9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS08 Modernization Theory. Dead or Alive in the 21st Century?

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 From modernization to globalization and world polity Building AA, AA.323

The cultural underpinnings of contemporary modernity: A world-polity perspective on regional mobilisation in Europe

Definitely, "grand narratives" of modernization predicting unitary paths of change and increasing homogeneity have increasingly raised suspicion. However, if we look around, if we look at the activities of states, organizations and countless professionals all around the world, we get the impression that the old myths of modernisation, the old beliefs in future progress and governability of human development, are vivid as ever before. State bureaucracies and ever more International Organisations outline more and more programmes and strategies for "active intervention". Moreover, apart from traditional state organisations a whole army of all kinds of humanitarian organizations are constantly concerned with interventions and "managing" projects of human progress and modernization.
Starting from basic assumptions of world-polity approach this paper introduces a culturalist perspective on modernization that is able to account for both the global dimension and the strong modernist impetus of current changes and transformations. Hence, despite all suspicion regarding modernist approaches, modernization is not dead at all. In fact, it must be understood as fundamental practice and experiences of modernity actualizing in numerous projects of social mobilization around general and highly rationalized goals of development. While acknowledging that there are "multiple" and contingent paths of social change we must consider all these processes as embedded in a broader "cultural" background, a particular highly scientific "world culture" (John Meyer) of professionals, experts, and scientists determining appropriate "actorhood" as well as means and ends of human development. Yet, the idea of world-cultural development should not be confused with simplistic notions of increasing formal-rational standardisation (or: "McDonaldization"). Rather, we must see "world culture" as a basis of diverse and contingent development bringing about dozens of "unintended consequences". However, from "world-polity"-perspective the major directions of development and the way society is mobilized are structured in similar "reflexive2 ways, and the perception of "unintended consequences" further accelerates efforts of social change and modernisation.
This thesis world-cultural development will be specified at the example of my current research on regional development strategies within the framework of EU Cohesion policy mobilizing localities all over Europe on the basis of similar goals, standards, and practices.