Modernisation

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‘Reflexive modernisation’, a term coined by Beck in his 1980’s work on risk society, is a concept which simply and broadly put, describes the condition of late-modernity (Alexander, 1996, p.g.133). The work of renowned sociologists, Giddens and Beck, has revitalised the discipline of Sociology through the examination of the current condition of society and its interplay with modernisation. Both sociologists have developed the core aspects of the theories of reflexive modernisation by placing more importance on different elements of globalisation and modernity. Focusing namely on industrial modernity and using altered lexicon to describe the process towards reflective modernisation, their work has concluded that we are currently living in a reflexive modern society. However, reflexive modernisation is also a contested field as there is no fixed definition of the term or any one clear-cut and definite explanation of how the state of reflexive modernization has been reached. Only through the exploration of both of their work is the account of reflexive modernisation more sufficiently and better understood. This essay will begin by considering the critique of classical and postmodern theories to understand why, according to Giddens and Beck’s, there was an essential need for theories of reflexive modernisation. Subsequently, fundamental concepts of Giddens and Beck’s work will be explored to understand the crux of reflective modernisation, followed by an examination of some of the criticisms advanced against the theory. To conclude, this essay will draw on how useful the theory is in contemporary social theory. The basic need for the formation of reflexive modernisation theories is reflected in the underlying starting point of Giddens’s and Beck’s theories, that is, the need to observe the shift within modernity. Both theorists criticise classical and Postmodern theories as they fail to acknowledge this shift. Logically following from the two traditional schools of thought, Marxism and Functionalism, the theories of post-industrialism and late capitalism hold weight as they are the revitalized forms of the pre-established theories of Marx and Durkheim (Beck, 1997, p.g.22). They have been developed to scrutinize the process of modernisation and do so by examining the transformation of society from industrial to becoming service-sector based. Giddens and Beck are critical of these positions as only this change is ‘theoretically, thought through and researched’ (Beck, 1997, p.g.22), whereas ‘the modernization of modern society’ (Beck, 2003, p.g.1) is completely ignored making the theories too simplistic, as they fail to recognise that modernization itself has different forms and that it cannot only be viewed in single and linear terms. The same fundamental flaw is found in Postmodernist theories where the process of modernization is only attached to industrial society. According to Postmodern theories, we have moved beyond modernity into a current era of ‘postmodernity’. This is criticised by Giddens who argues that we are in fact living in a ‘radicalised’ modern era (Giddens,1987, p.g.261-2). Thus, as advanced by Giddens and Beck, it is clear to see that both classical and postmodern theories are unable to describe our current condition and the theories are limited as they only provide an analysis of industrial modernisation, thereby excluding the discussion of the new form of modernisation that has replaced its former self. From this standpoint, Beck refers to reflexive modernisation as the ‘sharpened, contoured and relativized version of modernisation theories’ (Beck, 1997, p.g.4), as it looks at both the process of globalisation and modernisation together to demonstrate how a reflexive modern era has been developed. Having identified the preliminary cause of the formation of the reflective modernisation theories, Giddens’ and Becks work will now be explored to establish what reflective modernisation entails. Giddens...
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