What is Modernity?
‘Modernity typically refers to a post-traditional, post-medieval historical period, in particular, one marked by the move from feudalism (or agrarianism) toward capitalism, industrialisation, secularization, rationalization, and the nation-state’ (Barker 2005, 444). Hall (1995) explains how a modern society can be identified by four main characteristics based on cultural, political, social and economical changes. These include an economy based on the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services in exchange for money, the abolition of fixed social hierarchies but instead the formations of new classes after labour is split by an Industrial Revolution, a secular form of political power; essentially a nation-state, and finally, the decline of religion alongside the rise of science, and with it, a secular, rationalist and empirical view towards society (Hall, 1995 1:6). However, this view of modernity can be criticised based on the fact that these assumptions of modernity are based around how Western civilisations developed. (Sachsenmaier et al, 2002). Any other view of modernity from a different society may be valid; for example, a choice to defend tradition, or a contemporary adaptation to what already exists may be conceived as modern in some cultures (Sriwarakuel, 2005). The view of Western modernity can also not be applicable to other cultures where certain features of modernisation are apparent but with no sign of change for other more traditional aspects of society. Culturally speaking, the Enlightenment led us to developments in art, literature, printing, music, science and religion. According to Hall, ‘in its simplest sense the Enlightenment was the creation of a new framework of ideas about man, society and nature, which challenged existing conceptions rooted in a traditional world view, dominated by Christianity.’ (Hall 2005, 2:24). The main theme of this modernisation is the shift from religion to science, where rational thought and empirical based knowledge wins over religious or superstitious views, for example the theory of Creationism being replaced by alternative theories. This shift became increasingly relevant, with things like the developments in our understanding of the anatomy, and the discovery of other far distant countries, as well as discoveries from leading intellectuals such as Copernicus and Kepler replacing concepts of the universe that religion had traditionally put in place (Hall, 2005 2:30). The discovery of different cultures in particular allows a society to compare itself to others, which during this time in Europe, saw itself as ‘modern’ and everywhere else as a form of the past, which they identified as an older version of themselves. Religious decline also becomes a factor of modernity in Britain as the Protestant Reformation takes place. During this time Britain tore away from the Catholic Church and hence the authority of the Pope was abolished. As the middle class population grew, and their stake in the economy became greater and greater, their resentment grew over little political rights they had in society. In other countries such as France and America revolutions occurred, with the French in particular putting emphasis on a move away from the ‘divine right of kings’ to the ‘right of the people.’ The result was a secular, nation state working in a set boundary (Hall, 2005, 2:81 and 87). This, according to Buntrock (1996, 1), ‘led to a democracy and the privileging of the individual.’ Socially speaking, it is argued that the rise of a middle class bourgeoisie is apparent in a modern society. The Industrial Revolution forced people to sell their labour, creating a clear division in classes. This makes a change from the pre-modern social hierarchies, which particularly in France were ‘based upon the ownership of land and landed property...[and] were represented as three “Estates”- Clergy, Nobility and the “Third Estate”, which compromised...
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Barker, C (2005), 444. — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernity (accessed November 1, 2011)
Buntrock, D (1996) Without Modernity: Japan’s Challenging Modernization, University of Ilinois Chicago, Architronic p1-6
Hall, S and Gieben, B (2005) Formations of Modernity, Open University, Chapters 1 and 3
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