Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

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Anthony Giddens ( 1938-) taught for many years at King's College, Cambridge, where he was professor of sociology in the Faculty of Economics and Politics. He is now director of the London School of Economics. Giddens is also a founder, publisher, and editor of Polity Press, one of the most ambitious and interesting publishers of books in social theory. His first widely read book was New Rules of Sociological Methods ( 1976). As the title's play on Durkheim suggests, the book is an attempt to reformulate sociological reasoning, in this instance by reexamining the idea of interpretative, or hermeneutic, sociology. This was Giddens's first statement of structuration theory, which is systematically worked out in Constitution of Society ( 1984). Giddens has written on many subjects, from war to sexual intimacy. The selection is from Consequences of Modernity ( 1989), which is his defense of what he calls radicalized modernity. The selection offers a particularly clear illustration of his understanding of the complexity of modern life, stated in his own discursive theoretical style. The tabular presentation of modernity (RM) and postmodernity (PM), though it reflects Giddens's radicalized preferences for RM over PM, offers a useful comparison of theories of the two cultural types. More importantly, the selection presents what is perhaps the crucial idea behind Giddens's structuration theory: that the individual lives in an ongoing recursive relation with the complex structures of modern society. Structures create the individual, while they are being created and held by individuals. Giddens, like others ( Gouldner, Bourdieu), views reflexivity as the fundamental feature of modern life arising in the relation of individuals to structures--a relation that creates the series of paradoxes he discusses. In effect, Giddens argues that modernity opens new and different opportunities for human fulfillment. Moderns may be displaced from local communities, but they are reembedded in world cubture in ways that can be liberating. This is an example of a reflexive social theory recursively producing a theory of the world as reflexive.


Post-Modernity or Radicalized Modernity?

Anthony Giddens ( 1990)


A Phenomenology of Modernity

Two images of what it feels like to live in the world of modernity have dominated the sociological literature, yet both of them seem less than adequate. One is that of Weber, according to which the bonds of rationality are drawn tighter and tighter, im

____________________
Excerpt from The Consequences of Modernity ( Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990), pp. 137-150. Reprinted with the permission of the publishers, Stanford University Press. 1990 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Reprinted by permission of Polity Press and Basil Blackwell.

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