Part 1: Theories and Concepts of STS


Authors: Alexander N Wittkoff, Dylan Fahs, Tom Faile, Dante Demeo, Anabelle C Reardon, Jarrett Carson Holman, Nicholas Charles Longo, Joe Chen, Omar Yousuf Ahmed, Emily, Catherine Jarvis, Jack Lucas, Liam Wood, Grayson Smoak


So, you may be wondering to yourself what is the Modernization Theory? A standard Google search would leave you with the description that studies the idea that all societies develop and evolve socially (Goorha, 2010). This is a great foundation for your understanding of the Modernization theory but there are many things left hidden and unnoticed with the traditional view. In order to get a true understanding of the definition of the Modernization Theory, you have to take a look at where the ideology started. The term and basic ideas of the Modernization Theory came from a man named Max Weber (Kumar, 1999). Max Weber laid the groundwork for future academics to add onto it and create a global view of the Modernization Theory. Although most perspectives of the modernization theory focus on the first-world countries such as Great Britain, France and the United States, they fail to look at the countries that are not as technologically advanced. Modernization theory is easy to apply to the recent technological innovations in massive tech sectors like electric vehicles, or the development of nuclear energy; both to solve and evolve beyond past inconveniences. However, the countries with the lowest human development indexes such as Somalia and Niger are often overlooked (U., 2022). Now you may ask yourself, why is this and shouldn’t all countries be included in such a widely studied and respected theory? The sad reality is that the people who are more educated seem to look at the countries that they are most familiar with, such as the countries where they live and frequently visit, instead of looking at all perspectives (Erickson, 2021). In order to fully understand the modernization theory, you must look at all perspectives because it is important to see how all of the countries are developing and the history of their development in order to be completely educated on the topic.

Modernization theory’s core definition fails in many ways to fully describe the development of underdeveloped and newer countries. As many critics of the theory point out, there seems to be a lack of research and development from the theory’s advocates on how other countries have and can develop into more modernized and successful societies without the use of modern technology. The theory is clean cut and straightforward, but with no intent to focus on culture and society. It is like a set of rules that is to be followed but not questioned.               “Modernization cannot remain without the exchange of ideas and thoughts and its consequences”  (MPHANDE, F., 2020) So how can these underdeveloped countries be represented or catch up to the most powerful nations of the world. Are they to just adapt and suffer the consequences?

One problem with undeveloped countries is that they are not represented the same and this is proven across the board. In an Article from Taylor and Francis online, it states that “Fewer than one in six of the articles published in top 20 development journals from 1990 to 2019 were by Southern researchers, while close to three-quarters were by Northern researchers” (Amarante, 2021). In order to provide the population with a complete understanding of the Modernization Theory, it is necessary to look at every perspective.

Although many countries follow the mold of modernization theory’s problem and solution concept, some defy the typical path that the theory suggests such as how Turkey did. The government of Turkey adopted an authoritarian government despite how it was predicted that they would modernize (Reyes, 2001). Other countries are sure to defy the path of modernization that is expected but it is definitely extremely rare. In most societies, they will advance in a predictable way following the structures of the countries around the world. However, these countries tend to advance and move at different paces. Although third world countries are not as sophisticated as first world countries, they can learn from the first world countries and use the Modernization theory to their advantage to speed up their modernization and build off of what others have built. The Modernization Theory is an extremely complex topic that can be simplified through looking at the different scholars that have studied and devoted their lives to the topic.


Potential Rework:

Many countries in the past have proven capable of defying the path of modernization theory, but it is seen often in recent history that the theory hypothesizes a mold for each country that can advance it in the most efficient and effective way. Although many countries defy this theory, it can be seen in most recently dominant countries around the world that Modernization theory’s conceptual problem solving and the implementation of government to provide for people is a successful, albeit sometimes short lived, concept. As the theory suggests, many third world countries and struggling nations can potentially learn from the theory and make leaps in their development with the rest of the world. This chapter will further explore the depths of modernization theory and its applications as it relates to society.


Here is where you will discuss those who may disagree with the theory or concept.

  • China as a deviant case of modernization theory. Modernization theory contains the idea that as economic development occurs, democratization becomes more favorable.

Zhou, Y. J. (2021). Is China a Deviant Case? A Societal-Level Test of Modernization Theory. Political Studies, 69(4), 834–857.

Relationship to STS

Here is where you will describe how your theory or concept directly relates to STS.


Ancient v.s. Modern Stadiums


Left: Roman Colosseum   Right: NRG Stadium

Modernization can be challenged by the fact that something isn’t either modern or not modern. Throughout history the same technology was used and evolved but did not modernize. This is shown through retractable roofs in ancient times through today’s time. Through Ancient Rome the Roman Colosseum is a perfect example of such technologies evolving and enhancing, yet not necessarily modernizing. Starting with the Roman Colosseum on the left, built in 70 AD. What created the retractable roof were sheets that resembled a sail to be pulled out. According to the article Was the Colosseum Covered? “The awning was known as the velarium, and was made up of several separate tapered pieces of fabric carried high above the amphitheater by a complex web of ropes. This rigging was supported by 240 evenly spaced wooden masts that sprang from the top tier of the entire structure.” The purpose of this roof was to protect people from the sun. Due to the resemblance special crew from the Roman navy sailors were the ones to manage the awnings. As years have now gone on, technologies have continued to evolve, allowing more advanced retractable roofs to be created. One roof in particular the NRG stadium located in Houston, Texas.

Ancient people used the same technology we do. With the same technologies being used today, it shows that the concept of modernization is more fluid than is often given credit. Although some of the underdeveloped countries were not considered modern. Therefore, some people take for granted how ancient people were not modern and not advanced, yet through this example it is shown they are as the same technologies were used today. These technologies were used for the same purposes, to hold big gatherings of people for sporting events.

Was the Colosseum covered? The story of the velarium: Through Eternity Tours. Through Eternity Tours. (2019, March 29). Retrieved May 1, 2022, from


Definitions are instrumental in understanding what something is, but can one fully comprehend a complex topic like modernization theory without examples? Fortunately, history is littered with examples that are waiting to be analyzed and explored; however, these examples are not always easy to find. In this example of modernization, we will explore the beginnings of modern medicine through an indepth look at the pioneers of this early movement and the environment that cultivated these influential achievements.  Medical advances in the ancient world have undoubtedly influenced society with regards to modernization and early medical pioneers, like Galen in the Roman empire, provide brilliant examples of the intersection between “enabling” societies and the long-lasting technological advancements that ultimately drive the process of modernization.

To understand the whole process of modernization theory, it is first important to understand who Galen was and the environment in which he was raised. Galen was of Greco Roman descent, but he was born in Turkey to a wealthy family, which afforded him the ability to attend a prestigious medical center called Pergamon, in Turkey. Years later Galen’s father passed away and his inherited wealth allowed him to travel and visit some of the most prestigious medical centers around the known world, including the medical center in Alexander (West, 2014). With this information, it becomes very clear that Galen’s ascribed status enabled him to take part and lead the charge in the modernization of medicine. Factors that lead to modernization are important to understand because they can allow for a deeper understanding of how modernization theory can apply to a broad range of subjects in our ever changing world.

Michael Woods describes ancient medicine as “surprisingly sophisticated,” and goes on to describe just how complex medicine was during the Roman Empire, but how is this possible (Woods, 1997)?  In addition to individual factors, societal factors also play a huge role in modernization and specifically the modernization of medicine/understanding the complex development of the human body. This intersection occurred on a grand scale, and if we are sticking to Galen, we can see that the environment and society of Rome certainly led or contributed to his success. Life in Gladiator matches permitted Galen to practice his craft of virtually unlimited patients with horrifying injuries, all while avoiding scrutiny from society for the potentially inhumane exploration of the body and organs within (Clements, 2021). The Potential combined with his insatiable curiosity as a scientist led to what we would refer to as modern medicine, which as Gallagher puts it in his book, “Modernization and medical Care:” “Health care has a significant bearing upon the direction of modernization” (Gallagher, 1998). For many this is easy to overlook, especially when considering the past, mostly because we dismiss the past as having little to no technology, but this understanding can be demonstrated to be incorrect or misguided and advances in medical science certainly apply to modernization theory, however it would not be possible without one key group of forgotten people. Missing voices apply to people who are written out of the history books. In the case of medicine, women played arguably one of the most important roles in health care, which enabled advances to be made. Galen was particularly interested in childbirth, but he rarely mentions the mothers and women that played the largest role in caring for new mothers during and after the process of childbirth. There were no obstetricians, and influential doctors like Galen could not be bothered to get involved with the needs of these women before and after childbirth. Clements describes these missing voices in his book “The empires Physician,” where he highlights the roles and voices of these midwives (Clements, 2021). In conclusion, the modernization of medicine certainly has a place in modernization theory, and it was people like Galen and the forgotten midwives of Rome, intersecting with a conducive, that allowed such a revolutionary time of discovery in medicine and physiology.


De Corporus Humani Fabrica, p.224” by CRC, University of Edinburgh is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Phoenician Alphabet

Industrial revolutions across the world and throughout history have provided some insightful examples of modernization theory in the modernization of industry, specifically those from marginalized groups outside of the scope of Western culture. This goes back to 2000 B.C. in Phoenicia, primarily located in modern Lebanon where exploration and trade flourished. The Phoenicians were far ahead of their time, popularizing exploration, trade, craftsmanship, and the development of the alphabet (“Phoenicia, Syria, and Arabia”, 2000). To think that these modern practices came from somewhere outside of the Western scope of the world which most have never heard of is a shock for some. For centuries, the ruling powers have had complete control over not only the media, but any aspect of history and international affairs (Blachford, 2020).

Meiji Factory Women

One prominent example of this is in the Meiji factory women in Japan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These women were extremely influential in the presence of modernization in Japan during this time but, despite their impact, they were silenced by the Meiji rulers and legislation (Yamada, 2020). They were successful in silencing these women and girls through a system of worker registration which allowed for them to be used for cheap and unfair labor (Yamada, 2020). In addition to cheap labor, these same women became subject to prostitution and unfair treatment outside of the workplace. The huge impact these women had on the beginning stages of the industrialization of Japan were overshadowed by the Meiji regime and their oppressive techniques; the victimization of the Meiji factory women are one of many instances in modernization where a group was silenced or hidden from the scope of the world.


Tractors in Chile

Modernization is the new and improved objects and ideas that better our society. But, does it really improve our society? The truth is we really don’t know the answer yet. For example, in Chile the improvement of the tractor was a huge agricultural advantage that caused more crops to be produced in more efficient ways. Another advantage would be the household structure in China. The new household structure caused the homes of many lives to be more reliable and stabilized. Improvements around the world really start to grow exponentially but are not always good. For example, if a war were to break out the amount of nuclear power the world has could wipe out humanity. Nuclear bombs have been such a huge improvement but yet if they were used then why would all of this improvement even matter?


Industrial Revolution Issues – Jarrett Holman

Looking specifically at examples of how modernization has affected our society and the technology around us, I wanted to focus on the effect of the industrial revolution and how this event has created a snowball effect for changing natural resources of the environment. Most innovators involved with changing the way we live through the industrial age failed to see the future problem of depleting natural resources. Due to this modernization era, we came across lots of new problems to solve, and protecting our environment is one of them that has been neglected.

Before the Industrial revolution, the carbon concentration in our atmosphere was at a steady rate, but now emissions are skyrocketing due to machinery and technology that burn fossil fuels constantly (Xue et al., 2022). Carbon emissions trap energy and heat in our atmosphere when released to the environment. Other emissions such as methane also have the same effect because these gasses cannot escape the atmospheric barrier that our earth creates. This phenomenon is known as the greenhouse effect that contributes to climate change and global warming. In another article by Zhao Xie in 2022, the focus was on green construction and realizing how the emission of fossil fuels from construction is destroying our environment. The article recognized that by having these large pieces of equipment and machinery that require these harmful substances, not only will we begin to deplete natural resources, but we will also shorten life on earth by doing so.

Not only climate change and global warming is a problem that arose from moderation but, others such as deforestation and overexploitation has now become an issue because of the massive expansion from modernization of technology. This issue also shows how the tragedy of the commons has come into effect because of the modernization of society. Common resources such as trees and fish have now become a huge problem because people have become greedy and selfish and are producingareour producing more products than the environment can produce. The difference in replacement rate will eventually lead to total depletion of these resources. Overexploitation is one of the biggest issues today regarding conservation of the environment and is seen to be a problems problem because of our capability to obtain these resources at a much faster rate due to advancement in technology. Since this first arose, many laws and organizations were put in place to regulate the use of our environment better but it is stillbut is still seen to be a massive issue today.

Overall, we see that the industrial revolution has advanced our society tremendously due to modernization, but at the expense of our environment. Today, innovators are changing the way we use natural resources to preserve our life on earth as long as possible.

Missing Voices

Modernization Theory at its core was a theory that emerged out of the ashes of a post-World War II era that was intended to provide a step-by-step basis for third world nations to enter modernity (Gilman 2018). It was based on a thoughtful analysis of how Western Nations in the Americas and Europe were able to develop and advance throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It highlights how development of nation states is dependent on certain importations of technology, as well as several other political and societal changes that need to be implemented in order to overcome the predictable barriers to development (Crossman 2019). The theory was born out of a sense of true good will, as many intellectuals and social scientists in the West wanted to provide a guideline for emerging nations coming out of the post-World War II decolonization period. However, despite this theory emerging out of good will, it is inherently rooted in a sense that Western Civilization is technically and morally superior to that of traditional societies.

Before we delve into how Modernization Theory is biased in its sense that it elevates certain ideals of the West while discounting those of developing nations, the theory itself has numerous other criticisms to its validity. By the 1970s, the theory itself had largely fallen out of favor in the intellectual world because of its shortsightedness and rigid approach to development (Acemoglu 2018). One of the main criticisms from intellectuals is that the theory itself is dependent on certain intellectual fallacies as well as relies largely on an optimistic view of world events (Crossman 2019). Moreover, no country has truly developed along the stages of Modernization Theory states. There are no examples of any country developing along Rostow’s “5 Stages of Growth” in their entirety (Thompson). Central to this counterargument is the fact that development of nation states tends to be a more fluid transformation rather than the rigid outline the theory presents.

However, the main criticism against Modernization Theory is the fact that it is inherently rooted in a sense that Western Civilization is technically and morally superior to that of traditional societies. Modernization Theory in its attempt to outline development strips any valuable or meaning to traditional societies cultural norms or values. The theory itself was developed by analyzing solely Western Civilization and cherry-picking the good ideas or values from this part of the world. As history has shown us that many of the ideas born out of the West have had immensely beneficial impacts to the world. However there are certain ideals that some critics of Modernization Theory like to highlight. One of which is the practice of slavery. Critics claim that Modernization Theory glosses over the aspect of Western nations development that relied on colonization and free slave labor (Thompson 2015). They also highlight that Modernization Theory in a sense could be advocated for these same cruel practices in its guideline to development (Crossman 2019). However, more broadly speaking, Modernization Theory mainly results in many traditional societies’ societal, cultural, or political values or ideas from traditional societies being overlooked. Another interesting aspect to the criticisms of Modernization Theory is that it is a “one size fits all” approach to modernization. It is within this ethnocentric view on the world that development could actually be stifled due to its “one size fits all” approach (Thompson 2015).  One great example of this is with the Sherpas in Nepal. Many cultures have had their voices obscured by the forces of modernization. The example of a people subject to the forces of modernization whose voices are missing, is the Sherpa of Nepal, native to the Khumbu region on which Sagarmatha National Park (Mount Everest) rests. The Sherpa are an example of a culture whose once humble traditions have transformed into a multimillion dollar tourism industry due to the impacts of modernization.


Gyalzen Sherpa from Hillary’s 1953 Everest Expedition” by Didrik J is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The voices of the sherpa and native nepalese are often overlooked. This effect is due in part to the modernization of the region and its dependence on outside tourism. When Mountaineers are given credit for their accomplishments, their sherpas who they relied upon are often overlooked in these achievements. Rarely will a climber say outright that they could not have done it without their sherpa carrying them figuratively, and carrying their weight literally. The fact the climber was aided may be recognized, but seldom are their sherpas and porters recognized by name (Schaffer, 6). This creates a culture wherein the accomplishments of native mountaineers are looked over in favor of the exploits of westerners. As an example for conjecture taken from the source Nirmal Purja himself, had the Netflix documentary 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible not been made to coincide with the execution of Project Possible, which did generate buzz, it is unlikely there would have been news about this tremendous accomplishment of Nepalese history, which involved the summiting of all fourteen of the world’s 8,000m peaks in the record breaking time frame of six months, with the previous record being 8 years to do the same. This monumental feat was accomplished by a team of Sherpa Mountaineers, all being Nepalese. As Nimsdai states in the documentary and has stated in other recordings, had this been accomplished by a western crew, the news would be spread far and wide with every publisher writing a piece. Such is life and the nature of relations between Nepal and the Western World.

More importantly, as a function of their job, leading on the routes, constructing necessary safety protection and guiding westerners, Sherpas and porters assume the brunt of the risk on expeditions and bear the brunt of the casualties. This leaves them most exposed to the lethality of the mountain, “Sherpas are exposed to the worst dangers on the mountain—rockfall, crevasses, frostbite, exhaustion, and, due to the blood-thickening effects of altitude, clots and strokes” (Schaffer 2). Dependence on the trekking and tourism industry has brought rural areas of Nepal, particularly the Khumbu region under the weight of the forces of modernization. This has had the benefit of making the once impoverished khumbu region one of the wealthier regions in Nepal, with the Sherpa having the highest mean income of all ethnicities in Nepal (Frydenlund, 1), but without the impact of modernization of the economy, the Sherpa would not be dependent on tourism for their livelihood. Other means of living and sustenance get outcompeted economically by the infrastructure and benefactors of the trekking industry, and can draw them out of business in Himalayan valleys where level and arable land is not plentiful. This presents a dilemma for Sherpa men, they can either work in the trekking industry, or potentially face being unable to financially support their family. Many will make the choice to take on the risk of becoming a guide for hire, a porter, or another type of laborer position, rather than farming or local trades, to escape poverty (Mu 4). In his article “The Disposable Men of Everest” Cameron Shaeffer for Outside Online describes how the line of work is neither easy, nor forgiving. Many Sherpa are killed in their line of work, with 15 deaths confirmed within the decade when this article was written in 2013, and the following year after publication of this article, the 2014 Everest disaster would transpire, killing 16 sherpas in an ice avalanche. These incidents create unrest among the Sherpas as the Nepalese government demonstrates it does not care and will not take efforts towards compensation, prosecution, or protection on behalf of the Sherpas.



Here you will provide an infographic that sums up your theory or concept that includes a brief definition, its relationship to STS, and brief examples.

Chapter Questions

  • What impact has modernization had on the economies of the world, and in what ways are these impacts different?


Gyalzen Sherpa from Hillary’s 1953 Everest Expedition” by Didrik J is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

De Corporus Humani Fabrica, p.224” by CRC, University of Edinburgh is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Velarium: “File:Maquette du Colisée Velarium.svg” by File:Maquette du Colisée (5839478980).jpg: dalbera from Paris, France is licensed under CC BY 3.0

NRG: “File:The Texans at Reliant Park 1 Jan 2012.jpg” by Ed Schipul is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Prostitutes at Nectarine No.9 Brothel (Kanagawa Branch)” by noel43 is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


Amarante, V. (2021, August 12). Underrepresentation of developing country researchers in Development Research. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved April 5, 2022, from

Blachford, K. (2020, September 19). From Thucydides to 1648: The “Missing” Years in IR and the Missing Voices in World History. OUP Academic. Retrieved February 7, 2022, from

Clements, J. H. (2022, January 1). “The Empire’s Physician: Galen and Medicine in the Roman World and Reflections on Digital Exhibitions.” American Journal of Archaeology, 139-150.. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from

Erickson, A. (2021, December 1). Analysis | what ‘personal space’ looks like around the world. The Washington Post. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from

Gallagher, E. B. (1988). Modernization and Medical Care. Sociological Perspectives, 31(1), 59–87.

Goorha, P. (2010, March 1). Modernization theory. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies. Retrieved April 5, 2022, from

Yamada, K . (2020) On More-Than-Human Labor: Revisiting Japan’s Ecological Modernity and The Politics and Ethics of Interspecies Entanglements. Japan Forum 0:0, pages 1-25.

Kumar, K. (1999, July 26). Modernization. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 21, 2022, from

Li, T., Fan, W., & Song, J. (2020). The Household Structure Transition in China: 1982–2015. Demography (Springer Nature), 57(4), 1369–1391.

Mu, Y., Nepal, S. K., & Lai, P. H. (2019). Tourism and sacred landscape in Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park, Nepal. Tourism Geographies.

Phoenicia, Syria, and Arabia. (2000). In J. Knight & S. A. McConnell (Eds.), Ancient Civilizations Reference Library. UXL.

Reyes, G. (2001). Four Main Theories Of Development: Modernization, Dependency, Word-System, And Globalization. Revistas.ucm. Retrieved April 5, 2022, from

Robles-Ortiz, C. (2020). Modernization in the Periphery: The Introduction of the Tractor in Chile, 1910–1935. Agricultural History, 94(3), 413–443.

Schaffer, Grayson, et al. “The Disposable Men: Sherpas on Everest.” Outside Online, 26 June 2021,

Shae A. Frydenlund (2019) Situationally Sherpa: race, ethnicity, and the labor geography of the Everest industry, Journal of Cultural Geography, 36:1, 1-22, DOI: 10.1080/08873631.2018.1516601

Third World Countries 2022.(2022, January 3). Retrieved April 5, 2022, from

West, J. B. (2014). Galen and the beginnings of western physiology. American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, 307(2).

Woods, M.. (December 22, 1997, Monday,). Ancient Medicine Surprisingly Sophisticated. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania).


Acemoglu, Daron, and James A Robinson. 2018. “Beyond Modernization Theory.” Annals of Comparative Democratization 16(3): 26-31.

Gilman, Nils. “Modernization Theory Never Dies.” History of Political Economy, vol. 50, no. S1, 2018, pp. 133–151.,

Crossman, A. (NaN, ). “What Is Modernization Theory?” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 29 Sept. Retrieved February 28, 2022

Thompson, A. K. (n.d.). “Modernisation Theory (Development and Underdevelopment).” ReviseSociology, 8 Oct. Retrieved February 28, 2022

MPHANDE, F., & KABELENGA, I. (2020). Unintended Consequences of Modernization Theory on University Students and Graduates in Zambia. Journal of Community Positive Practices, 20(1), 69–81.


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