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In this essay I discuss the concept of modernity as it has been inherited from the classical thought of Weber, Simmel, and Michels and as it is interpreted in contemporary sociology. My concern is not to give a comprehensive account of the development of the concept of modernity in sociology but rather to focus on one area: social conflict and social movements. In the connection my prime concern is the effect of modernity on both the development and the sociological understanding of social movements.
In other words, I am not concerned merely with the history of a concept but rather with the relationship between concepts of understanding and historical reality. As used in classical sociological theory, the concept of modernity has its roots in the attempt to come to grips with the meaning and significance of the social changes occurring in Europe in the latter half of the nineteenth century, namely, the effects of industrialization, urbanization, and political democracy on essentially rural and autocratic societies.
The term "modernity" was coined to capture these changes in progress by contrasting the "modern" with the "traditional. In their work modernity was meant to be more than a heuristic concept. It carried connotations of a new experience of the world. Modernity referred to a world constructed anew through the active and conscious intervention of actors and the new sense of self that such active intervention and responsibility entailed. In modern society the world is experienced as a human construction, an.
Transmodernity, border thinking, and global coloniality
This is how modernity was understood in classical sociology. One theme that stands out in this account of social change and its effect on human experience is the development of a new sense of self, of subjectivity and individuality. This idea distinguishes the modern individual from the traditional one. The sociological account of this difference is based on changes in the understanding of the relationship between man and the supernatural, changes in property relations, and the demographic changes that accompanied industrialization.
In this chapter I focus on the latter changes. Industrialization involved more than the development of a new means of producing the necessities of life; it involved the centralization and coordination of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods.
go here It drew masses of laboring individuals from rural communities and farm labor to centralized urban workplaces. This uprooting of relatively stable populations was interpreted both positively and negatively—as liberating, alienating, or both—by sociologists and the people whose experience the sociologists sought to capture. Liberation and alienation, however they were interpreted and experienced, involved both a physical and a mental break with the rural, family-based community.
They meant that the traditional social networks that formed the basis of social identity no longer had direct control over the migrating individual. Alienation from the traditional community and its forms of identity and control meant that the alienated individual was open to new influences. The social changes associated with modernity thus made possible the formation of new social networks and political identities, for example, the rise of "voluntary associations" which stood in contrast to those traditional associations into which one was born and that one took largely for granted.
Such voluntary associations, which provided the basis for new social and political identities for the recently uprooted individual, could be work-related, such as trade unions, or neighborhood-based, such as community and religious groups. Often these voluntary organizations overlapped and competed for the attention of individuals in their attempt to refocus political and social orientations. The break with tradition and the rural community meant the break with established identity-giving authority. The new individuals, freed from the traditional collective, were free to reorient themselves and to reconstruct their world: to "make history," as Marx put it, "but not under conditions of [their] own choosing.
They were its victims, not its instigators. Once in motion, however, these shifts opened new possibilities. The social movement that. Marx concerned himself with the new forms of political identity created by modernity and the possibility of forming a collective will, but Weber and his associates, such as Simmel and Michels, turned their attention to the effects of modernity on the individual and the new forms of organization that this entailed.
For Weber and Simmel modern society is constituted of as well as by individuals; it is a product of their interactions rather than a traditional form of social organization. Thus modernity entails new possibilities for the expression of human subjectivity in forms of social interaction that are not entirely a product of tradition. Of course Weber and Michels also studied the new forms through which human action could be institutionalized and guided by systems of rules that could be just as effective as traditional forms in constraining human freedom even though they were not traditional in the sense of being based on longstanding cultural patterns.
Weber's studies of bureaucracy, together with his ambiguous interpretation of its "rationality," and Michels's study of political parties provide examples of modern forms that constrain individual freedom of expression and action.
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Both, however, interpreted modernity as a break with the traditional bonds of rural society that entailed the possibility of a new freedom of action and expression for the individual and thus a new relationship between the individual and the collective. This new sense of freedom associated with modernity included an awareness and an experience of time. For the modern individual time involves process and duration; it also involves a sense of dynamic change that turns attention to the future rather than to the past. The modern individual is aware of himself or herself not only as an individual, that is, as a creator of self and society, but also as an individual with a future.
This experience, together with its ideological expression in sociological theories and political tracts, varies according to social class. This new sense of time and future orientation applies as much to the arts as to social and political relations. In fact, the concept of modernity used in social theory and the concept of modernism used to describe movements in the arts and literature have a common basis. Both focus on the new sense of individuality, future orientation, and creative possibility and identify these attributes with both the individual and collective movements. Like the modernist painter or writer, social theorist of modernity—I think primarily of Simmel in this connection—attempted to capture the dynamism of the modern experience in the very form of their writing.
Simmel's vivid descriptions of the city and the new-found relationship between the individual and the group in modern society. This attempt to match modern content with modern form permeates the classical sociological interpretation of modernity.
Modern sociology, like modern society itself, faces the problem of organizing the dynamism of modernity in efficient ways.
Related Foundations of Modernity: Human Agency and the Imperial State (Routledge Studies in Modern History)
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