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by Anthony Giddens

In this book, Giddens offers an interpretation of the institutional transformations associated with modernity. We do not as yet, he argues, live in a post-modern world. Rather the characteristics of our major social institutions in the closing period of the 20th century express the emergence of a period of "high modernity", in which prior trends are radicalized rather than undermined. In developing an account of the nature of modernity, Giddens focuses on analyzing the intersections between trust and risk, and security and danger in the modern world. The trust mechanisms associated with modernity and the "risk profile" it produces, he argues, are different from those characteristic of pre-modern social orders.
Download The Consequences of Modernity epub
ISBN: 0745607934
ISBN13: 978-0745607931
Category: Politics
Subcategory: Sociology
Author: Anthony Giddens
Language: English
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (April 26, 1990)
Pages: 186 pages
ePUB size: 1566 kb
FB2 size: 1252 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 528
Other Formats: mbr lit azw rtf

When evaluating Anthony Gidden's The Consequences of Modernity, it is useful to recognize that it was first presented as a series of lectures in 1988, when the post-modern perspective was still fairly fresh and influential. It's proponents sought to persuade us that a qualitative change in world view had occurred, with epistemological and practical consequences more dramatic than, say, the transformation from feudalism to capitalism beginning in Fourteenth Century Europe.

Some of the central tenets of the post-modern perspective were not new, including radical anti-foundationalism and thoroughgoing decentering, both of which contributed to putting each of us on his or her own, uncertain of the rectitude of any moral code or ethical standards. We found ourselves alone in a chaotic world where men and women had no special claim to privileged status.

Beyond that, post-modernism made the unsettling judgment that all good-faith truth claims were equally worthy of consideration, meaning that science was just one endeavor among many and should not be granted special credibility. An oft cited concept was discontinuity, meaning not only that history was not teleological, but that efforts to find consistency over time resulted in ill-conceived narratives, sloughing over ruptures and breaks that gave the lie to claims of interpretable unity.

The world was an epistemological mess, and little or nothing could be known with certainty. Insofar as the ambient context provided a social and cultural home for mankind, it was a frighteningly unstable one, where identities were inherently precarious, and there was nothing to grab on to that would introduce even a modicum of knowledge-based security.

Giddens understood that the post-modern point of view was not wholly without merit, but he rejected it in favor an alternative which held that what was mistaken for an epistemological revolution was, in fact, the further elaboration of modernity, making for rapid, compelling, even dizzyingly inexplicable change in the social and cultural world. Post-modernism, thus, was really an extension of themes that had existed in rudimentary form since the beginning of the modern era.

The intensification of modernity, following Giddens, is best understood as a concomitant of globalization, a term we toss around carelessly, but which bears careful examination, especially with regard to the themes of capitalism, industrialization, rationality, and reflexive monitoring.

Capitalism, for example, was once an economic system that occurred in specific forms in distinct social formations. Marx, however, had long since recognized that capitalism had no boundaries, and he spoke of world markets. By the time Giddens wrote The Consequences of Modernity, it was clear that capitalism had become a world system. With the development of large multi-national corporations, their shifting investment patterns brought low-wage employment to Third World countries, while leaving once high-wage workers in the First World unemployed. Unpredictable life-altering events that financed slum life in Mumbai while transforming Detroit and Gary into de-industrialized waste lands were commonplace. Vast expanses of space were no obstacle to rationally calculable profit seeking. As the post-modernists had argued, life had become uncontrollably precarious and unstable, but contrary to their view, no new concepts were needed to account for that transformation.

Globalization was also facilitated by evermore rapid and widespread industrialization, and by production of scientific and technological innovations that reconfigured existing patterns of social relations at work and elsewhere. Industrialization, an ally of capitalism, resulted in wholesale replacement of workers by machines, whether they were powered by diesel or electricity, driven by pistons or microcircuits. Fast-paced industrialization contributed to the uncertainty that accompanies rapid social change, and it demanded substantial expertise on the part of the remaining workers, as well as trust in arcane techniques on the part of those who consumed industrial processes and products. Consumers had to use their layman's knowledge to strike a balance between their trust in science and technology and the risk entailed in the knowledge that accidents happen and nothing is ever perfectly engineered.

Furthermore, the expertise that makes industrialization possible could be brought to bear anywhere in the world. Again, even vast expanses of space were no obstacle, and as with capitalist production and distribution, time was irrelevant. Instantaneous communication, even before the internet, assured that everyone functioned according to the same schedule. The distinctiveness of localities that was once intrinsic to the idea of community was undercut, further exaggerating our sense of uncertainty and social and cultural homelessness.

Both capitalism and industrialization give priority to rational calculability in pursuit of competitive advantage and efficiency, while constantly monitoring the world environment for hitherto unnoticed opportunities and ideas. Rationally calculable pursuit of profits and market share, moreover, easily sweeps aside tradition and established communities, leaving large numbers socially and culturally bereft. Again, constant monitoring and instantaneous communication are merely obvious extensions of ongoing capitalist development and industrialization, including the phenomena that post-modernists had misconstrued as fostering the advent of a qualitatively different world view.

Giddens' argument is persuasive, though he sometimes resorts to gratuitous use of concepts of his own in a way that turns a thematically coherent account into a by-the-numbers treatise that is a bit harder to follow than need be. His reliance on the work of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber makes his book readily accessible to anyone with a background in sociology. Those unaccustomed to reading sociological theorizing may find the book a bit slow going but still manageable. Whether or not The Consequences of Modernity was the last, best word on the decline of post-modernism, it forces us to reflect on the processes and products of social change attendant to globalization, as other reviewers have noted.
Mr Freeman
Explaining modernity is not an easy task and there are a good number of explanations of what modernity is or it's composition . While I find the explanation offered here most interesting , I had some difficulty following some of the terminology and coinages . Beyond this minor gripe it is a must read for anyone interested in understanding modernity and modern transformation .
In The Consequences of Modernity (1990), Anthony Giddens offers an analysis of our times, which he hopes will diffuse the Dionysian celebrations of the post-age and the exaltations of postmodernism in social theory. Giddens argues that the character of contemporary (post-industrial, capitalist) society does not indicate / inaugurate a radical disjuncture with the Past (with History), but represents a radicalization, and self-clarification, of a Modern heritage: "Le changement dans la continuité" to quote French presidential candidate Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

Although it is possible to imagine the "contours of a new and different order," Giddens continues, one that could be eventually characterized as "Post-modern," at present modernity has yet to run its (dis)course. Through an institutional analysis of our social, economic, and political condition, Giddens hopes to demonstrate that the "society of the spectacle" is all show, and that the "post-" is a false sign (mauvaise augure).

The Giddean testament of modernity as unfinished project follows three lines of inquiry (taking his arguments at face/faith value): the claim that 1) modern societies are "inherently future oriented", 2) that under modern conditions, knowledge is (reflexively) involved in the transformation of society, a development which has 3) created new risk environments previously unknown to traditional societies. (I have the space here only to entertain line 2). Here Giddens is correct to note that reflexivity is "introduced in the very basis of system reproduction," but over-reaches when he takes comfort in this reflection. He confuses the exponential proliferation and excrescence of information with the growth of knowledge, and will have us believe that an increase in information entails an increase in meaning. Such hypothesis, Baudrillard explained is thoroughly idealistic " the alpha and omega of our modernity, without which the credibility of our social organization would collapse" (Implosion of Meaning in the Media and the Implosion of the Social in the Masses, 1980). In contemporary (true in 1990) information societies, the diffusion of the counterfactual force of knowledge (essential role of Reason in Enlightenment) comes about (face) through a basic reduction (economizing) of propositions (and their Truth values) into sound-bites, data banks, and the LCD - Lowest Common Denominator. This is the implosion of the oppositional syntax (in the form of the binary) where language is recycled in the totalizing web of exchange relations (InterNetted), not of signification (Geertz - Thick descriptions), but of sign fragments -smallest detectable elements of (linguistic) differentiation. If we choose to overlook these conditions of knowledge claims (i.e., the seductive, absorptive, and ecstatic), we are liable to reproduce a mechanistic, pre-nuclear mode of discourse, and perpetuate the prospectivist myth of a communicative Eldorado (perhaps in the name of free speech).

Like Habermas, Giddens confuses interaction (dialectic) with integration (absorption), and underestimates the paralogical and parasitic aspects of post-modern reflexivity. The "spirals of knowledge" that Giddens believes to have uncovered in the formation of contemporary society are not the dialectic tracks of argument and counter-argument between syntactically commensurable idioms, but merely the fissile arche-traces of modernity: fossilized remains of an epic that imploded under the force of its own gravity.

A closer look at these "arguments for modernity" suggests that the author fails to follow through with the consequences of his own reading, the consequences of modernity. His initial pre-fixation with the sign "Post-" and a desire to maintain conceptual (and historical) integrity between modernity and its other, prevents Giddens from re-cognizing the traces of a future past: what Lyotard called the "paradox of the post-modo." An institutional analysis of modernity is simply not up to speed (Virilio) with the hyper-reality of current events (this was true in 1990). In the language game of speed, where segues, sound-bytes, spin (and today texts and tweets) trans-morph events in what used to be called "real-time," such virtuosity can hardly be grasped with a sociological tool kit (proposed by Giddens) where observation, measurement, definition, and explanation tend to crystallize, rather than catalyze, events and phenomenon. Like excavating a plastic culture with a metal detector, the Giddean testament is destined to overlook the ecstatic and volatile (symbolic) emissions of our postmodern culture and the "events without consequences" (Baudrilard).

Post-script: In his "Response to the Question: What is Postmodern?" Lyotard resists the very crystallization that Giddens calls "conceptual discrimination" of the term "postmodern." Ironically he does so in the name of sustaining difference, a war on totality, the novelty of the encounter, a fascination with the occurrence, and a respect for the event. Amen.