A Sociology of Modernity: Liberty and Discipline

A Sociology of Modernity: Liberty and Discipline

A Sociology of Modernity: Liberty and Discipline

A Sociology of Modernity: Liberty and Discipline

Synopsis

A Sociology of Modernityoffers a historical account of social transformation over the past two centuries - focusing on Western Europe, but also looking at the USA and Societ Socialism as distinct varieties of modernity.

Excerpt

The project of a liberal society, focused as it was on the idea of human autonomy, was universal and without boundaries in principle. As such it was truly Utopian. A global society, inclusive of all individuals in an egalitarian way, seemed a rather abstract and far-fetched imagery. In historical reality, indeed, the more concrete visions of societal renewal, as they were held by the promoters of the project, were much more limited and very well bounded. A historical sociology of the first century of modernity, so to speak, can rest on the analysis of two main social phenomena of the nineteenth century. First, the socially dangerous openness of modernity was well recognized. As a consequence, the foundations of such a society were only very incompletely elaborated in practice, and means were developed to contain the modern project (Chapter 3).

Second, after the contours of such a contained, restricted liberal society had become visible, a corpus of critical ideas emerged. Its authors tended to claim that the project, in the form in which it had been proposed, was not feasible. Ongoing tensions between the liberation promises and the containment needs seemed to call for new authoritative responses to remedy the problems inherent in the socio-historical realization of the project. By the end of the nineteenth century, the ‘post-liberal’ compromise that had been reached appeared unstable and unsatisfactory to most of its observers and participants, and—from the end of the First World War onwards, at the latest—new sets of social conventions were being constructed. This extended transformation can be described as the first crisis of modernity (Chapter 4).

My argument on the containment of the modern project will proceed in three steps. Looking at some practices of signification, first, the intellectual means of setting boundaries will be discussed in terms of historically varying ways of providing identity for oneself by constructing the other as an inverse image of oneself. Second, focusing on the most important practices of domination, the institutional form of enforcing the boundaries towards the other will be analysed by taking a look at the state and law. Third, the substantive exclusions will be discussed as ways of externalizing social phenomena that could not be handled in modernist practices of the nineteenth century. After these three steps have been taken, the boundaries can be identified of a social formation that lived up to the

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