Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Aloy)

Book Report
Aloy Canete


The Consequences of Modernity
By Anthony Giddens
Stanford University Press, California, 1990, ix + 186 pp.

Synopsis

In this book, Anthony Giddens examines the nature and consequences of modernity by looking at major discontinuities separating modern social institutions from the traditional (or pre-modern) social orders. The disjuncture stems from the following: the pace of change (as in the unprecedented rapidity of change in modern technology), the scope of change (as in the extent to which change has affected the world), and the nature of social institutions not found in pre-modern societies such as nation-state, dependence on inanimate power sources, commodification of products and wage labor, predominance of urban life forms and so on, which, of course, are contingent on capitalism, industrialism, surveillance, and military power.

Giddens argues that modernity involves a profound reorganization of time and space in social and cultural life. This is spelled out in his discussion on “time-space distanciation” and “disembedding.” According to Giddens, social relations of pre-modern societies predominantly are largely confined to a face-to-face interaction in a given locale. However, the advent of modernity undermines social interaction in pre-modern societies by “fostering relations between ‘absent’ others, locationally distant from any given situation of face-to-face interaction” (p.18); in other words, it disembeds or lifts out social relations from local contexts of interaction and rearranges them across indefinite spans of time-space. Reflexivity is another defining feature that separates modernity from pre-modern societies.

In understanding the nature of modernity, Giddens dwells lengthily on the issues of trust in respect to disembedded institutions and the questions of security, risk, and danger in the modern world. Modernity, for Giddens, is a double-edged phenomenon if not paradoxical. One can see the benefits and advantages modern social institutions have created, which have affected the world on a global scale. On the other hand, modernity has led to problems that are increasingly becoming very significant today, such as the degrading nature of modern industrial work, the growth of totalitarianism, the threat of environmental destruction, and the alarming development of military power and weaponry. How far can we…harness the juggernaut, or at least direct it in such a way as to minimize the dangers and maximize the opportunities which modernity offers to us?—is the challenge we all are facing.


Keywords: modernity, time-space distanciation, disembedding, trust, reflexivity, juggernaut, utopian realism, post-modernity


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