11 Contemporary Theories of Modernity

11 Contemporary Theories of Modernity - Contemporary...

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Contemporary Sociological Theory Contemporary Theories of Modernity Most classical sociologists were engaged in an analysis and critique of modern society. For Marx, modernity was defined by the capitalist economy. To Weber, the defining problem of the modern world was the expansion of formal rationality at the expense of the other types of rationality. In Durkheim's view, organic solidarity and the weakening of the collective consciousness defined modernity. Simmel, while sometimes seen as a postmodernist, investigated modernity in the city and in the money economy. The Juggernaut of Modernity Anthony Giddens (1938- ) has described the modern world as a juggernaut , that is, as an engine of enormous power which can be directed to some extent, but which also threatens to run out of control. The juggernaut is a runaway world with great increases over prior systems in the pace, scope, and profoundness of change. Giddens defines modernity in terms of four basic institutions. Capitalism is characterized by commodity production, private ownership of capital, wage labor, and a class system derived from these characteristics. Industrialism involves the use of inanimate power sources and machinery to produce goods, but it also affects transportation, communication, and everyday life. Surveillance refers to the supervision of the activities of subject populations in the political sphere. The fourth characteristic is control of the means of violence by the state. Modernity is given dynamism by three processes. Time and space distanciation refers to the tendency for modern relationships to be increasingly distant. Relatedly, disembedding involves the lifting out of social relations from local contexts of interaction and their restructuring across indefinite spans of time-space. In such a system, trust becomes necessary because we no longer have full information about social phenomena. Finally, reflexivity means that the social practices of modern society are constantly reexamined and reformed in the light of incoming information. Giddens thinks that modernity has created a distinctive risk profile. Risk becomes global in intensity and in the expansion of contingent events that affect large numbers of people around the world. Our awareness of these risks gives us the sense of insecurity implied in the term juggernaut. Giddens argues that the reflexivity of modernity extends to the core of the self and becomes a reflexive project of identity formation. For example, the body is subject to a variety of regimes that help individuals mold their bodies. He also argues that intimate relationships have been set apart from the routines of ordinary life (sequestered). As a result, the reflexive effort to create a
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This note was uploaded on 05/20/2010 for the course SOCIOLOGY Contempora taught by Professor N/a during the Spring '10 term at Open Uni..

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11 Contemporary Theories of Modernity - Contemporary...

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