Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Modernity and the Construction of Collective Identities

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Modernity and the Construction of Collective Identities

Article excerpt


In the following paper I would like to present some comparative indications about the relations between construction of collective identity and those of state-civil society relations in three modem settings - namely, in a general way Europe, the United States and Japan (the three major modem industrialized societies) with a brief comparative glance at Latin America.

This analysis is based on the assumption that what is taking place in the contemporary scene is not the development of one modern civilization encompassing most contemporary societies (with local variations, different types of regimes - capitalist or socialist, constitutional or authoritarian and the like - and with some surviving of non-modern civilizations) but rather the development of several modem civilizations. These civilizations share common characteristics, but tend to develop with different ideological and institutional dynamics, with different cultural programs of modernity.

This view goes to some extent against the so-called convergence of modem society which was very prevalent in early studies of modernization. While, true enough with the passing of time, there developed in all these studies a growing recognition of the possible diversity of transitional societies, it was still assumed that such diversity could disappear, as it were, at the end-stage of modernity.

But, as is well known, and as has been abundantly analyzed in the literature, the ideological and institutional developments in the contemporary world have not upheld this vision, and the fact of the great institutional variability of different modem and modernizing societies - not only among the "transitional," but also among the more developed, even highly industrialized societies - become continuously more and more apparent, calling for a new perspective.

These considerations do not negate the obvious fact that in many central aspects of their institutional structure - be it in occupational and industrial structure, in the structure of education or of cities - very strong convergences have developed in different modem societies.

These convergences were above all manifest in the development of common problems, but the modes of coping with these problems differed greatly between these civilizations. These differences are attributable to a great variety of reasons such as, among others, the various historical convergences, the historical timing of the incorporation of different societies into the emerging international systems.

But beyond all these reasons, even if in close relation to them, was the development of the new distinct cultural programs of modernity which crystallized in these societies or civilizations.

Such different cultural programs of modernity crystallized through the process of a highly selective incorporation and transformation in these civilizations of the various premises of Western modernity.

All these selections that developed in these societies entailed different interpretations of the basic cultural program of modernity; they entailed different emphases on different components of these programs - such as man's active role in the universe; the relation between Wertrationalitat and Zweckrationalitat; the conceptions of cosmological time and its relation to historical time; the belief in progress; the relation of progress; the relations to the major utopian visions; and the relation between the individual and collectivity, between reason and emotions, and between the rational and the romantic and emotive, could be realized.

In many of these civilizations the basic meaning of "modernity" - its cultural historical program - was quite different from its original Western vision rooted in the ideas of Enlightenment, of progress, of the unfolding of the great historical vision of reason and self-realization of individuals, of social and individual emancipation.

These differences were not purely cultural or academic. …

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