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Multiple modernities? : the case against

Vielfache Modernen? Argumente dagegen
[conference paper]

Schmidt, Volker H.

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Corporate Editor Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie (DGS)
Abstract "The paper rejects the notion of 'multiple modernities' as both conceptually flawed and empirically unfounded. In line with the sociological tradition, it will argue that we should speak of modernity only in the singular. Modernity, according to this view, denotesa peculiar epoch in the history of human kind, originating in Europe and spreading from there to the rest of the world. We may well be tempted to succumb too quickly to ill-conceived generalizations of what are in fact often only particular, locally based experiences. But we should also not lose sight of the truly revolutionary character of the historical 'breakthrough' to modernity. The protagonists of the multiple modernities paradigm appear to be doing precisely this: their very terminology impliesa trivialization of what is common to 'the' modern condition. At the same time, it suggests an overrating of which ever diversities (may) exist in different parts of the world. The paper will identify four main conceptual flaws in the pertinent literature: 1. The proclivity to equate modernity with its polity. The proposed conception of modernity is thus too thin for capturing the complex social structure of modern society as a whole. 2. To the extent that a theory of modernity is proposed at all, this theory is a self proclaimed cultural theory. Such a theory may shed light on some of the historical roots and self-perceptions of modernity, but it does so at the cost of excluding any thorough analysis of institutions. 3. The conceptualization of inter-societal difference in civilizational terms is misleading because it rules out, almost by definition, the possibility that countries belonging to different civilizations may in certain respects have more in common with ones from other civilizations than with some of the members of their 'own'. 4. The account's notion of diversity is exceedingly vague - the nature and profundity of the differences that are said to exist between different modernities are nowhere discussed at adequate length. But we need to know them to assess their social theoretic significance. In addition to these conceptual flaws, there are also various empirical phenomena and trends that challenge key premises of the multiple modernities approach. None of this is to say there are no differences between different regions, countries, civilizations. Nor is it to suggest their insignificance. It is, however, to suggest that we be more precise and that we extend our analyses beyond the confines of culture and politics - at least if we want to say something meaningful about modernity or modern society at large. Rather than speaking of multiple modernities, a better alternative to accommodate existing differences might be a yet to be developed concept of 'varieties of modernity' - akin to (but naturally pitched at a higher level of abstraction than) the notion of 'varieties of capitalism' which is beginning to crystallize in the new political economy literature." (author's abstract)
Keywords modernity; Europe; paradigm; world; theory; sociological theory; conception; society; culture; social structure; civilization; political economy; humanity; historical development
Classification General Sociology, Basic Research, General Concepts and History of Sociology, Sociological Theories
Method descriptive study
Collection Title Soziale Ungleichheit, kulturelle Unterschiede: Verhandlungen des 32. Kongresses der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie in München. Teilbd. 1 und 2
Editor Rehberg, Karl-Siegbert
Conference 32. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie "Soziale Ungleichheit - kulturelle Unterschiede". München, 2004
Document language English
Publication Year 2006
Publisher Campus Verl.
City Frankfurt am Main
Page/Pages p. 2883-2894
ISBN 3-593-37887-6
Status Published Version; reviewed
Licence Deposit Licence - No Redistribution, No Modifications