In India, modernization really means westernization

(Post) colonialism and global history

Ursula Lehmkuhl

To person

Dr. phil., born 1962; Professor of International History, Department III, University of Trier, 54286 Trier. [email protected]

Colonialism and modernization are inextricably linked. The experiences of colonialism have triggered innovation processes - but also produced modernization without development.

The thesis of colonialism as a medium or vehicle for the modernization of the non-European world has been discussed since the 1960s. More recent works have argued that both processes - colonialism and modernization - are inextricably linked. [1] "Colonialism is what modernity was all about," explains Nicholas Dirks, referring in particular to the historical fact that the European nation-state, as a political sign of modernity, first emerged in the course of the expansion and conquest processes in the 18th century and did so before especially at the expense of premodern societies. [2] Ann Stoler wrote the dictum of the colonies as "laboratories of modernity", [3] which now characterizes the discussion of the connection between colonialism and modernization as a leitmotif. Both positions relate to the problems raised by postcolonial research perspectives and the question of the interweaving of European and non-European history of the interdependence of the emergence and global dissemination of ideas and institutions of European modernity - through and with the establishment of European colonial rule.

There are two other positions and perspectives with which the topic of "modernization through colonialism" is discussed: On the one hand, historical research examines the extent to which European colonial rule actually contributed to the modernization of colonial societies. The focus is on the development of modern political, economic and social structures as well as the infrastructural and technological development of the colonies during colonial rule. Second, from a more political science perspective, the question arises of how sustainable such developments were and what effects the modernization efforts of European colonialism had on the societies affected after the end of colonial rule. What is the connection between structural underdevelopment and colonial rule? How do colonial economic structures continue to have an effect after decolonization and what contributes to their perpetuation? What role do postcolonial elites play? Attention was drawn to the imperialism of decolonization. [4] In connection with the debate about failed states, the thesis of a possible path dependency between colonial experience and state failure is discussed. [5]

Whether and in what way colonialism can be viewed as a source of progress and civilization will be discussed below along these three perspectives. First of all, key concepts that guide the discussion - modernization / modernity and civilization / civilization - should be outlined.

Civilization and civilization. Civilization refers to the living conditions made possible by the progress of science and technology and created by politics and business, the spread and differentiation of which can be observed in European societies since the end of the 18th century. In the context of European colonialism and imperialism, the concept was semantically expanded and reassessed. Here civilization is used as the opposite of barbarism. In this way the notion of "uncivilized non-European" societies, to which the "European civilized" society was confronted, was able to establish and solidify.

In this semantic extension, civilization also describes the process of cultural subjugation of the colonies. The efforts for a comprehensive Christianization, the establishment of modern communication and means of transport as well as a modern bureaucracy, the advancement of state school education and the enforcement of uniform legislation and the enforcement of uniform legislation and the application of the law go far beyond the establishment of formal colonial rule. In this respect, civilization means the comprehensive Europeanization of colonial worlds, along a European self-image that is defined as civilized, hygienic and Christian through the negative demarcation from the outside, from the foreign, the "barbaric".

Modernity and modernization. In the self-image described in the 18th and 19th centuries, civilization is conceptually congruent with the concept of modernity. Towards the end of the 19th century, modernity was synonymous in Europe, Asia, Africa and Russia for the scientific-technical and political-administrative achievements on which the major European powers based their power and wealth. Modernization was accordingly understood as the appropriation of the foundations of Western prosperity and Western power. [6]

It is interesting that this understanding of modernization, which is particularly characteristic of the colonial elites of Asia, corresponds to the concept of modernization on which sociological theories of modernization are based. Theories of modernization are based on the assumption that obstacles to development are not so much caused by economic deficits, but are the result of the idiosyncrasies and values ​​of traditional societies. Reasons for underdevelopment are thus endogenous factors, such as a lack of willingness to invest, corruption, mismanagement, lack of good governance. The basics of this train of thought can already be found in Max Weber. [7] The core of the modernization theories is thus the postulated contrast between "modern" and "traditional" world. Here, modernization refers to the irreversible process of transforming traditional societies through technological and scientific innovation. [8] The central features of this process included the increase in industrial production, sustained economic growth, increasing involvement in supranational contexts, bureaucratisation, social and political mobilization, socio-structural differentiation and specialization, an increase in the level of education or lower birth and death rates.

Based on this positive understanding of modernization, the phenomenon of imperialism has long been seen as a regrettable side effect of the a priori positive path to modernization through contact with the West. [9] This obscured the analytical view of the negative consequences of the transformation processes initiated by colonialism, which often resulted in chronic crises and caused the phenomenon of "modernization without development". [10] Because under the colonial systems a very one-sided economic structure was often developed. Modern extraction and export economies were built without modernizing the territorial economy as a whole.

This is where approaches critical of modernization come in, such as the dependency theory developed in Latin American scientific discourses in the 1960s. It has been argued that external factors that can historically be traced back to European colonial rule permanently assign developing countries a structurally stable subordinate position in the world economy. The European colonial rule had aligned the economies of the societies concerned one-sidedly to the needs of the colonial powers and thus also blocked their development opportunities.

This unfavorable power relationship persists even after decolonization, so that the former colonial regions continue to appear only as the economic periphery of the classic industrialized countries that function as metropolises. [11] Integration into the world market, the activity of multinational corporations, and continued recruitment as mere raw material exporters solidified the dependent position of the developing countries on the periphery of the world economy instead of improving it - as assumed by modernization theories. The internal economic structure of the developing countries was permanently deformed and distorted as a result of this and by culturally reshaped local elites who continued to serve the interests of the metropolises or who continued economic exploitation for the purpose of their own enrichment through the establishment of autocratic structures of rule. [12]

The consequences of political modernization through the export of the European state model are also critically discussed and made historically responsible for structural political crises and their consequences. [13]

Postcolonial criticism of the modernization paradigm

The idea of ​​modernity or modernization and its position in sociological theory formation has been subjected to a fundamental criticism in the context of the debates under the heading of post-colonialism. Social science theories of modernity or modernization are fundamentally Eurocentric and are based on at least two false assumptions, namely the fundamental break between modernity and earlier, traditional forms of organization and the difference between Europe and the rest of the world. [14]

This criticism opened the analytical view of colonial resistance to European attempts at modernization and drew attention to the fact that impulses from the West in the non-Western world have not only led to mere imitations of a hegemonic civilization, but also as a result of specific appropriation and defense processes on specific manifestations of modernity in the different colonial regions. [15]

Finally, modernization processes were also taken into consideration, which were independent of the European colonial presence, as it were, as an indigenous form of modernization triggered by non-colonial forms of cultural contact. In Asian societies, for example, the natural and engineering sciences of the West were not only viewed as instruments of foreign rule, but were also adapted as universal cognitive tools.

While research in the 1970s focused in particular on the economic consequences of the modernization of industry, finance and trade, the research contributions of the 1990s and 2000s were mainly devoted to cultural topics. Without this being able to be extended here in the necessary differentiation, it remains to be stated that current research on colonial history is characterized by competing ideas of modernity. On the one hand, modernity traditionally appears as the result of objective, universal processes.

In contrast, an understanding of modernity has established itself, particularly in the context of research influenced by cultural studies, which places it in the field of the imaginary. Such a political and economic concept of modernity runs the risk of ignoring central aspects of the colonial world. The interventions of European colonial powers aimed at civilization and modernization were pervaded by questions of power, questions of law and the distribution of material life opportunities in colonial societies.

Modernization without colonialism

Colonialism describes a system of economic and political rule by a state over regions outside its own borders. Colonialism is shaped by the efforts of the colonial powers to open up new settlement and economic areas and to expand their power base. In this respect, colonialism represents the first stage of globalization under European conditions. [16] Europe, so the central thesis of Jürgen Osterhammel, was for two or three centuries in an economic, political and cultural sense the primary world-regulating force. It was the center of global order. [17] By 1900 at the latest, Europe was omnipresent as "West" or "Western civilization" in the consciousness of non-European elites. [18]

Europe, the West or Western civilization thus developed into a model in many ways - regardless of the ambitions and interventions of European colonial powers. In the 19th century, especially in India, Japan and China, but also in Russia, we can observe a Europeanization of the elitist worlds. China and Japan are examples of the modernization of non-European cultural states without colonialism, simply by adopting and processing Western technology, Western material and intellectual achievements. The Asians and Africans themselves were the main drivers of modernization. In all cases, the Europeanization of elitist worlds led to a widening of the cultural gap between the haves and the educated and the lower folk. Offers of meaningfulness could not be integrated into everyday village or rural life and led to resistance to the demands of modernity.

On one point, however, the reformers who were striving to modernize the existing social order were relatively unanimous. Europe and the West were role models with regard to the relatively favorable position of women in the family. The West became the benchmark for the fight against abuse, trafficking in women, forced marriage or the Chinese custom of ankle tying. The public education system, especially in Germany and France, found recognition and imitation in Asia at the turn of the century, especially in Japan. [19]

Without a doubt, Japan should be highlighted as a special case of the Europeanization of elitist worlds. The driving forces of the Meiji restoration (from 1868) played skillfully with the modernization kit and selected those elements from the existing sample collection of modernity elements that were most beneficial to the political goal of integrating Japan into the West, regardless of whether these elements could be communicated socially . While Japan also looked to the USA, India's efforts to modernize were based entirely on the British model. [20]

Research in South Asia has pointed to the dialectic of the modernization of traditional societies since the 1960s. It was found that the boundaries between modern and traditional societies are less clear than usually assumed. [21] In his study of social communication in India, for example, Christopher Bayly showed that pre-colonial social communication was already modern in many ways. Public debates were stimulated and controlled through the publication and use of newspapers. There were libraries and archives which, as indigenous information systems, structured public action. [22] However, when confronted with foreign rule, which relied on European achievements in science and technology to justify colonialism, the Indians were forced to construct their own modernity. South Asian modernity was a complex product of the interaction between native and European information systems. [23] In contrast to Japan and China, modernity in India did not appear primarily as a technological development, but was translated here into a civilizational worldview that was partly militant. [24]

The introduction of modern elements such as roads, railways, ports and sewers in Africa, on the other hand, was often only a by-product of economic exploitation or the inevitable protection of the ruling white colonial oligarchy (such as hospitals, disease control). Approaches to independent modernization were often nipped in the bud by colonial powers in Africa. [25]

Modernization and Colonial Resistance

Around 1900, Europe exercised "an unprecedented degree of colonial rule, quasi-colonial influence and a kind of hegemony over modern sectors of the economy" in Asia and Africa. [26] However, there were also resistant zones and residual resistance all the way up to the vigorously practiced resistance that was met with Europeans, especially in Asia. [27] The scholars and intellectuals played a special role as public opinion leaders in their respective societies. Many advocated and supported the modernization process initiated by colonial rule. But there was also resistance to the forces of westernization - resistance which also led to the invention of one's own traditions as an instrument of self-assertion against the forces of European colonialism. [28] Chinese intellectuals did not see it as a contradiction to agitate against Western imperialism and at the same time recommend the adoption of Western science in all areas. [29]

Indian scholars and intellectuals aggressively exposed the contradictions of the European rhetoric of civilization in their struggle for self-assertion. While the colonial powers postulated the equality of human rights and duties in line with the ideas of the European Enlightenment, they insisted on the institutionalization of difference in their ruling practice.Representatives of the African educational elite - as Kirsten Rüther showed in her contribution "Global interaction and regional differentiation - mutual perception between 'Europe' and 'Africa" ​​"at the Historikertag 2012 - often dealt with such contradictions with subversive and ironic strategies.

Innovation and development through cultural transfer

Until the 1990s, the question of the global export of European culture was the focus of research interest. This perspective has been influenced by voices from the formerly colonized countries and the perspectives of the Postcolonial Studies postponed. The endeavor to establish the new approach of a transnational social history went hand in hand with the postulate to provincialize the history of Europe. To the extent that questions of transfer history have gained in importance, the question of the interactions between colonized and colonized people moved into the focus of historiography. The export-oriented one-way street model was initially replaced by a perspective of a foreign view of Europe. [30]

Today, work on processes of cultural translation paves the way for historical research into the complex global processes of interaction and exchange that have contributed to the historical change in the social, cultural, economic and political context of all those involved. [31] The power-political enforcement of processes of appropriation and defense between societies and cultures is also examined. [32]

The spread and transfer of knowledge (ideas, experiences) between different spatial units determines the history of human development. Development and innovation are only conceivable through constant cultural contact and exchange. Innovation is essentially the result of transfer, dissemination and translation processes. [33] The circulation of ideas, the constitution of epistemic communities, the international dissemination of legal orders or ideological reference systems, hierarchical or horizontal, rather spontaneously organized lines of communication, interpretations, re-interpretations, misunderstandings and myths are among the mechanisms that trigger change and innovation and transform societies .

For the analysis of the complexity of these movements and the accompanying learning and transfer processes, it is important to take up the perspectives of intercultural transfer and intercultural comparison as well as diffusion and learning theories and to further develop them theoretically. Translation research, in particular the concepts of cultural and conceptual translation, offers starting points for this. [34] The investigation of the ambivalences and the dialectics of colonialism and progress, civilization and modernization require an analytical approach that takes into account power asymmetries, misunderstandings, failed communication and failed transfers as well as the reflexivity of cultural exchange and the interweaving of European history and colonial history, through which the colonial Experience has become an inescapable element of everyday western life.

This article first appeared in "From Politics and Contemporary History (APuZ 44–45 / 2012): Colonialism".