Introduction to Social Science: Traditional Versus Modern Societies

Introduction to Social Science: Traditional Versus Modern Societies

Throughout history; society has progressed to attain notable achievements despite impeding obstacles. Today, many diverse individuals enjoy a plethora of rights and freedoms that had not existed in the past. Change is essential since it fosters new opportunities and our understanding of society is much different than individuals who had lived prior to the industrial revolution. Tradition and modernity are two differing principles which continue to manifest in North American society. Across the world, there have been societies which have retained these traditional values and others which have shifted either partially or completely towards a modern society. There are a plethora of opinions in regard to this phenomenon, and this essay recognizes each viewpoint. In my paper, I will argue that elements of the modern capitalist society have enabled society to flourish due to its expansion in the economy,
emergence of the welfare state and the introduction of globalization. Furthermore, this paper seeks to compare and contrast the two different societies while highlighting their main principles.

Overview: Traditional vs. Modern Societies
The first type of society to be examined is known as the traditional society (Conlin,p. 187)This type of society is defined by a strict division of labour, arranged marriages and family honour. In a traditional society, specific roles existed for both men and women and young and old. Men were the breadwinners in the family whereas women were confined to domestic roles of childrearing and housekeeping. In this society, the family is the basic unit. The family is viewed as the welfare state in traditional society and the obligations towards the family never change regardless of age. Prestige is highly valued in a traditional society as it is an indicator of good status. The task of every member in the family is to constantly enhance the family’s prestige as
opposed to degrading its level of prestige. Respect, honour and approval are directly connected to the family level as it is on an individual level. (T.Comlin, personal communication, Oct.2012)

Each member of the family is required to marry and propagate with other persons of equal or higher status. Marriage to a person of lower status was strictly forbidden in traditional societies. The reason for this is due to the fact that the purposes of such marriages are to strengthen the position of the family. Thus, marriages are very carefully planned as it is arranged to the overall well-being of the family. In addition, each individual in a traditional
society is expected to differ to another individual of higher status which is ascribed at birth. The young differ to the old, women differ to men and everyone differs to God. Ambition in this type of society is not a virtue due to the fact that it is seen as disrupting order. (T. Conlin, personal communication, Oct.2012)

The traditional society has a closed belief value system which is primarily based on superstitions. This inevitably leads to a rejection of anything considered “new” or “foreign” ideals and values as they are revered with deep suspicion. The second society to emerge is known as the modern society. In this type of society, freedom is considered to be central and there is an opposition towards forces which attempt to oppress us of these freedoms. Upward mobility is valued as opposed to a traditional society in which you are ascribed a status at birth and throughout your entire life. In this view, position can be attained through efficacy and achievements. Moreover, belief in entitlement and happiness are stressed in this type of society in contrast to the traditional society which disregarded enjoyment in life. (Terry Conlin, personal communication, Oct.2,2012)

Self-indulgence of modernity had replaced the older work ethic and frugality of the traditional society. Prestige in modern society is connected to an individual’s earnings and possessions as opposed to the traditional society which states that prestige is based on occupation. It is also important to consider the role of religion in these two contrasting societies.

Firstly, the general consensus in a traditional society is that God was the head of everything and thus citizens were more religious. In fact, many of their principles and ideas had emerged from religion. For example, debt was literally considered a sin in traditional societies. (Terry Conlin, personal communication, Oct.2, 2012)

Freedom, achievement, independence and autonomy are highly esteemed in this type of society. There is a general belief that each individual is capable of making their own choices and whether or not these are wise or foolish choices are completely up to the individual in question. Respect is earned and both class and hierarchy are considered to be alien. In addition, the concept of romantic love is widely established in the modern society. Individuals in this society are free to choose their own partner at will since family is not the main importance. In contrast, the traditional society mandates that marriage has a specific purpose of creating a family and to continue the ancestral clan. Thus, “romantic love” is not considered an essential component since it does not hold any basis in the traditional view of marriage. Furthermore, this is also connected to the fact that religion was highly esteemed in traditional society. If one were to shun marriage, it would be seen as akin to shunning God. By that same token, getting a divorce from your spouse was also considered a sin and act of displeasing God. Compare these attitudes to the modern behaviours in which nearly half of the population are found to be divorced.(T.Comlin, personal communication, Oct.2,2012)

Modern society is also based on individualism as opposed to collectivism in a traditional society. Technology and change are embraced and not feared. Bell has argued three major factors which greatly shape the modern society. Firstly, modernity is a result of the development of mass production. Second, marketing plays a role and thirdly: the development of credit. According to Polanyi, the modern society as we know it had begun with the implement of the “self-regulating free market economy”. In his views, there was no such thing as economy in a traditional society. Instead, economic life had embedded within and had also been subjected to rules of social life. Thus, modernity had emerged with the arrival of capitalism. It is inevitable that the capitalist society had devalued many of the older mores of the traditional society. The capitalist society of today dictates that each individual is striving to get ahead and accumulate both wealth and capital. This is in stark contrast to the traditional societies which was less competitive overall.(Terry Conlin, personal communication, Oct.2, 2012)

Three Main Facets of a Capitalist Modern Society
The three main changes that have been witnessed with the shift towards a modern capitalist society include the following: advancements in the economy, the introduction of globalization and the emergence of a welfare state. Each aspect has contributed to the overall advancements in society. The following is an overview of these three main aspects. Throughout history, cultural and societal mores have dictated how individuals act and react on a day-to-day
basis. However, with the development of capitalism, many began to speculate this would desecrate the very fabric of morality and traditionalism in society. The modern capitalist society as we know it today is not inherently bad. Many individuals in this society are granted many freedoms which were unheard of in the past. For example, women are able to seek other avenues of employment and not strictly confined to the domestic atmosphere. It is evident that women in the past had little to no opportunities for self-growth and roles in the workforce. Most women were encouraged from birth to simply get married and fulfill the domestic role of mother. Career-seeking was reserved for men exclusively as they were seen as the sole breadwinners in society. (T.Conlin, personal communication, October 2, 2012)

However, this is certainly not to say that women during this time had lacked the ambition and drive to seek careers for themselves. It is simply due to the fact that the cultural mores of traditionalism had impeded them from doing so. When the environment we live in dictates what roles we are to seek, it eventually becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy. Women in the traditional society were ascribed this status and role from birth and this led to the division of labour. It is possible to imagine a myriad of potential doctors, engineers and scientists during this time. Thus, I believe that the modern society of today benefits since women are a contributing force to the economy. As women are capable of entering higher ranking professions, there are more opportunities for growth and development. The economy had begun to thrive and prosper as they had played an important role.

The second major change that has emerged with a modern capitalist society is the introduction of globalization. Although globalization has existed long before the modern capitalist society as we know it today, its overall dynamic has changed. The phenomena of globalization must be understood as an abstract concept. This is due to the fact that it comprised of an intricate ideology and is a basic reflection of society. Foreign trade had boosted the global economy and enabled and quickly increased employment rates in impoverished nations. This can be exemplified via the notorious Multinational corporations which have created jobs for needy individuals. In sum, globalization has been a vehicle which has helped to sustain development in third world nations. It had also enabled information to be exchanged more quickly and made life more convenient overall. According to Cox,”the forces that sustained the complex of tendencies just mentioned came to be regarded as inevitable and in the long run beneficent, at least for some people”(Cox,
The third major charge is the emergence of a social welfare state. It has been established that a welfare state in a traditional society had little to no presence. This was due to the fact that your position in society was ascribed to you at birth and there was little to no options for mobility. Instead of the welfare state as we know it today, citizens of a pre-modern society had relied on the church and family as a means of support. There was a general consensus that your current struggles were a result of fate and God had a predetermined destiny for each citizen. (T.Comlin, personal communication, Oct.2012)The welfare state of Canada as we know it today has established great strides to safeguard stable levels of employment and income for individuals. Contrary to traditionalism which dictated family was the sole provider of well-being, the social welfare state in capitalist modern society was a response to the growing rates of poverty and labour abuses. This newly developed phenomenon had enabled individuals to gain control of their social well-being. Thus, it can be argued that the social welfare state is an important vehicle for aiding in the growth of economy. As more citizens were able to attain different forms of income security systems, the employment rates began to increase. The different social assistance programs during a post-industrial society include but are not limited to: Canadian Pension Plan, Unemployment insurance, old age security, Guaranteed income supplement, Social Assistance, Child Tax Credit and Guaranteed income supplement.(Conlin, page 43, par.4) These new systems had meant that individuals began to gain more autonomy from the family as the government now played a larger role.

Overall, I feel more sympathetic towards the modern societies as this society has opened doors on both a macro-level and a micro-level. On a macro-level, there are increased levels of growth in the North American and global economies. On a micro-level, there exists a myriad of opportunities for marginalized groups in society. A developed economy, globalization and the existence of the welfare state are all examples of a modern capitalist society. Each of these aspects interconnects with another. For example, globalization may indeed display a potential to create a stronger economy for impoverished nations. It can certainly be argued that change is the main distinction between the traditional and modern society. Today, a general
consensus dictates that we must be open-minded and accept the fact that change is a positive facet in society. Nevertheless, it is by the means in which change is utilized and in essence, change must illustrate potential to benefit the greater good of society.

Cox, R.W. (1997). A perspective on Globalization