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Essay on the Definition of “Modernity”

Of the available conceptual definitions, in sociology, Modernity is “marked and defined by an obsession with ‘evidence’ “, visual culture, and personal visibility (Leppert 2004, 19). Generally, the large-scale social integration constituting modernity, involves the:

i. Increased movement of goods, capital, people, and information among formerly discrete populations, and consequent influence beyond the local area.

ii. Increased formal social organization of mobile populaces, development of ‘circuits’ on which they and their influence travel, and societal standardization conducive to socio-economic mobility.

Modernism & Modernity |

Image Source: andrewmorris93.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/modernism4.jpg

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Industrialism has unfolded as a system of ceaseless innovation. In its core-countries, it has virtually eliminated the peasantry, and is now creating automated technologies that can increase productivity while displacing workers.

Manufacturing once accounted for about 50 percent of the employed population of industrial societies, but is now shrinking to between 25 percent to 30 percent new employment in now available in the service sector, which accounts for 50 percent to 66 percent of the work force and over half the GNP.

These occupations – in government, health, education, finance, leisure and entertainment-are called white-collar jobs, and indicate an expansion in health, education and public welfare.

The population in the core countries has become healthier and better educated. The ‘knowledge class’ of scientific and technical workers has become the fastest- growing occupational group. Pure sciences and technology have become even more closely inter-linked.

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This is evidenced in heavy investments in research and development, especially in industries such as information technology, pharmaceuticals, bio-genetics, and aeronautics and satellite communications. The social sciences also generate complex models of sociological and economic forecasting.

Some sociologists have interpreted these phenomena as signifying a movement to a ‘postmodern’, postindustrial society. This may be a semantic exaggeration, given that most changes under late industrialism have flowed from the logic of capitalist industrialization itself, such as mechanization and technical innovation, the increase in complexity of industry organization and the union of science with industry and bureaucracy.

But these changes do add a new dimension to modern societies, such as the decline in manufacturing, and the advent of computerized information-processing that can replace masses of white-collar workers.

And urbanization may give way to the decentralization and depopulation of many cities as old manufacturing industries decline and new service industries move out. Recent trends in the USA and UK indicate that the countryside has begun to gain population and the cities to lose it.

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Speaking globally, however, urban life continues to spread over greater areas. Metropolitan areas have merged into the megalopolises, with populations of 20 to 40 million.

Chains of contiguous cities and regions with huge populations may be found in the developed as well as poorer countries.

The structural forces of industrialism have produced reactions against large-scale bureaucratic organization, and movements for alternative and intermediate technologies.

The political realm too, has witnessed such a reaction. All over world, not least in Europe, there have been regional movements for autonomy or independence – ironically, globalization has kept pace with fragmentation.

Areas such as Scotland in Britain, Normandy in France, the Basque regions in Spain, and several regions in the erstwhile USSR have all developed such movements and aspirations.

The break-up of Yugoslavia in the civil war of the 1990s was only extreme example of a general trend. New forms of internationalization of the world economy and polity have given to raise nationalisms.

It is arguable that the latest assertions of ethnicity, culture and ‘tradition’ reflect attempts by endangered elites in disintegrating states to mobilize public disquiet towards a new conservative ‘mass polities’.

Howsoever historians of the future will see these phenomena, it is undeniable that the process of modernization has reached a significant turning point, and the governing institutions of the post-1945 world order no longer seem capable of managing rapidly changing social, economic and political realities.

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