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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: July 2017

Chapter 2 - Edward Tiryakian and Modernization Theory: A Very Special Relationship


Anyone familiar with developments in the field of social theory during the last two or three decades should not have much difficulty in coming to terms with the contributions of Edward A. Tiryakian. In addition to the fact that his style of writing is as elegant as his arguments are precise, he obviously never leaves his readers in the dark with respect to which theoretical camp he belongs. Tiryakian was one of the first authors who theorized the geopolitical sea change after 1989, claiming that many of the assumptions upon which dependency theorists—such as the early Fernando Henrique Cardoso or world systems analysts such as Immanuel Wallerstein—had built their arguments, have turned out to be false so that there is time for rethinking macrosociology. Frequently quoting Talcott Parsons's work, Tiryakian seemed to have argued that, despite some major problems, the basic structure of classical modernization theory as developed in the 1950s and 1960s is not completely defunct and thus could be transformed in a fruitful way, leading to a new theoretical paradigm, which he suggested calling “‘Modernisation II’, or alternatively, ‘Neo-Modernisation Analysis’” (Tiryakian 1991: 171–72).

In his attempt to restructure modernization theory Tiryakian was certainly not alone; he had quite a few companions all over the world, from Jeffrey Alexander and Paul Colomy in the United States to Piotr Sztompka in Poland or Wolfgang Zapf in Germany, all of whom tried to continue and to renew either the Parsonian legacy or the modernization approach and, by doing so, to come to a new and more fruitful understanding of social change (Alexander 1998; Sztompka 1993; Zapf 1991). And although it is not too difficult to find at least some differences between Tiryakian's endeavor on the one hand and the attempts of his colleagues just mentioned on the other, this should not prevent one from categorizing Tiryakian in terms of social theory: He is no Marxist, to be sure, no Postmodernist, no Critical Theorist and no follower of radical systems analysis a la Niklas Luhmann.