The concept of Westernization

M.N. Srinivas criticizes learners concept of modernization of the ground that it is a value loaded term. According to him, “modernization is normally used in the sense that it is good. He, therefore, prefers using the term ‘westernization’ to characterize the changes brought about in India society and culture as result of over 150 years of British rule. He further observes that ‘the term subsumes changes accruing at different levels – technology, institutions, ideology, values. By way of developing his concept he says that westernization not only introduces new institutions but also results ‘in fundamental changes in the old institutions. Westernization also implies, according to him, certain values preference’ – an important value being humanitarianism by which is meant an active concern for the welfare of all human brings irrespective of caste, economic position, religion, age and sex’. He observes further that equalitarianism and secularization are both included in humanitarianism and that as British rule progressed rationality and humanitarianism become broader, deeper and more power, and the years since the achievement of independent have seen a remarkable increase – a genuine leap forward – in the extension of both.

He considers it necessary to distinguish conceptually between westernization and two other processes usually concomitant with it – industrialization and urbanization. He advances the following reasons for doing so:

  • Urbanization is not a simple function of industrialization and there were cities in the pre-industrial world also
  • There are cases of rural people who are more urbanized than urban people.

Daniel Lerner has raised the following objections to the use of the term westernization as conceived by Srinivas (i) it is too local a label and the model which is limited may not be a western country but Russia (ii) Anti – colonial feeling prompts some societies to ignore certain behavioral and institutional compulsions common to all countries (Europe, America and Russia) which have achieved modernization and try instead new routes and risky by passes (iii) one of the results of prolonged contact with the west is the rice of an elite class whose attitude to the west is ambivalent. In this context, Learner refers to the appeal of communism is non-western countries (iv) while there are certain common elements in westernization, each European country along with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand represents a particular variant of a common culture and significant differences exist between one country and another (v) Westernization in one area or level of behavior does not result in westernization in another related area of level. The two remain discrete.

Besides, the concept of westernization is not really ‘ethically neutral’ as claimed by Srinivas, He himself says that it implies certain values references, such as humanitarianism, equalitarianism, secularization, and a degree of rationalism does not reference to these values carry the implication that westernization is in general good and desirable?

Moreover, does not the western model sometimes convey values contrary to these? What about race prejudice, color segregation and exploitative nature of the western economy? Do not these facts contradict humanitarian ideals or rational outlooks on life?

Further, it the contents of westernization are not clearly spelled out in specific terms, the concept will be of little use in explaining the nature of social change taking place in past independent India. Professor Srinivas in aware of this limitation when he ways. I am using it deliberately in site of its vagueness and omnibus character.