Modernity means the adoption of those social patterns that have resulted from industrialization. In everyday usage modernity designates the present in relation to the past. Sociologists include in this concept the social patterns set in motion by the Industrial Revolution beginning in Western Europe in the middle of 18th century.

Modernization is the process of the adoption of those patterns of behavior which have been considered as modern.

The rise of modernity is a complex process involving many dimensions of change. These dimensions could be: cultural patterns, social structure, social institutions, and social change.

Cultural Patterns

Traditional societies are governed by homogeneity in the cultural values. There is similarity in the cultural values which are considered as sacred and people would like to preserve them. There is low tolerance of differences in values. Compared with traditional societies, the modern societies demonstrate heterogeneity. In the modern society there is a variety of cultures. Modern society is an urban society which consists of people belonging to different religions, variety of occupations, variety of ethnicity, and hence different cultural patterns. Within the broad cultures one comes across variety of subcultures and sometimes countercultures as well.

The social norms are of high moral significance and the traditional society does not tolerate the divergence in social norms. In the modern society there is variation in the norms and the people in the urban/modern society are highly tolerant of the diversity in social norms.

In the traditional societies the present is linked with past. For the present problems people try to look for solutions in the past i.e. how did the forefathers solve similar problem in the past? For modern societies, the present is linked to the future i.e. present problems are to be solved with what is going to happen in the future.

Traditional societies use pre-industrial technology and mostly people depend upon human and animal energy. Compared with that the industrial societies use advanced sources of energy.

Social Structure

In the traditional societies people have few statuses and most of these statuses are ascribed. Everybody performs multiple roles; in fact there is little specialization of roles.

In the modern society there is a variety of occupations as well as variety of statuses and the corresponding roles to be performed. Most of the statuses as well as roles are achieved ones. There is variety of specialized roles and people perform such roles.

Most of the relationships in the traditional society are of “primary” type. There is little anonymity and privacy of the families from each other. In the modern societies, people are more concerned about their own affairs. They have secondary relations and don't know much about what is happening in the neighborhood

Most of the communication in the traditional societies is face to face but in the modern societies it is supplemented by mass media. We use telephone, internet, radio, television, and print media for communication with others. People have little time to visit somebody and talk personally.

Social control through gossip or social pressure has been replaced by formal agencies like police and legal system in the modern societies. Due to the diversities of culture in the modern society, the cultural norms

may conflict with each other. Therefore, the whole system gets formalized and enforced by agencies authorized by the law of the country.

Traditional societies experience rigid patterns of inequality and there is limited social mobility. Modern societies exhibit fluid patterns of social inequality. Status of a person is an achieved one and there are plenty of opportunities to move from one occupation to another. In modern industrial societies there is lot of social mobility.

In the traditional societies patriarchy is highly pronounced. Women are subordinate to men and most of their lives are centered in the home. As we move toward modern societies, patriarchy starts declining. Societies move toward universal education and women start participating in the labor force. As a result they become financially independent and fight for their rights. Hence the decision making becomes fluid, moving away from authoritarian pattern to egalitarian pattern. All this change, amounts to women empowerment.

In the small scale, pre-industrial societies, governments amounted to little more than a local noble. A royal family formally reigned over an entire nation, but without efficient transportation or communication, the power of even absolute monarchs fell far short of the power wielded by today's political leaders. As technological innovation allowed government to expand, the centralized state grew in size and importance. Governments have entered more and more areas of social life: schooling the population, regulating wages and working conditions, establishing standards for products of all sorts, and offering financial assistance to ill and the unemployed. To pay such expenses, taxes have soared. In modern society, power resides in large bureaucracies' leaving people in local communities little control over their lives.

In the traditional societies extended family is the important institution for the socialization of children. Also family is the primary unit of economic production. In modern societies extended families are replaced by nuclear families. It does retain some socialization function but by and large becomes a consumption unit rather than a production unit.

Religion permeates the lives of people in the traditional societies. Pluralism is little tolerated. But in the modern societies, religion weakens with the rise of science. People look for the solution of their problems in science rather than in religion. Even in the society the plurality of religions is tolerated

Formal schooling in the traditional societies is limited to the elites. In the modern society basic schooling becomes universal, with growing proportion of population receiving advanced education

In the traditional society there is high birth rate and high death rate. Because of low standard of living and simple medical technology, generally there is low life expectancy.

Comparatively in the modern societies there is low birth rate and low death rate. Due to high standard of living and sophisticated technology people usually enjoy longer life expectancy.

Settlement patterns in the modern societies are large. Population is typically concentrated in large cities.

Social change in the traditional societies is slow and it takes many generations to visibly notice the actual change that has taken place. In the modern societies change is very rapid and it is evident within a single generation.


If modernity was the product of the Industrial Revolution, is the Information Revolution creating a postmodern era? A number of scholars think so and use the term post-modernity to refer to social patterns characteristic of postindustrial societies. Postindustrial society is based on information, services, and high technology, rather than on raw materials and manufacturing. Post-modern society is another term for postindustrial society; its chief characteristic is the use of tools that extend the human abilities to gather and analyze information, to communicate, and to travel.

Characteristics of Post-Modern Society

In 1973, Daniel Bell noted the emergence of a postindustrial society. He gave six characteristics:

  1. Extensive travel among nations;
  2. A vast surplus of goods;
  3. a service sector so large that it employs the majority of workers;
  4. A wide variety and quantity of goods available to average person;
  5. An ‘information explosion'; and
  6. A ‘global village' i.e. instantaneous, worldwide communications.

Of these six items the last two are the most important. We find that the news are instantaneously transmitted by satellite having worldwide effects. Social space is no longer a configuration of territorial places, territorial distances, and territorial borders; it is fast approaching a global village.

Post-industrial society remains a matter of debate

Five basic themes of this debate:

  1. In important respects, modernity has failed: The promise of modern society was a life free from want. As postmodernist critics see it, however, the twentieth century was unsuccessful in solving social problems like poverty, since many people still lack financial security.
  2. The bright light of “progress” is fading. Modern people look to the future, expecting their lives will improve in significant ways. Members of post-modern societies, however, are less confident about what the future holds. Optimism has been replaced with pessimism with the assumption that the life is getting worse.
  3. Science no longer holds the answers. The defining trait of the modern era was a scientific outlook and a confident belief that technology would make life better. But postmodern critics contend that science has not solved many old problems (like the poor health) and has even created new problems (such as degrading the environments). Science has been widely used for political purposes, especially by powerful segments of society.
  4. Cultural debates are intensifying. Modernity was to be an era of enhanced individuality and expanding tolerance. But it has fallen short here as well. Feminism points out that patriarchy still continues to limit the lives of women, and multiculturalism seeks to empower minorities who still remain at the margin of social life. Moreover, now that more people have all the material things they need, ideas are taking on more importance. Thus, post-modernity is also a post-materialistic era, in which issues like social justice, as well as the environment and gay rights, command more and more attention.
  5. Social institutions are changing. Just as industrialization brought a sweeping transformation to social institutions, the rise of a post-industrial society is remaking society all over again. Just as the Industrial Revolution placed material things at the center of productive life, now the Information Revolution emphasizes ideas. Similarly, the post-modern family no longer conforms to any single pattern; on the contrary, individuals are choosing among many new family forms. There are diversities in the marriage and family.

Despite such debate, yet few think that modernity has failed completely; after all, we have seen marked increases in longevity and living standards over the course of last century. Moreover, even if we accept post-modernist views that science is bankrupt and progress is a sham, what are the alternatives?

But as part of global stratification, poor societies appear to have little ability to modernize. Here the barrier does not appear to be the ‘traditionalism' but global domination by the rich capitalist societies. The rich nations only perpetuate current patterns of global inequality
Similar posts: