Short Essay on Tradition and Modernization

The term ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ are expressions of values which helps us in observing the process of social and cultural transformation in societies as they pass from the ‘primitive’ to ‘pre-industrial’ to ‘industrial’ and ‘post-industrial’ phases of social development.

Modernization is a conceptual tool which social scientists have widely used in analyzing the process as well as the quality of social change. All societies have tradition, but what we describe as ‘traditional societies’ refers to a specific historical phase of social and cultural development.

Traditional societies have substantial degree of differentiation of social strata, divisions between village, town and city, relatively higher level of technology that depends upon wide use of animal energy; have an evolved written literary tradition along with oral cultural tradition. Such societies also have organized systems of polity with differentiation of political, military and religious offices of specialized elite, and a fairly advanced system of trade, commerce, money and banking. The values, beliefs, ways of life, aesthetic and symbolic standards and forms of the society constitute its tradition which maintains continuity with the past. It is this element of continuity which characterizes a social or cultural attribute or value in a society as being traditional. The passage from traditional to modern stage of society initiates major social and cultural transformation.

As society passes from traditional to modern phase of development, the closure of opportunities to status mobility is rendered more and more open. New institutional measures and social forces emerge in society that makes the social system more open. These measures are both cultural and social structural.

Science and technology play an important role in this process, which revolutionizes the outlook of people and also basically alters its production system and economy. These developments coincide, as they did in India, with basic changes in the political system. Traditional Indian society which was anchored on the institutions of caste ‘feudalistic and other-worldly outlook and values on life underwent major changes through the rise of national movement for freedom.

The establishment of the democratic Indian republic cherishing the values of secularism, socialism and democracy challenged the traditional values of caste inequalities. The key to this process is the exposure of Indian society and its elite to the culture of science, technology and democracy in the West. The new institutions of education, law and justice, industry and commerce, health and medicine, transport and communication etc. were introduced. They ushered new processes of social and cultural changes in society. These came into contact with Western values of rationalism, science and technology which the British colonial administration introduced in India mainly for the consolidation of a colony, but which had new and unexpected outcome in the rise of cultural renaissance in India and the national freedom movement.