colonized them. In this colony, they sought to incorporate parts of their own culture by introducing their religion, way of living, food, etc. As people started adopting these cultures, ideas and religion, they became more ‘western’.

The misconception that modernization is often closely related to westernization has resulted in many countries rejecting the idea of modern ideas, to maintain their ‘culture’, including India and many other Islamic countries. Modernization is not limited to simply technology but can also include ideas or theories. For example, the idea of the zero being used in calculations, rather than merely a space occupier is an Indian concept. Application of this in order to make calculations easier would be considered a modern idea of a modern concept. Hence, not all modernity must come from the west.

However, the other side of the argument exists that in order for a country to become a modern society, it must look at three areas where change must take place: economy, politics and cultural. The economy must shift from traditional agricultural practices to modern industrial processes. The politics must shift from dictatorial and feudal autocratic practices to free and fair democratic society. Finally, the culture must also change from uncivilized groups to conscious individualism.

However, the cultural bit is often argued to be an effect of modernity, where the industry and its practices change, the people are bound to shift their views. According to the theory, modern society shifts its view from economy centric to individual centric, where the individual becomes increasingly important, eventually replacing the family or community as the fundamental unit of society.

The easiest way to distinguish westernization and modernization is westernization deals with ideas, religion and culture. However, modernization is limited to adoption of technology and industrialization. Although, the arguments exist from both sides that modernity can only be attained at the expense of also inviting westernization, they are many countries that have become modern without having to adopt western notions.

China is one the most prominent example of a modern country. The country has adopted the technology of the Western countries in order to make itself the leader in production around the world. However, the country has not adopted Western ideas or rules. The government continues to be a communist government and many people still follow the same ideals they did before.

On the other hand we have Japan, who have adopted both the culture as well as the technology. Japan, who has fought its way to become the technological capital of the world has incorporated much of the technology of the Western civilization. Additionally, it has also incorporated much of the culture with customs and ideas that are similar to that of the West.

It is agreed that there is a fine line between westernization and modernization, it is important to note that not always is this line crossed. A country can be westernized without being modernized and vice versa. 

Image Courtesy: theborderswemake.wordpress.com, theporttechnology.com

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