Comparative Studies in Society and History

Debate on Modernization

Tradition/Modernity: An Ideal Type Gone Astray

L. E. Shinera1

a1 Sangamon State University

In a recent essay in this journal Dean C. Tipps subjected the tradition/ modernity concept to a thorough ideological and empirical critique and concluded that the time has come to get rid of it. Although his ideological and empirical analyses were convincing, the methodological remarks at the end of the essay were incomplete. If the contention that we should no longer attempt to revise the tradition/modernity concept is to stick, compelling methodological grounds must be given since ideological bias and empirical inadequacy can in principle be corrected. I want to show that in so far as the tradition/modernity concept is an ideal type, efforts to make it better ‘fit’ the spread of empirical data are in principle wrong. Moreover, efforts to transform the concept into an empirical ranking device or a classificatory system are open to equally serious objections. In order to do this I will first clarify the nature and function of ideal types, empirical types and classification systems.

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