Westernisation And Modernization

Westernisation and modernization vs Traditionalism


The role of Westernisation has been very significant in understanding the socio-cultural changes of modern India. British rule produced radical and lasting changes in the Indian society and culture. TheBritish brought with them, unlike the previous invaders, new technology, institutions, knowledge,beliefs, and values. These have become the main source of social mobility for individuals as well as groups. M.N. Srinivas introduced the term ‘Westernisation’ mainly to explain the changes that have taken place in the Indian society and culture due to the Western contact through the British rule.

During the 19 th century, the British slowly laid the foundations of a modern state by surveying land,settling the revenue, creating a modern bureaucracy, army and police, instituting law courts, codifyingthe law, developing communications  – railways post and telegraph, roads and canals  – establishingschools and colleges and so on. The British brought with them the printing press which led to many-sided changes. Books and journals made possible the transmission of modern as well as traditionalknowledge to large number of Indians. Newspapers helped the people living in the remote corners of the country to realize their common bonds sand to understand the events happening in the worldoutside.

More than anything, the Western education had an impact on the style of living of the people. Theygave up their inhibition towards meat-eating and consumption of alcohol. They also adopted Westernstyle of dress and dining. As Gandhi wrote in his autobiography, educated Indians undertook the task of becoming English gentlemen in their dress, manners, habits, choices, preferences etc. It included evenlearning to appreciate the Western music and participating in ball dancing. Western education resultedin a big change in the outlook of those educated.

Features of Westernisation

  • In comparison to Sanskritisation, Westernisation is a simpler concept. As it is already madeclear, it explains the impact of Western contact on the Indian society and culture.
  • Westernisation implies, according to Srinivas, certain value preferences. The most importantvalue, which in turn subsumes several other values, is humanitarianism. It implies an activeconcern for the welfare of all human being irrespective of caste, economic position, religion, ageand sex. He further observes that equalitarianism and secularization are both included inhumanitarianism.
  • Westernisation not only includes the introduction of new institutions such as newspapers,elections but also fundamental changes in old institutions. For example, India had schools longbefore the arrival of the British. But they were different from the British introduced schools inthat they had been restricted to upper caste children and transmitted mostly traditionknowledge. Other institutions such as army, civil services and law courts were also similarlyaffected.
  • The form and pace of Westernisation of India varied from region to region and from one sectionof population to another. For example, one group of people became westernized in their dress,diet, manners, speech, sports and in the gadgets they used. While another absorbed Westernscience, knowledge, literature, remaining relatively free from certain other aspects of Westernisation.


The term modernisation doe sn’t denote any philosophy or movement, but it only symbolizes a process of change. In fact, Modernisation is understood as a process which indicates the adoption of the modernways of life and values. The term was being used previously to refer only to change in economy and itsrelated effect on social values and practices. It was also described as a process that changed the society,from primarily agricultural to primarily industrial economy. As a result of the change in the economy,the society itself underwent changes in values, beliefs, and norms. But today, the term is given abroader meaning.

Today, the term Modernisation is understood as an attempt, on the part of the people, particularlythose who hare custom-bound, to adopt themselves to the present time, conditions, styles, and ways in general. It indicates a change in people’s food habits, dress habits, speaking styles, tastes, choices, preferences, ideas, values, recreational facilities and so on. It is also described as social change involvingthe elements of science and technology. The scientific and technological inventions have brought aboutremarkable changes in the whole system of social relationship and installed new ideologies in the placeof traditional ones.

Modernisation involves a transformation of social, political and economic organizations. This includesthe transformation indicated by Durkhiem , from ‘mechanical solidarity’ to ‘organic solidarity’; that indicated by Becker , from ‘change – resistant sacred outlook’ to ‘change – ready secular outlook’; that indicated by Weber , from ‘personal bonds’ to ‘impersonal relation’ with bureaucracy; and thetransformation from ‘status based’ relations to ‘contract based’ relation as indic ated by Maine .

Westernisation vs Modernisation

The two terms namely, Westernisation (M.N. Srinivas) and Modernisation (Daniel Lerner) must beunderstood as conceptual tools to understand the nature and character of social changes that havetaken place in the developing countries.

In a broad way it may be said that the concept of Westernisation as used by Srinivas covers:

  • behavioural aspects like eating, drinking, dressing, dancing etc.
  • the knowledge aspects like literature,science etc.
  • the values aspects like humanitarianism, equalitarianism and secularism etc.

The term Modernisation involved a transformation of social, political and economic organisation. As aconcept it is greatly helpful to the sociologists who have been primarily concerned with the process of differentiation that characterized the modern societies. It helps them to know the way in which newstructures arise to assume new functions, how new occupations emerge, how new complex educationinstitutions develop and so on.

Westernisation is mostly a middle class phenomenon whereas Modernisation is a mass process involvingmass media. Thus while the 19 th century Westernisation process was essentially a middle class affairinvolving fashions in speech, clothing, food and drink habits, the modernisation process involves afundamental, deep-seated and widespread change involving attitudes, the development of a rationalistand positivist spirit and the application of the new knowledge to the ways of living it is essentially a massaffair. It involves a fundamental change in social structure from the immutable varna society which is aclosed society to a casteless, classless, open society.

Lerner emphasises that the modernisation process involves the replacement of sacred revelation bysecular enlightenment in the guidance of human affairs. He considers the term Westernisation asinadequate. While westernisation penetrated only the upper level, affecting mainly leisure classfashions, modernisation diffuse among a wider population and touches public institutions as well asprivate aspirations with its diquieting positivist spirit.

Traditionalism vs modernism

Traditions represent the Actual Identity of particular society, while getting rid of them is supposed to be a sign of modernity. Traditions, quite often, keep us United, but modernity, usually, takes us apart from each other.   

A tradition implies an established method or practice; belief or custom, passed on to us by our ancestors. Much of what we do today has its roots in the past. Usual rituals, like the practice of throwing rice over the shoulder and a bride kicking a container of rice before entering her new house after marriage, have their origin in our traditions and are, in no way related to any logic or religion.

Modernism is in total contras with the ideas or methods of the traditional ones. Old, it is said, is gold and should be preserved carefully. But it is also an unavoidable fact that old is to be given up for good to enter the New Era. We cannot go on sticking to our past customs traditions and roots simply because they have come by inheritance.

The world has to move on. Hence the presence of the conflict between the traditional and the modern. What must not be forgotten, however, is that in spite of our desire to be modern, we must maintain a proper balance between the two? Too much observance of traditions and customs is contrary change.

We start believing that there is nothing wrong with them. There is a lot in our ancient customs, still practiced today, that is not only meaningless, but even evidently harmful the modern society. Take for example, the practice of dowry.

In the modern context, dowry is an evil that forces ambitious girls, whose parents are poor, to remain unwed. The practice needs to be done away with entirely. Another evil practice of the same magnitude is the child marriage.






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