Neo-modernization? IR and the inner life of modernization theory

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Since the putative end of the Cold War, modernization is increasingly reimagined as a global process - as an expanding liberal zone of peace, a global civil society, or as emerging forms of global governance. Thus, new forms of modernization theory, what we call neo-modernization, have emerged as important theories of International Relations (IR). Such a convergence of events and theory permit us to examine the logical overlap between IR and modernization theory. IR fails to herald a unique contribution to social theory because it persistently avoids and denies the historical problem from which it surfaces, namely, the problem of what to do about cultural difference. Modernization theory provides an essential contribution to IR's avoidance of this central problem. While modernization theory implicitly relies on IR's freezing of difference into geopolitical containers, it also projects a natural and universal developmental sequence through which all cultures must pass. In this way modernization theory anticipates the eventual total homogenizing of difference into sameness. Surprisingly, while partners with IR in the joint venture to contain and then eradicate difference, modernization theory also offers an alternative vision. This recessive theme, what we call an ethnological politics of comparison, has the potential to transform IR into the science and art of facing, understanding and addressing difference.

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European Journal of International Relations

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