Social Change and Modernity

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Modernity & Reason
modernity
What exactly is modernity? Most classical social theorists found themselves engaged in attempts to analyze and critique modern society. But nowhere is such analysis more clear than in the work of Durkheim, Marx, Weber and Simmel. Indeed, through their writings, whilst all of them displayed a remarkable awareness of the advantages of modernity, what distinguished them from their peers was their critique of the problems posed by modern society. However, whereas both Durkheim and Marx sought to develop a general model of modern society by examining the problems caused by modernity for the integration of society as a whole, Weber and Simmel instead both focused on studying and understanding the meanings that social actions have on the individual. Indeed, both Simmel and Weber attempt, as shall be elaborated upon below, to frame the development of modern society around the concept of rationalization, money and the subsequent effect on modern culture. Reason, economy, culture, and society

The modern economic system
In contrast to Marx, both Simmel and Weber question the notion of the economy being centered upon the ownership of property. For Weber, the social relationship which best expresses instrumental reasoning is that of exchange because social relations is the quickest way in which such a form of reasoning comes to guide our lives (Dodd, 1999). Likewise, Simmel considers exchange to be the most important form of social form as it is the most common form of social relationship existing between individuals (ibid). However, where Simmel and Weber differ is that whereas Weber attempts to develop an understanding of rationalization as applied to values, means and ends, Simmel characterizes his perception of reason by economic calculation. Definition of reason

As stated above, both Weber and Simmel attempt to use the concept of reason to explain their views of modern society. This then raises the question – what exactly do they mean by reason? Simmel defines rational thought as the “ability to pursue goals in a conscious, strategic way” (as quoted in Dodd, 1999, p. 33) i.e. the individual makes choices based on the desirability of alternative ends in relation to the costs which each end involves. Simmel makes a clear distinction between the functions of reason (which he deems to be intellectual), from that of the passions (which he deems to be emotional). However, Weber distinguishes between two forms of reason in his analysis – that of instrumental rationality (similar to Simmel’s definition of reason) and value rationality (whereby the individual makes choices based on his cultural values without taking into account the costs which the particular end involves) – which he suggests can be applied to both “matters of calculation and…questions of value” (as quoted in Dodd, 1999, p. 35). Role of reason in economy

Having defined reason, how then does it fit into the exchange-based economy as depicted by Simmel and Marx? According to Simmel, the emergence of money in economy is a result of this. Indeed, according to Simmel, money is the most advanced expression of rational purposive action, a “pure instrument which is open to a potentially limitless range of uses” (Dodd, 1999, p. 33), which hence has the ability to take on any meaning which society deems appropriate. Weber too sees money as the consequence of reason – the rational pursuit of profit emerged via the Protestant ethic which fostered a spirit of rigorous self-discipline, encouraging men to apply themselves rationally and methodically to the specific tasks they were "called" to perform (Coser, 1977). Role of reason in objectification of culture & disenchantment However, once again whilst both men agreed that the emergence of money in the economy was initially a positive development, both also came to be critical of what they perceive to be the increasing narrowness of modern culture, in which rational means such as monetary...
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