9th Conference European Sociological Association

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

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Modernization and beyond - theoretical approaches Building AA, AA.323

From modernity through postmodernity to reflexive modernization. Did we learn anything?

Modernization, in the sociological tradition, was usually understood as increasing differentiation, ie., as a process in which the demands of valorization of capital make "all that is solid melt into air" (Marx) and transition from mechanical to organic solidarity (Durkheim) is a consequence of the differentiation of valuespheres (Weber) or subsystems of the social system (Parsons). Theorists differed in degree of optimism or pessimism and the detailed interpretation of the process of differentiation but they all shared the view that modernization meant opening of new horizons. When Lyotard?s Knowledge in Postmodern Society was published (in 1979 in French and 1984 in English) it transformed the aesthetic postmodernism debate to a debate about postmodern society. Contrary to the tradition of differentiation theoretical sociology the pamphlet interpreted modernization as a process in which the plurality of local cultural traditions was destroyed and their various narratives rearticulated under the repressive metanarratives of science, progress and enlightenment into a unified modern canon. According to that view the metanarrative of enlightenment created a one-dimensional world. Postmodernity, then, was for Lyotard a welcome new opening which meant the flourishing of alternative cultural interpretations and identities based on the various newely emerging local narratives. Sociologists were first at odds with this new interpretation until Beck, Giddens and Lash in their Reflexive Modernization (1994) and related publications brought up the idea of modernity in two phases. According to them the first phase brought up "traditional modernity" which was based on cultural closures such as unified class-identities, nationalities and fixed gender-identities. "Traditional modernity" itself was a result of differentiation but the continuation of the process of differentiation made it transform into "second" or "reflexive modernity" where several traditions lived side by side and the "life political" condition of every member of society was characterized by the "possibility and necessity of choosing between traditions" (Giddens) just as the postmodernists claimed. A huge debate emerged. The paper asks, did we learn anything about the debate on reflexive modernization and if so, can the lessons learned be used fruitfully in the study of contemporary society?