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Modernization is a theory of progressive development. Theories of modernization posit two types of societies: traditional or premodern, and modern. Traditional societies are inert, superstitious, have low standards of living, and are bound by local obligations to family or clan. Modern societies, by contrast, are constantly changing, economically sophisticated, and have robust bureaucracies that coordinate government at the national level.

Modernization theorists believe in a teleological telling of history whereby traditional societies intractably evolve into modern societies, although they do so at different rates. While modernization theorists believe societal development from traditional to modern is inevitable, it often results in temporary dislocation and atomization—a condition French sociologist Émile Durkheim called anomie—for those transitioning to modernity. To palliate modernization’s baleful effects, most modernization theorists argue that development ...

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