Modernization, Industrialization, Urbanization

3 July 2009

Friday


Quick... is this a western city or a non-western city? Can you tell the difference? Does it matter?

Quick… is this a western city or a non-western city? Can you tell the difference? Does it matter?

Yesterday in A Note on Quantitative Civilization I quoted from Toynbee to the effect that the present international order is based on Western economic and political principles. Toynbee explicitly acknowledges that these borrowed principles of development do not compromise the non-Western character of the societies that adopt them. While he could be faulted for his untrendy language, which is spectacularly politically incorrect, the spirit of his remarks are very much within the present tradition of recognizing diversity.

In the midst of the urban intensity of downtown Osaka, a traditional Japanese performance art exposition at a street fair.

In the midst of the urban intensity of downtown Osaka, a traditional Japanese performance art exposition at a street fair.

Not all development leads to Westernization. Contemporary Japan provides an example of modernization, industrialization, and urbanization that does not coincide with Westernization. Japan remains profoundly Japanese in the midst of its technical progress. Japan is a bellwether in this respect, but it is not a model. The rest of Asia would never model itself upon Japan, at least explicitly so. But Japan shows what is possible.

Industrialization Japanese-style: a beautiful crane motif on a sewage access cover in Himeji. (As it turns out, this is not a crane motif, but a flower motif -- Habenaria radiata; cf. the comment below.)

Industrialization Japanese-style: a beautiful crane motif on a sewage access cover in Himeji. (As it turns out, this is not a crane motif, but a flower motif -- Habenaria radiata; cf. the comment below.)

Of what the financial press now calls the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India, and China — the latter two industrializing powers are clearly non-Western, while the former two are on the periphery of Western civilization, or, if you follow Samuel Huntington, belong to two distinct contemporary civilizations, Latin American and Orthodox respectively. (One wonders why the financial press does not call them the CRIB countries.) In any case, as these regional powers develop, as they modernize, urbanize, and industrialize, they will not be Westernizing. Their societies are and will be experiencing wrenching social changes and profound dislocation, but this will be the result of the transition to a fully modern economic system, not the result of “Westernization.” (Though it is to be expected that some of these wrenching social changes will be charged to “westernization.”)

With India and China it seems to be pretty clearly the case that they want to join what Toynbee called the “world-wide comity of states” but that they will do so on their own terms. Like Japan, they will modernize, industrialize, and urbanize but all without Westernizing.

Previously I have observed that the US represents the society most transformed by industrialization because its society was the least mature and established at the time of its industrialization (and perhaps also more intrinsically flexible). If other countries come to resemble the US as they develop, it is because the US is the raw product of industrial development with the least admixture of history, culture, and social tradition.

One of the great fears that seems to be prompted by globalization, that great contemporary bogeyman, is that of cultural homogenization. The ideologically motivated left likes to formulate this in terms of “cultural hegemony” and to formulate parallels between the imposition of military and economic regimes upon poorer and weaker nation-states and the “imposition” of a cultural regime upon similarly disadvantaged nation-states. I touched only briefly on this question in Evo Morales’ Ideologist, about the career of Bolivia’s Vice President, Álvaro García Linera, since García Linera has been deeply influenced by Antonio Gramsci, and Gramsci’s formulations are pretty much responsible for making cultural hegemony the hot topic that it is today.

Antonio Gramsci, Marxist philosopher and big hair aficionado.

Antonio Gramsci, Marxist philosopher and big hair afficianado.

The cultural homogenization that seems to make economically developing countries approximate the US the further their development progresses is a function of convergent evolution, not cultural hegemony. Similar selection forces are at work, so similar social structures are the result. There are only so many ways to construct a city from concrete, steel, and glass, and so it happens that most contemporary conurbations look alike.

Viewed from a distance, a contemporary Japanese city and a contemporary American city are indistinguishable, like two threads, black and white, held at arm's length at twilight. But up close, profound differences are obvious. Seeing the big picture is just as important as seeing the details.

Viewed from a distance, a contemporary Japanese city and a contemporary American city are indistinguishable, like two threads, black and white, held at arm's length at twilight. But up close, profound differences are obvious. Seeing the big picture is just as important as seeing the details.

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4 Responses to “Modernization, Industrialization, Urbanization”

  1. Masami said

    Industrialization Japanese-style: a beautiful crane motif on a sewage access cover in Himeji. is not crane but Sagisou and the picture is upside down…

    • geopolicraticus said

      Thanks for setting me straight. I thought that this was an avian motif, but it was rather a flower (Habenaria radiata) motif. Interestingly, however, the flower is commonly known as the “white egret flower,” so I am not the only one to think that it looks like a bird.

      Best wishes,

      Nick

  2. Brenda Mattick said

    Interesting – but bell-weather should be bell-wether I think …? I grew up on a farm 😉

    • geopolicraticus said

      You’re right. Thanks much for the correction. I have made the appropriate change in the text.

      Best wishes,

      Nick

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