Convergence theory predicts that cultures worldwide will gradually grow increasingly similar due to globalization.
According to this theory, the further nations progress along their industrialization journey towards becoming fully industrialized powers, they will increasingly emulate other developed countries in terms of technology and cultural norms.
So, as countries become increasingly linked and globalized, they will tend to imitate each other’s governmental systems (such as democracy rather than communism), economic models (capitalism, socialism, or a blend of both), and collective values.
Such a convergence process is believed to lead to a more homogenous world where nations and societies are increasingly similar.
Definition of the Convergence Theory
The convergence theory states that as the world continues to develop, expansion in technology and globalization will cause cultures around the globe to increasingly become more similar in a process called cultural convergence (Hess, 2016).
Over time, such a convergence of diverse social groups could lead to a unified global society with greater uniformity amongst its members.
According to Wilensky (2002),
“…convergence theory is the idea that as rich countries got richer, they developed similar economic, political, and social structures and to some extent common values and beliefs” (p. 3).
Bryant and Peck (2007) state that “the industrialization process is so strong it substantially transforms any society that is industrializing” (p. 189).
In other words, globalization and increased economic integration are believed to lead to a more homogenous world where different nations and societies become increasingly similar regarding their economic, political, and cultural practices.
Convergence theory provides a helpful lens for studying sociological topics such as socioeconomic development, modernization, and globalization.
Overall, convergence theory is a helpful tool for understanding the effects that increased global interconnectedness can have on societies and cultures worldwide.
10 Examples of Convergence Theory
- The spread of the English language: As countries become more intertwined, English has risen to the top as a global language of commerce, education, and communication. For example, in numerous nations worldwide, it is now employed as an aviation lingua franca, while many international businesses also rely on it when corresponding. In essence, English is the bridge that brings people from around the globe together.
- The rise of high-tech industries: As the world progresses and countries become more interconnected, they often follow similar industrial trends. For instance, biotechnology and information technology are two sectors in which many nations invest heavily; The United States and China both devote considerable resources to cyberspace security research.
- The increase of democracy: For a long time, democracy was considered a concept exclusive to the Western world and was only prevalent in European and American countries. Nonetheless, it has spread to many other nations in recent decades, indicating a trend toward the convergence of political systems toward democracy.
- The spread of consumer culture: The expansion of consumer culture has been accelerated by globalization, leading to an almost worldwide standardization in the types of products consumed. Today, many people worldwide go to McDonald’s, shop at Walmart, and wear clothing made by Nike.
- Religious convergence: As interfaith dialogue and progressive religious movements gain traction, we have begun to see a convergence of beliefs and spiritual practices across cultures. This shift towards accepting different faiths can lead to greater understanding among people from various backgrounds, fostering an environment where diversity is respected and celebrated.
- Social convergence: As countries become more interconnected, they adopt similar social norms and values. It is evident in attitudes toward gender, marriage, and sexuality. So, in some respects, societies are becoming more alike.
- The rise of the middle class: Countries worldwide are increasingly experiencing growth in their middle classes, leading to a convergence of lifestyles and behaviors.
- The spread of mass media: As nations become more interrelated, they often adopt comparable preferences regarding the media they consume. It can result in a more integrated global culture and a greater mutual understanding of diverse cultures.
- The spread of education: Globalization has seen an increased spread of education across the world. Now, many countries are adopting the UK and US systems of education and teaching methods, leading to greater convergence in educational practices.
- The prevalence of global health: The increased spread of medical knowledge and the emergence of international health programs has led to a more unified approach to health care across nations. For example, more countries are adopting the World Health Organization’s guidelines and standards for health.
Origins and History of Convergence Theory
In the mid-1960s, American sociologist Clark Kerr introduced a groundbreaking concept – the theory of convergence. It asserted that societies around the globe were continuously becoming more and more alike despite diverse cultural backgrounds (Brubaker, 2022).
Kerr believed that this process was being driven by changes in technology, communication, and transportation that allowed for increased international trade and collaboration.
He argued that homogenizing cultures would create a utopian world without conflicts and disparities (Brubaker, 2022).
Kerr’s ideas were developed further by other sociologists in the late 20th century. These theorists argued that convergence was more than just a simple process and could have a tangible impact on how societies interact.
The technological version of Galbraith’s “convergence” has also gained wide popularity. He linked the future of the industrial system with the convergence of two systems – capitalist and socialist (Mishra, 1976).
Galbraith explained the inevitability of “convergence” because the large scale of production, characteristic of developed capitalist and socialist countries, requires an approximately similar planning and organization system.
One of the options for convergence was proposed by the outstanding Dutch mathematician and economist Tinbergen, who put forward the theory of “optimal order” (Don, 2019).
According to Tinbergen, as a result of the synthesis of both systems – some elements of “capitalist efficiency” and “socialist equality” – an “optimal system” is formed, the main principles of which are the peaceful coexistence and business cooperation of states (Don, 2019).
Today, convergence theory is used to understand the effects of globalization and how it impacts different societies. It also explains why specific trends, such as consumer culture and democracy, have become more prevalent in recent years.
Overall, convergence theory has become essential for understanding the forces shaping our world today.
Convergence Theory vs. Divergence Theory
Convergence theory seeks to explain how societies become more alike, while divergence theory accounts for the ways in which they grow increasingly distinct.
Convergence theory suggests that countries adopt similar social norms and values as they become more interconnected (Hess, 2016).
On the other hand, divergence theory claims that as societies move further from each other geographically and culturally, they become increasingly dissimilar (Brubaker, 2022).
So, while some countries embrace same-sex marriage as an accepted form of union, other nations condemn it entirely. Divergence theorists explain this difference due to two societies growing apart and developing distinct values.
Ultimately, divergence and convergence theories explain how societies change over time. While the former focuses on differences between cultures, the latter focuses on similarities that might arise from increased global connections.
Importance of Convergence Theory
Convergence is not just one of the hobbies or inventions but a requirement of the time associated with the search for socio-economic alternatives.
In particular, the 2020 economic crunch made it clear that the world could not adequately respond under the existing socio-economic model since its structure is based on methodological individualism.
Thus, the idea of the adherents of convergence was confirmed that the market form of economy applies only to a part of socio-economic relations and, in many cases, turns out to be harmful and powerless.
Furthermore, convergence theory also has implications for social cohesion and stability in any community.
As societies become more similar, there may be less social tension and conflict as people share similar values, beliefs, and practices, promoting social harmony and reducing the risk of civil unrest.
Notably, convergence theory can encourage international cooperation and collaboration. It suggests that countries can learn from each other’s experiences and adopt best practices to promote growth and development.
Critique of Convergence Theory
As convergence theory has become highly regarded in many fields, it is still subject to criticism since ignores cultural and historical differences, overlooks power and inequality, and oversimplifies complexity.
1. It Ignores Cultural and Historical Differences
Convergence theory assumes that all societies will converge towards similar values, beliefs, and practices as they become more modern or more connected to the global economy.
However, this assumption ignores that different societies have unique cultural and historical backgrounds that shape their development differently (Hay & Couldry, 2011).
For example, the modernization process in Japan has been very different from that in India or Brazil.
2. It Overlooks the role of Power and Inequality
Convergence theory often overlooks the role of power and inequality in shaping social change.
Furthermore, it disregards the fact that many societies may move in different directions, with some populations more likely to experience advantages from convergence than others.
3. It Oversimplifies Complexity
Convergence theory tends to oversimplify the complex social, economic, and political processes that shape social change.
This idea presumes that all societies will progress towards the same goal, regardless of any distinctions in economic standings or governmental systems.
In reality, many factors influence the development of societies, making it difficult to predict which direction a community will take accurately (Form, 1979).
So, while convergence theory may help understand broad trends, it cannot account for the unique characteristics of different societies or the subtle interactions between various factors.
Convergence theory predicts that as the world becomes increasingly globalized, cultures worldwide will gradually grow more similar.
This theory argues that technological, economic, and political developments lead to a convergence of social structures and cultural norms.
The convergence process could lead to a unified global society with greater uniformity among its members, thus providing a helpful lens for studying topics such as socioeconomic development, modernization, and globalization.
Its origins are traced back to the mid-1960s when Clark Kerr states that societies around the globe were continuously becoming more and more alike due to technological, communication, and transportation advancements.
Today, convergence theory is a valuable tool for understanding the effects of increased global interconnectedness on societies and cultures worldwide.
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Bryant, C. D., & Peck, D. L. (2007). 21st century sociology: A reference handbook. Thousand Oaks Sage Publications.
Don, F. J. H. (2019). The influence of Jan Tinbergen on Dutch economic policy. De Economist, 167(3), 259–282. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10645-019-09333-1
Form, W. (1979). Comparative industrial sociology and the convergence hypothesis. Annual Review of Sociology, 5, 1–25. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2945945
Hay, J., & Couldry, N. (2011). Rethinking convergence/culture. Cultural Studies, 25(4-5), 473–486. https://doi.org/10.1080/09502386.2011.600527
Hess, P. N. (2016). Economic growth and sustainable development. London: Abingdon.
Mishra, R. (1976). Convergence theory and social change: The development of welfare in Britain and the Soviet Union. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 18(1), 28–56. https://www.jstor.org/stable/178161
Wilensky, H. L. (2002). Rich democracies. Univesity of California Press.