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Modernization theory and marxists understandings and interpretive theories

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5424 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The term “development” has been one of the main themes in contemporary educational discourses. In order to materialize this discourse in action, various theories and philosophies have emerged. Modernization theory, Marxists philosophy and various forms of interpretive theories are some of the examples of those emergences. Each theory and philosophy mentioned above has its own way of defining development but the ultimate target of all these theories is the same, and that is to guide society into the path of development. It is into this context that I would review modernization theory, Marxists understandings and interpretive theories and at the same time would explore their premises and inquiry processes. Based on those understandings I would develop an educational plan, which would help address the need of impoverished children of different caste, ethnicity and religious orientations.

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Let me begin with modernization theory. This theory perceives development in a linear form. In this linearity, developed societies sit at the top of the line while the least developed sit at the bottom. The whole notion of modernization theory thus is to find ways on how the least developed society can frog leap itself from the bottom position to the top position. Emerged in Europe in the 17th century, this theory often sees traditions as obstacles to economic growth. In doing so, this theory attempts to identify the social variables, which contribute to social progress and development of societies, and seeks to explain the process of social evolution. In other words, modernization is a process of socio-cultural transformation that brings changes in sectors like politics, culture, economics, society, and so on.

As stated earlier, modernization is a transformation process. Supporting this statement, Zhang & Thomas (1994) state that during this process workplace shifts from home to the factory (industrialization), people move from farms into cities where jobs are available (urbanization) and large scale formal organizations emerge (bureaucratization). Apart, this process of change also involves changes in norms, values, institutions and structures. However, in between these transformation processes there are certain premises through which this theory stands its arguments. These premises meanwhile are mostly related to political, cultural, economics and social dimensions of modernization.

Democratic restructuring of the society is the major premise of the political dimension of modernization. In fact, it believes in the power of the people and voices the concerns of the people. Saying so, it advocates the democratic notion of politics whereby everyone has the freedom to voice their concerns not like the political structure of non-democratic states where there is less freedom of such kind. This view of modernization argues that human agents are responsible for shaping and controlling the development and the altered opportunities in the society. However, this dimension of modernization resides on three sub premises. First, it assumes that vertical accountability in the society is essential. The fulfillment of this premise, according to modernization theory would allow citizens to choose their political leaders through elections and at the same time participate in various political activities. In the words of Sen (2007) this premise brings political freedom in the society, which then brings other forms of freedoms as well. Second, political restructuring needs horizontal accountability in the society. This premise believes that democracy would allow the decentralization and devolution of power to the lower level. The fulfillment of this premise, according to modernization theory would prioritize local knowledge and understanding in every aspects of the society. Third, political restructuring rests on societal accountability as well. In saying so, this premise states that political restructuring permits civic associations, other I/NGOs and an independent mass media to watchdog and monitor the actions of the state. All these premises have one thing in common and that is the fact that it puts people on top of the structure or system. In other words, the major inquiry process of this form of modernization rests on the fact that people believed democratic process because it guarantees inclusiveness of all forms in every aspects of the society. Sen (Ibid) boosted this inquiry process by claiming that political freedom brings human and political rights, social opportunities, transparency guarantees and protective security. The rights-based approach to development, at the same time focused on participation and accountability as two major elements that would be essential for democratic reforms in the society. All these premises and inquiry processes state that democracy is the crowning achievement of a long process of modernization (Source).

In Nepalese politics thought, these premises and inquiry processes have had both positive and negative impacts. The restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990 BS is an example of the successful universal democratization process in Nepal. The inclusion of various forms of acts and rights is also a direct fruits of the modernization process. Mass consciousness has grown about universal concepts like good governance, popular participation, civil society and so on. The exposure of the Nepalese people to the outside world has also brought important changes in peoples’ life style including political life. However, modernization has also brought negative impacts in Nepalese political system. The resentful socio-cultural factors like caste and class and ethnic minorities have become stronger. The state has diverted its attention and service towards the protection of the interests of the donor-financed projects. The international donor organizations like World Bank and the International Monetary Fund has interfered in the economic, political, social and military life of the country. Modernization has also caused a progressive erosion of the ideology of major political parties of Nepal, which has brought them to more or less common front. With the process of democratic restructuring, the decision making power of the government has gradually shifted to international institutions like Multi National Companies and international donor agencies. All these impacts suggest that a) modernization works effectively in a politically stable nation b) modernization supports developed nations rather than the least-developed nations c) the term modernization has become equivalent with westernization and d) modernization has made the political system of the least developed countries a donor driven.

Like political restructuring, economic restructuring is also one of the major premises of modernization theory. In saying so, modernization theory rests on three sub premises of economic restructuration and they are policies of economic liberalization, globalization and privatization. Resources are available in all parts of the country and hence there shouldn’t be any barriers to the transaction of resources in and outside the country is the major reason why modernization theory premises economic liberalization as one of the keys to development. In doing so, modernization theory advocated laissez faire economy and inquired that less government restriction on economy is an efficient way of encouraging development in the society. The state, at the same time inquired that lesser intervention in economic activities would enable the country to prioritize its activities in sectors like education, health and national security. Apart from liberalization policy, modernization theory also resides on private mode of economic transactions. In other words, modernization theory presumes that private sectors have better managerial and profit-earning skills in compared to public enterprises that have less skill of those types. In saying so, this premise inquired that private sector through the use of technologies and various capitals manage the economic transactions very efficiently. Lastly, the idea that the existing capital, technology, labor, raw materials, information and transportation, distribution and marketing are integrated and/or interdependent on a global scale is the major premise through which economic globalization equips the development of countries. In this scenario, modernization theory inquired that free mobility of labor takes place amongst the nations. In fact this theory inquired that information, economy, technology and ideas are beyond the control of national government and hence stated that internationally globalized economy is one of the main sources through which those limitations could be fulfilled. Adding the political dimension of modernization into the economic dimension of this theory, Feng (2003) states that democracy along with policies of liberalization, globalization and privatization are keys to economic and social development because it allows policy certainty, political stability, the establishment and enforcement of rules that protect property rights, the promotion of education, the ability to promote private capital, and the reduction of inequality.

The economic dimension of modernization has also provided both positive and negative impacts in Nepal. The abolition of licensing requirements for industrial investment, opening of the infrastructure, education and health sectors to the private sector and liberalization of convertible currency transactions are some of the few success stories from Nepal (Acharya, 2005). However, the depreciation of Nepalese rupee by two and half times against the American dollar and other convertible currencies between 1984/85 and 1995/96 can be considered as one of the negative impacts of modernization in Nepal (Ibid). The increasing number of imports in compared to exports can also be classified under the negative impacts of modernization in Nepal. The increasing number of absolute and relative poor from 5.3 million in 1984/85 to 8.8 million in 1995/96 is another example which illustrates that modernization has not been able to address the poverty issue. Unfortunately, distribution of income has become more skewed with fewer numbers of people earning more and vice versa. All these examples suggest that modernization has a) enabled free movement of labor and capital in and outside the country; as a result Nepalese market has been penetrated by capitals and labor from neighboring countries with very little gains for the mass of the population b) created an environment where minority benefitted the most c) has disrupted traditional livelihood patterns without creating alternative channels of employment for the masses.

Social and cultural restructuring are two remaining premises of modernization theory. The previously stated dimensions of modernization saw political and trade ties as major premises while social and cultural dimension of modernization valued shared life, shared clothing styles and mass media as major premises of development. This idea got lots of boost when Parsons (date) stated that maintaining traditions for tradition’s sake is not good for society and hence societies should be open to change and oppose the reactionary forces that restrict the development of the society. This statement from Parsons is another important premise upon which modernization rests upon. In addition, the idea that political and economic restructuring would enable and encourage indigenous people’s society, culture and language remained as one of the major premises of this dimension of modernization theory. Although there have been many claims that modernization destructs cultural and social identity, Tomlinson (2003) presumes that modernization in fact resists the centrifugal force of cultural and social capitalist globalization but at the same time allows pluralistic visions on other cultures. This understanding inquires three facts about cultural and social dimensions of modernization. First, the regulatory and socializing institution of the state, in particular, the law, the education system and the media always ensure that nation doesn’t loose its cultural and social identity. Second, modernization inquires the feeling of nationalism in the country, the feeling, which Billig (1995) terms as ‘banal nationalism’ that continuously flags the sense of national belongings in the country, particularly through media discourse. Third, modernity institutionalizes and regulates cultural practices, by which we imagine attachment and belonging to a place or a community. Favoring this statement, Tomlinson (2003) argues that modernization inquires ‘identity’ in the cases where there were no identity in previous times and even if there were ‘identities’, modernization institutionalizes and regulates those identities.

Much like the political and economic dimensions of modernization, social and cultural dimensions also had both positive and negative impacts in Nepalese society. The increasing use of science and technology, better health care system, transportation and communication facilities, expansion of education to all and imports of foreign consumer products are some of the major positive impacts that have taken place in Nepal after the modernization era. However, the ideology that “west is the best” psyche that is shaping up in least developed countries like ours is arguably the most negative impact of modernization. Similarly, the invasion of western culture in least developed countries like ours is also making people passive; hence they are not interested in the everyday problems but rather are interested in alien music, songs, dance, sports and life styles. In this scenario, we are getting sandwiched in between various cultures. Another notable negative impact is the increasing number of brain drain and muscle exchange from one country to another. The data from Ministry of Education shows that in an average around 1,000 students apply for no objection letter from the ministry, meaning we are loosing those numbers of students on a day to foreign countries. All these examples state that cultural and social dimensions of modernization has a) out flowed labor and capital from the country b) displaced indigenous language, knowledge and production c) created inappropriate consumption and investment patterns d) developed allied local groups and e) widened elite-mass gap.

To summarize, modernization theory believes in modern technology, encourages state and people to break their traditional way of doing works and so on. In doing so they advocated various forms of dimensions, which state needs to address if it is to be “modern”. The table given below summarizes all these premises and inquiry processes of modernization.

Table 1: Dimensions, premises and inquiry processes of modernization



Inquiry Processes


Democratic restructuring

Important role of human agents

Vertical accountability

Horizontal accountability

Societal accountability

People and technology have power to change

Freedom is essential

Independent mass media is necessary

Democracy guarantees inclusiveness of all forms





Resources are available in all parts of the country and hence no barriers to the transaction of resources

Lesser intervention in economic activities by the state

Private sectors have better managerial and profit-earning skills

Free mobility of labor

Information, economy, technology and ideas are beyond the control of national government


Shared life, shared clothing styles and mass media

Open to change and oppose the reactionary forces that restrict the development of the society

Pluralistic visions on other cultures

The regulatory and socializing institution of the state ensure that nation doesn’t loose its cultural and social identity

Banal nationalism continuously flags the sense of national belongings in the country

Cultural practices strengthen the attachment and detachment to a place and community

Unlike modernization theory that advocates for capitalistic mode of governance and economy, Marx and Marxists propose the opposite. In fact, Marxists believe that capitalism, in due time falter; as a result socialist mode of governance and economy succeeds capitalism. In this regard, Marxism is the antithesis of capitalism, the antithesis that focuses on building a system where state controls the means of production, distribution and exchange.

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Inspired by the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Angels, Marxism is a radical political philosophy that views world from economic and sociologist lenses. In so doing, Marxism acknowledges that society comprises various classes of people and that capitalistic mode of economy further deepens this class structure by creating a gap between those haves and have-nots. In other words, Marxism believes that capitalism forms two major economic classes in the society; one is bourgeoisie that holds major forms of productions and possess most of the resources of the society while the other is proletariat that sells labor to bourgeoisie and virtually suffer from hand to mouth problem all the time. To make matter worse, the above stated dimensions of modernization theory, which Marxism believes are an essential element of capitalism, further, worsen the imbalances between the economic classes. For example, the political dimension of globalization advocates for lesser intervention of government in economic activities but Marxists believe that such action would encourage the growth of bourgeoisie while proletariats would always suffer. Sociologically, Marxism believes that society has a direct relationship with the productive capacity of labor. In other words, the higher the productive capacity of labor, the higher the development of society becomes and vice versa. Capitalism however underestimates this relationship; Marxists believe and claim that capitalism is the main reason behind the sufferings of working class laborers. In this regard, Marx and Marxists propose three main primary aspects in its philosophy a) struggle exists between social classes b) capitalism always exploits and c) proletarian revolution succeeds capitalism. Thus, Marxism is a humanity-centered philosophy. It is also an activist view of looking society. It recognizes the constraints upon human action and also acknowledges that those constraints are the creations of other sets of human beings. In the end, Marx and Marxists believe that socialism replaces capitalism just like the way capitalism replaced feudalism in the past.

Underneath Marxism, there are four major premises that shape this philosophy. First, the notion that classes exists in the society; as a result social classes struggle against each other is the main premise of Marxism. Had different classes of people lived together in equal respects, the conflicting scenario wouldn’t have happened and Marx philosophy wouldn’t have started in the first place. According to this premise, it is the control over factors of production that is partly responsible for creating struggle between classes. In saying so, Marxists believe that foundation of society depends on the productive capacity of society. During time when the productive capacity of society increases the social relations of production and class relations also evolve and hence conflict and struggle start. This evolvement of class struggles according to Marxists; pass through definite stages starting from feudalism to capitalism and ultimately rests into socialism. Unlike capitalism that creates class struggles through self-centric activities, socialism according to Marxists, harmonizes the relationships between various classes as it allows collective social earning and redistributing of income to all. In this regard, socialistic movement is an essential element for Marx and Marxism, which according to them is the only solution for neutralizing the struggle between classes.

Labor is the most important factor of production, which capitalism always undermines is the second premise of Marx and Marxism. Marx, in his philosophy discusses about necessary labor and surplus labor and argues that capitalism pays labor only the amount of wages that is sufficient enough for them to maintain their livelihood. This according to Marx and Marxism is the wages for necessary labor but argues that labors produce far more than they get paid, which Marx and Marxists call as extra earnings through surplus labor that capitalism do not share with the labors. Despite these exploitations, Marx and Marxists premise that laborers keep on competing with each other thus allowing capitalists to further exploit them and as a result laborers always lay at the bottom of a pyramidal authority structure. It is through this premise, the whole philosophy of Marx and Marxism believe that proletariat revolution is necessary and is capable enough to let laborers fight, defend and improve the position of their status at work. Only when the laborers or proletariat become the ruling class, the centralization of all instruments of production is possible, which then allows for acceleration of production, Marx and Marxists argue in support of this premise.

The conception that private ownership of property increases inequality is the third premise of Marx and Marxism. Had there been a system where society owns all the means of production, the income inequality would not have happened and also the need for proletariat revolution would not have felt, Marx and Marxists believe. Marx Weber, one of the Marxists further built this premise stating that human beings earn cultural and religious capitals based on what sort of society and culture they get exposed into. In this scenario, if human beings get accustomed to capitalistic mode of owning property, Marx and Marxists believe that proletariats would always be in the state of misery. The only solution however, according to Marx and Marxists is the building up of socialist design of owning property where society would be the caretaker of all those property. Success in doing so means the minimization of frustration and antagonism on the part of people, Marx and Marxists believe. Abolition of the right of inheritance, centralization of communication and transportation, universal and equal obligation to work, abolition of factory work for children, and expropriation of landed property are some of the ways through which Marx and Marxists argue that private ownership of property can be discouraged.

Finally, the fourth major premise of Marx and Marxism is related to the relationship between base and superstructures, the two economic concepts that Marx and Marxism believe are not strictly causal but are reciprocal. Base, according to this premise are factors like employer-employee working conditions, the technical division of labor and property relations that comprehend the relations of production and it is on the basis of those bases people enter to produce the necessities and amenities of life. Superstructure meanwhile is the set of socio-psychological feedback loops that maintain a coherent and meaningful structure in a given society. Culture, religion, institutions, power structures, roles and rituals of the society are some of the examples of superstructures. Marx and Marxists thus believe that base and superstructures exist in the society and human beings, through these two factors build definite forms of their own consciousness. In this regard, this premise states that social existence determines the consciousness of human beings not the other way around. Due time however, Marx and Marxists believe that conflict is likely to occur between base and superstructures, which then brings an era of social revolution. Just like other premises, which assume that social revolution ultimately brings socialism this premise also does the same.

Already stated above, Marx and Marxism is a radical political philosophy. In this regard, it uses process of inquiry to arrive at hypotheses and theories about a domain of empirical phenomena. In so doing, this process also provides justification for the proposed hypotheses and theories as well. Also called as “methodology” in purely research terms, it allows us to recognize the systems, structures, and causal processes that are embedded in the social world, the world that gives rise to relations of power, domination, exploitation and resistance. Below given are some of the ways through which Marx and Marxists have analyzed their inquiry processes.

First, Marxism uses material dialectics as an inquiry process in looking at the society. Materially, it focuses on the forces and relations of production, and at the same time postulates that technology and power are fundamental with regards to other social formations such as literature, culture and law. This process of inquiry is sensitive to the workings of ideology and false consciousness in our understandings of the social institutions within which we live, particularly the understanding of capitalism. It also pays special interest, and offers special concern, to the perspectives of the under classes at any given time in history. Likewise, Marx and Marxists by discussing ideas and opinions logically inquire that there are contradictions in historical processes and as a result change is necessary. Also called as dialectics, this inquiry process highlights the high-level hypothesis that capitalism is solely responsible for creating gaps between various classes of people and hence as written earlier, change is necessary and inevitable.

The rational choice approach is another inquiry process that Marx and Marxists often use in their philosophy. This approach postulates the fact that an individual is rational enough to think and act in regards to what is best and what is worst for them. Through this approach, Marx and Marxists explained the tools of political economy, and demonstrated the laws of capitalism. Marx’s argument for the falling rate of profit, concerning the contradiction between the individual capitalist’s interests and the interests of the class of capitalists as a whole is an example of rational choice approach.

Realist empiricism, according to Little (n.d) is the main epistemological inquiry process of Marx and Marxists. Through this inquiry process, Marx and Marxists arrive to the conclusion that scientific knowledge provides statements about unobservable structures that are approximately true, and that the basis of evaluation of such hypotheses is through appropriate use of empirical methods such as observation, experimentation, and historical inquiry. In this regard, their inquiry process of knowing the truth is premised on the notion that well-founded beliefs about the social world can be arrived on the basis of empirical methods and theoretical reasoning. The whole notion of class struggles and proletariat revolution are examples of such inquiry process where Marx and Marxists derive to the conclusion based on what they observe, what they experiment and what they historically inquire.

In regards to metaphysical inquiry process of society and historical processes, Marx and Marxism have presupposes numerous assumptions. First, they inquire that social world is a causal order; in research terms social world bears a cause and effect relationship. The premise that class exists and as a result conflict arises is based on cause and effect inquiry process. Second, social structures have properties and causal characteristics. Third, individual constitute social structures through their actions and choices. Fourth, modes of production consist of sets of forces and relations of production. The idea of alienation, super structures and capitalistic design of social system are examples of this inquiry process.

Ontologically, Marx and Marxism inquire that some individuals and groups control labor time of others and derive benefit from their labor without compensation. In saying so, this inquiry process argues that individuals have consciousness and freedom, but they find themselves always within the context of individuals and ideas that, in turn structure their understandings of the relations that govern them. The labor theory of value, and the theory of surplus value provide an analytical framework within which to theorize about exploitation. Marx’s concept of alienation, fetishism and mystification are also foundation in his social ontology.

The above given inquiry process clearly shows that Marx always tried to describe and explain the phenomena of capitalism based on a family of hypotheses, feelings, and ontological commitments. In this sense, it could be said that Marx and Marxism do offer some social science inquiry process but do not offer distinctively. Whatever process they have inquired, it provides a substantive contribution to social science, in the form of a series of descriptive and theoretical insights, particularly about the institutional anatomy and dynamics of capitalism and social behavior. The table given below summarizes the above-mentioned inquiry process.

Table 2: Inquiry processes of Marx and Marxism

Inquiry Types

Inquiry Process

Dialectical materials

Focuses on the forces and relations of production

Postulates that technology and power are fundamental with regards to literature, culture and law

Pays special interest, and offers special concern, to the perspectives of the under classes

Contradictions in historical processes

Rational choice

Individual is rational enough to think and act

Through this approach, Marx and Marxists explained the tools of political economy, and demonstrated the laws of capitalism

Realist empiricism


Scientific knowledge provides statements about unobservable structures that are approximately true

Well-founded beliefs about the social world can be arrived on the basis of empirical methods and theoretical reasoning


Social world is a causal order

Social structures have properties and causal characteristics

Individual constitute social structures through their actions and choices

Modes of production consist of sets of forces and relations of production


Individuals and groups control labor time of others and derive benefit from their labor without compensation

Individuals have consciousness and freedom, but they find themselves always within the context of individuals and ideas

Structural theories stated above focus on the situation in which people act. The proletariat revolution as a result of bourgeoisie exploitation is an example of structural theory where Marxists notion of exploitation is the situation and revolution is the act. The interpretive theories see human behavior as the outcome of the subjective interpretation of the environment. In other words, interpretive theories gains knowledge from somebody else’s point of view and appreciates the cultural and social factors that may have influenced their outlook. Interpretive theories are important in this contemporary world, Bevir and Rhodes (n.d) argue because until and unless one doesn’t understand human affairs properly, one cannot grasp the relevant meaning of anything. In this regard, it could be said that interpretive theorists acknowledge that in order to understand actions, practices and institutions, one need to grasp the meanings, beliefs and preferences of the people, society and other institutions. In other words, exploration of ideas and knowledge through peoples’ lenses is the main impulse of interpretive theorists. As a result, various forms of interpretive inquiries have em


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