Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

Aligning, integrating and applying the behavioural sciences

Modernisation Theory vs Stratified Democracy #3

World Systems Theory
If Dependency Theory is an incomplete critique of Modernisation Theory, Wallerstein provides a more complete model with World Systems Theory which was developed specifically as a response to criticisms of Dependency Theory and an extension of Frank’s ideas. It is based on 4 underlying principles :-

  1. Individual countries or nation-states are not an adequate unit of sociological analysis. Wallerstein held that the focus must be on the overall social system that transcends national boundaries – as it has done for centuries – and not on the concept of nation-state exploiting nation-state, as per Frank. Capitalism has created the world order or ‘modern world system’ (MWS) because capital has always ignored national borders in its search for profit. Dominated by the logic of profit and the market, the MWS forms one unified system.
  2. Wallerstein builds upon Dependency Theory by proposing that the MWS is characterised by an economic division of labour made up of a structured set of relations between 3 types of Capitalist zone:-
    (i) the ‘core’ – the developed countries which control world trade and monopolise the production of manufactured goods
    (ii) the ‘semi-periphery’ – countries like Brazil and South Africa which have urban centres resembling those of the core countries but also extremes of rural poverty – they are often connected to the core because the core contract work out to them
    (iii) the ‘periphery’ – the countries which provide the raw materials (eg: ‘cash crops’) to the core and semi-periphery and which are the emerging markets into which the core countries market their manufactured goods
  3. Wallerstein argues that countries can be upwardly or downwardly mobile – although relatively few countries have moved up. This theoretical mobility resolves a key weakness in Dependency Theory – ie: the sheer variation in the developing world. The Asian Tigers could be seen as moving up into the semi-periphery while some have argued that countries like Greece may now be a semi-peripheral, rather than core, country. Some have even posited at times that the UK is heading for the semi-periphery. An example of the UK being manipulated by the MWS, it could be argued, was being forced out of the European Monetary System in 1992 by currency speculators like George Soros – with the result that the Conservative government was obliged to adopt economic and political policies it had previously rejected.
  4. The processes by which surplus wealth is extracted from the periphery are those described in Dependency Theory.

The MWS is constantly evolving in its search for profit, as indicated by ongoing commodification, de-skilling, proletarianisation and mechanisation.

Like Frank, Wallerstein is an unashamed Marxist. However, unlike Frank and for all that World Systems Theory paints a decidedly grim picture of the world, there is a strong element of optimism in his analysis. Like Karl Marx himself (1867), Wallerstein thought that the MWS will lead to so many people being dispossessed, excluded, marginalised and poor that they will eventually rise up in revolution, leading finally to a ‘socialist world economy’. However, again like Marx, Wallerstein is vague about how such a socialist world economy would come about and what it would be like.

Also like Marx, Wallerstein focuses heavily on the economic aspects of the system, largely ignoring politics, culture, etc – effectively economic determinism. Albert Bergesen (1990) is critical of this approach, arguing that it was the political manipulation of conquered peoples that imposed economic dependency on developing nations, rather than simply the machinations of Capitalism.

According to Wallerstein, the Capitalist core will allow political and social diversity in the semi-periphery and the periphery only while it does not in any way impede control by the MWS. On this basis, of course, Wallerstein is heavily criticised by Modernisation theorists for ignoring what they see as the cultural and political failings of less developed countries – eg: he does not comment on corrupt elites or wasteful spending.

Also like Frank, there are problems with Wallerstein’s methodology. The theory is abstract, vague in its definitions of ‘core’, ‘peripheral’, etc, and many of its propositions are difficult to measure and test.

Nonetheless, the likes of Gereffi see World Systems Theory as being more explanatory than Dependency Theory which Chrisopher Chase-Dunn (1975) criticised as being overly descriptive. A clear advantage of the World Systems approach over Dependency Theory is that it provides the flexibility to account for countries which have grown beyond the periphery – eg: China, Brazil, – but are not yet in the core while also allowing that countries once in the core may decline into the semi-periphery. As such, it does not fossilise a rigid us-and-them system but shows that Capitalism, especially in the grip of the TNCs, will operate the MWS without any loyalty to any one country. The pursuit of shareholder wealth is far more important than national wealth.

John Bunzl (2013) develops this notion to identify what he terms ‘destructive international competition’. In his view, the argument is moving beyond some nations exploiting others. Now all countries now compete with one another in making concessions to attract inward investment from the TNCs. He is supported by the likes of Jeffrey Sachs (2011) who highlights Western governments tax concessions: “With capital globally mobile…governments are now in a race to the bottom with regard to corporate taxation and loopholes for personal taxation of high incomes. Each government aims to attract mobile capital by cutting taxes relative to others…. The symptoms of a devastating race to the bottom are everywhere. In the UK, the government asks for further cuts in the corporate tax rate in the face of swingeing budget cuts…. In the US, the tax-cutting mania is shockingly unrestrained. The Obama White House and Republicans agreed just last December to a $900bn two-year tax cut (extending the expiring Bush-era cuts) and then turned around to cut domestic spending programmes that protect the poorest communities. The White House has also come out in favour of a further cut to the corporate tax rate to be negotiated…. Even the social democracies of northern Europe, with their balanced budgets and high tax rates, are increasingly being pulled into the vortex of tax cutting and the race to the bottom. The political defences in the US and the UK against the power of the rich are crumbling. Multinational companies and their disproportionately wealthy owners are successfully playing governments against each other.”

Undoubtedly Wallerstein’s model still has relevance because TNCs tend to identify with some countries – usually, but not always, their country of origin – more than others and the key players in the TNCs often prefer to live in Western countries, if the conditions are made attractive. Increasingly, though, the TNCs are stateless.

With almost all countries more and more countries in thrall to the TNCs, a number of sociologists have focused on the economic interdependence of so-called core, semi-periphery and periphery countries, pointing out that problems in the developing world  (eg: financial crises due to debt) can have ripple effects on the economies of core countries, leading to unemployment and destabilisation of Western currencies.

In broad terms Wallerstein was the first sociologist to use the concept of ‘globalisation’ – though he himself did not use that term – and he drew attention to the new international division of labour, stretching across various ethnic and cultural groups, as the basis of global inequality.

Why hasn’t Modernisation Theory worked?
Of course, Rostow stated clearly that this was not an overnight process and that modernisation could take up to 100 years to reach maturity. Nonetheless, it is clear that the process has been corrupted and is off track in just about every country in which Modernisation Theory has been applied rigorously.

From an Integrated SocioPsychology perspective, the inadequacies in Modernisation Theory and the damage it is doing around the world are all too painfully obvious. Parsons, Inkeles, Hoselitz, etc, are all correct in recognising the principle problems with implementing Modernisation Theory as being culture and values. However, they fail to show they understand natural patterns of cultural development, seeming to believe cultural change can be imposed.

In their desire to inculcate the upcoming generations with Western values, Hoselitz argues for urbanisation and the introduction of meritocratic education while Inkeles champions the mass media and the adoption of Democracy as means of propagating those values.

Such strategies, paid for with aid and loans, have made little difference in Black Africa. The elites in much of the Middle East are indeed wealthy on the proceeds of their oil money but they are myopically dependent on Western know-how and cheap foreign workers to get the oil out of the ground while much of their indigenous populations experience real poverty. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, driven largely by reaction against such dire poverty, seems to have brought only minor change to such blatant inequality in some of the Middle East countries – eg:  Egypt – or else resulted in bloody chaos in others – eg: Libya, Syria. A number of south-east Asian countries are run by at least semi-dictatorships and/or overt military juntas. Movements in countries like Burma and Thailand do indeed seem to have made some progress in establishing democratic institutions but these are overseen and constrained by the military. While some of these are increasingly exporting on an industrial level, large numbers of their populations are truly hard up.

While Parsons  correctly identified values as the problem, what he probably couldn’t have known at the time – because Clare W Graves (1970, 1971/2002) was only just starting to publish on his remarkable work – was how value systems (vMEMES) function and how change takes place on the Spiral. (However, the initial version of Abraham Maslow’s (1943) Hierarchy of Needs preceded both Rostow and Parsons…so perhaps there is no excuse?)

Those ‘traditional values’ that Parsons saw as obstacles to modernisation are, in fact, natural to the PURPLE vMEME’s tribal way of thinking. Since PURPLE’s key motivation is to find safety-in-belonging, attempts to destabilise it and impose a different way of thinking will either result in closedown and outright refusal to even contemplate change or the emergence of a very unhealthy form of RED. (The emergence of healthy RED requires the foundation of a healthy PURPLE.) Thus, ignoring PURPLE’s needs or, even worse, making it unsafe through destabilisation will actually work against the development process Rostow outlined.

It is generally recognised that, where accepted into the community, education can open up horizons and lead to the challenging of traditional ways of doing things. However, the values transmitted via education systems should build on a safety foundation in a non-threatening manner – not attempt to replace those safety values. In theory, it must have seemed a good idea to Lerner to get the youngsters of the elites away from environments reinforcing traditional tribal values. However, Bauer notes that many of those Western-educated young elite returned home only to monopolise top positions, restrict upward mobility and enforce the most brutal RED tyranny – eg: the Central African Republic’s Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Liberia’s Charles Taylor and, of course, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Bauer calls this undermining of development ‘kleptocracy’ as the these elites are often only interested in lining their own pockets.

Cartoon highlighting Mugabe manipulating votes by food distribution – copyright ©

Healthy RED is a vital influence on the selfplexes of the entrepreneurs so vital to Rostow’s Stage 2. But the ruthless dictators who have so often used Western money for their own ends while oppressing and starving their own people surely could not have been what Rostow envisaged….?

Rostow’s Stage 3 requires a sizeable amount of BLUE thinking, Stage 4 requires both BLUE and the emergence of ORANGE and Stage 5 the widespread domination of ORANGE. Since much of the Third World has yet to get beyond RED in its culture, it’s no surprise that Modernisation Theory isn’t working and few Third World states have got beyond Stage 3.

Just as Modernisation Theory assumes that all modern societies are similar, it also assumes that all traditional societies are the same and, thus, can follow the same prescriptive path. In fact, there is much cultural diversity amongst traditional societies.

It should be noted that the new economic giants, India and China, not only didn’t take that much notice of Rostow but had long-established BLUE-dominated forms of culture. They were both highly advanced civilisations before falling under the control of the Europeans. Thus, their traditions were BLUE in nature as well as PURPLE. India’s highly-defined religious structures go back many centuries, providing much of the country with a bedrock of organisation and discipline. For China ‘Maoist Communism’, for all the suppression of its people, provided a monolithic state structure and control that organised much of the country on a grand scale. Chris Edwards (1992) suggests that the success of the Asian Tiger economies and China is due to a successful combination of the Chinese Confucian religion (BLUE/GREEN) and Western rational thinking and practices (BLUE/ORANGE). Religion in these societies has encouraged the emergence of a moral and authoritarian political leadership (BLUE) that demands sacrifice, obedience and hard work in return for prosperity. This has fostered a considerable acceptance of Western economic and cultural practices.

The Modernisation Myopia
If the pinnacle of Rostow’s vision was that every country should end up a democratic, consumerist society, then the implication is that this is the ultimate form a country should take. Every country should aspire to Western-style one person/one (secret) vote Democracy. Every country should aspire to have a consumerist economy. The further implication is that any other form of government or any other form of economy is automatically inferior…and the greater the sociopsychological distance of that government/economy from Rostow’s ideal, the more inferior it is.

Given those implications, it’s not hard to see how prejudice and bias so distorted the views of Rostow, Parsons and Inkeles that they perceived traditional tribal values to be not only worthless but positively harmful.

Rostow’s end game in Modernisation Theory appears to have been to produce mini-Americas right around the world – an unofficial condition of much World Bank/International Monetary Fund aid in the 1960s and 1970s was that the recipient country jettisoned socialist/communist policies. This would lead to democratic consumeristic societies enmeshed with their own wealth and edging towards post-industrialisation. Quite how this could ever quite come to pass since someone has to mine the raw materials and someone has to grow and farm the food is open to speculation. Additionally, it is estimated that, if every nation on the planet were to enjoy similar standards of living to the United States, this would mean a six-fold increase in global consumption and unsustainable pollution. As Gustavo Esteva & James Austin (1987) point out: “In Mexico, you must either be numb or very rich if you fail to notice that ‘development’ stinks. The damage to persons, the corruption of politics and the degradation of nature which, until recently, were only implicit in ‘development’, can now be seen, touched and smelled.” Joan Martinez-Alier (Ferederico Demaria et al, 2013) calls for economic production and consumption to be scaled back. Without such a reduction, he argues the world’s resources are likely to be driven down beyond safe ecological bounds while waste production will exceed levels at which they can be managed without irreversible damage to the environment.

While it can be argued there was some noble intention in the development of Modernisation Theory – and it does celebrate the success of American Capitalism – its end game is suspect. Is Western Capitalist, consumeristic society, with its inequalities in the distribution of wealth, sink estates, broken marriages, high crime rates, endemic drugs problems, economic ups and downs, homelessness, high suicide rates, etc, etc – really an ideal to aspire to…? Marshall Sahlins (1997) points out that traditional societies are often far more supportive in the community than modern ones. Rica Viljoen (2015, p84) talks of developed nations wanting “to fix’ Africa and other non-developed and developing countries to be more like them…. This approach totally denies that a valuable gift may be presented to the world from within the very being of PURPLE and even RED.” Majid Rahnema (1997) goes further, arguing that the pressurised living of the modern consumerist society deprives its own citizens of meaning in life and the mental comfort that goes with that. In so doing, he gets to the heart of the values mismatch at the heart of the failure of Modernisation Theory when he states that the concept that materialism is superior to spirituality, human happiness and ecological awareness is often alien to people living in the developing world. Credo Mutwa (1964) has a cutting riposte for the Modernisation theorists, bringing “the light of civilisation to African shores. And yet the only civilisation they can bring is one infected with physical, moral and spiritual decay.”

In any case, Herb Thompson (2001) argues that, in general, industrialising societies are not becoming like the United States which he believes to be deviant because its people hold more traditional values and beliefs than in other equally prosperous societies – eg: the Scandinavian countries. This comes back to the assumption that all modern societies are similar. The First World is, in fact, little more homogeneous than the Third World. In 2016 the United States narrowly elected someone who appears to be a RED-driven demagogue to be their next president. While hard right populism has been gaining significant ground across much of Europe in the first decades of the 21st Century, it’s hard to imagine someone as extreme as Donald Trump gaining power in France or Germany – and certainly not in any of the Scandinavian countries.

Go back…