Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Multiple Modernities in an Age of Globalization

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Multiple Modernities in an Age of Globalization

Article excerpt


Recent events and developments, especially the continual processes of globalization and the downfall of the Soviet regime, have indeed sharpened the problem of the nature of the modern, contemporary world. Indeed, as we are approaching the end of the twentieth century, new visions or understandings of modernity are emerging throughout the world, be it in the West where the first cultural program of modernity developed, or among Asian, Latin American and African societies. All these developments call out to a far-reaching reappraisal of the classical visions of modernity and modernization.

Two major interpretations of these events on the contemporary scene have emerged, one promulgated by Francis Fukuyama (1992) announcing the "end of history" -- the homogenization of the liberal world-view and predominance of market economy, a perspective very close to the earlier theories of the convergence of industrial societies. The opposite view has been put forth most notably by Samuel P. Huntington (1992). While not denying the growing technological convergence in many parts of the world, this perspective emphasizes that the processes of globalization bring us not to one relatively homogeneous world but rather to a "clash of civilizations" in which the Western civilization is compared often in hostile terms with other civilizations -- especially the Muslim and Confucian ones.

While, needless to say, both these scholars point out to some very important aspects of the contemporary world, yet to this author they both seem to be incorrect. In my view, what we witness in the contemporary world is the development -- certainly not always peaceful and indeed often confrontational -- of multiple modernities. Such a view necessitates a far-reaching appraisal of the classical visions of modernity and modernization (cp. Eisenstadt, 1996, 1973).

Such a reappraisal should be based on several considerations. It should be based, first of all, on the recognition that the expansion of modernity has to be viewed as the crystallization of a new type of civilization, not unlike the expansion of Great Religions, or the great Imperial expansions of the past. Because, however, the expansion of this civilization almost always and continually combined economic, political, and ideological aspects and forces to a much longer extent, its impact on the societies to which it spread was much more intense than in most historical cases.

This expansion indeed spawned a rather new and practically unique tendency in the history of mankind in the form of the development of universal, worldwide institutional and symbolic frameworks and systems. This new civilization that emerged first in Europe later expanded throughout the world, creating a series of international frameworks or systems, each based on some of the basic premises of this civilization and each rooted in one of its basic institutional dimensions. Several economic, political, ideological, almost worldwide systems -- all of them multi-centred and heterogeneous -- emerged, each generating its own dynamics, its continual change in constant relations to the others. The interrelations among them have never been static or unchanging, and the dynamics of these international frameworks or settings have given rise to continuous changes in these societies. Just as the expansion of all historical civilization, modernity undermined the symbolic and institutional premises of the societies incorporated into it, opening up new options and possibilities. As a result of this, a great variety of modern or modernizing societies, sharing many common characteristics but also evincing great differences among themselves, developed out of these responses and continual interactions.

The "original" modernity as it developed in the West, combined several two closely interconnected dimensions. The first of these was the structural, organizational dimension - the development of the many specific aspects of modern social structure, such as growing structural differentiation, urbanization, industrialization, growing communications and the like, which have been identified and analyzed in the first studies of modernization after the Second World War. …

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