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Modernization Theory

  • By: Barney Warf
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

Of the various theories that seek to explain patterns of international development, and the lack of it, modernization theory is one of the most famous and certainly the most influential. Modernization theory for decades was the mainstream, orthodox approach to explaining development, and it was enormously important in the foreign policies of the United States and, to a lesser extent, other countries. The essential question that underpins modernization theory is whether or not countries in the developing world follow the historical trajectory set by the West (i.e., Western Europe, North America, and Japan). In this reading, development is likened to a race, with some countries and regions “ahead” and others “falling behind.”

Origins

The origins of modernization theory may be said to lie with the famous sociologist ...

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