Globalisation, Modernity and Postmodernity

  • Created by: lc_x
  • Created on: 20-05-19 17:49

Modernity and Globalisation

•Modernist theorists are part of the Enlightenment Project(beginning of 18th century)- the idea that society can progress through the use of human reason. • •Modernist theorists (like Comte and Marx) set out to explain the workings of a modern world and the direction it should take for progress. They believe scientific measures will enable us to discover true knowledge about society and the natural world.

1 of 10

Modern society

Modern society first emerged in Western Europe from about the late 18th century and has a number of key characteristics:

•The Nation State – a bounded territory ruled by the state who usually share the same culture. Modernists tend to think of the world as being made up of a series of societies each with its own state. The nation-state is the focal point to modern society, organizing social life on a national basis. They have created large institutions to regulate their citizens' lives. •Rationality science and technology (rather than magico-religious) •Individualism- pre-industrial values, such as ascribed status, are gone and more freedom is given to the individual. This gives us a greater opportunity to choose our life course. However, structural inequalities such as class remain important in shaping people’s identity.

2 of 10


As we know, the world seems to be more interconnected recently, with fewer boundaries and some sociologists argue the impact of globalization means we live in a ‘global village’ and our lives are shaped by this new framework. There are 4 big changes have created this new global framework:

  • Technological changes: Technology has helped close down the distance between people. But it also brings risks on a global scale. For example, greenhouse gases produced in one place contribute to global climate change that leads to a rise in sea levels and flooding in low-lying countries. Beck argues that we are now living in ‘risk society’, where increasingly the threats to our well being come from human-made technology rather than a natural disaster.
  • Political Changes: Some sociologists argue globalization has undermined the power of the nation-state. Ohmae argues that we now live in a ‘borderless world’ in which TNC’s and consumers have more economic power than national governments. States are less able to regulate the activities of large businesses which Lash+Urry describe as ‘disorganized capitalism’.
  • Changes in Culture & Identity: Globalisation makes it much harder for cultures to exist in isolation from one another. The reason for this is the role of technology and mass media. We now find ourselves living in a global culture in which Western-owned media companies spread Western culture to the rest of the world. The increased movement of people such as tourists, economic migrants, etc. helps to create a globalized culture. It also undermines traditional sources of identity such as class.
  • Economic activity: It now takes place within a set of global networks that are creating ever greater interconnectedness. The global economy is increasing a ‘weightless’ or electronic economy. Instead of producing physical goods, much production is of information such as music and TV. These commodities are produced, distributed and consumed through the global electronic networks
3 of 10

Question Time

•Do we not live in modern society anymore? •Do we need new theories to explain life in the 21st century? •Is the Enlightenment project still valid (ie can use objective knowledge to improve society?) Or is the world too chaotic and unpredictable to control now?

4 of 10

Postmodernism - Lyotard & Foucault

  • Postmodernism is a movement that emerged during the 1970s.
  • They argue that we are now living in a new era of post-modernity whereby postmodernity is an unstable, fragmented, media-saturated global village.
  • In this society, we define ourselves by what we consume. It is not a continuation of modernity, but a fundamental break from it.
  • For postmodernists, this new kind of society requires a new kind of theory- modernist theories no longer apply.
  • Foucault- there are no sure foundations to knowledge and no objective criteria we can use to prove whether a theory is true or false. This view know as anti foundationalism has 2 issues:
    • The Enlightenment project of achieving progress through scientific knowledge is dead if we cannot use it to improve society.
    • Any all embracing theory that claims to have the absolute truth about how to create a better society, such as Marxism is a mere meta-narrative. Marxism in particular is rejected because of the oppressive outcome it had in the USSR.
  • Postmodernists take a relativist’s position, the view that all views are equally valid, and no one sociologist has special access to the truth. And therefore we should celebrate all views rather than impose one.
  • Lyotard - in postmodern society, knowledge is just a series of different ‘language games’ or ways of seeing the world. However, in his view, postmodern society is preferable to modern society, where meta-narratives claimed a monopoly of truth and sometimes sought to impose it by force, as in the Soviet U. Postmodernity allows those who have been marginalized by modern society such as ethnic minorities, to be heard.
5 of 10

Postmodernism - Baudrillard

  • Society is no longer based on the production of material goods, but rather on buying and selling knowledge in the form of images and signs. However, unlike signs in past societies, those today bear no relation to physical reality.
  • Instead, signs stand for nothing other than themselves- they are not symbols of some other real thing. Baudrillard calls such signs simulacra. For example, articles on soap-opera characters are ‘signs about signs’ rather than about underlying reality.
  • Baudrillard describes this situation as ‘hyper-reality’: where the signs appear more real than reality itself and substitute themselves for reality. However, because the signs do not represent anything real, they are literally meaningless.
  • Baudrillard is particularly critical of TV, which he sees as the main source of simulacra and of our inability to distinguish between image and reality.
  • Baudrillard is pessimistic about the postmodern condition. Media-created hyper-reality leaves us unable to distinguish the image from reality. This means that we have lost the power to improve society: if we cannot even grasp reality, then we have no power to change it. Political activity to improve the world is impossible, and so the central goal of the Enlightenment Project is unachievable.
6 of 10

Postmodernism - Evaluation

Philo & Miller: It ignores power and inequality. The idea we construct our own identities ignores the effect of poverty for example. It is simply untrue that we can’t distinguish between reality and media. If all views are equally valid, does this include the Nazis? Finally, why should we believe Lyotard’s theory that claims no theory has the truth! It’s self-defeating!

Harvey: PM is too pessimistic when it says that objective knowledge is impossible. Political decisions do make a real difference. Best and Kellner: It is a weak theory. It identifies the importance of media and consumption for example but fails to explain how it came about!

7 of 10

Late Modernity

•They argue we are not in a postmodern era. Instead, we are just continuing through modernity. •Crucially, unlike postmodernists, from this POV we still see the Enlightenment project as valid, and that we can discover objective knowledge. •They do recognize something is changing though but see it more than social change has always been present, it’s just that now it has gone into overdrive! •Giddens says we are at a stage of HIGH MODERNITY. •Indicators of this include what he calls DISEMBEDDING (no longer need face to face interaction to interact) and a collapse of tradition and custom. Instead of tradition telling us how to act, we are forced to become: •REFLEXIVE. This means we constantly monitor, reflect on and change our actions depending on new information and risk. It all adds up to high-speed social change. •RISK: Giddens says another aspect of modernity is high risk-nuclear war/economic collapse etc. All man-made, not natural. But he rejects the PM view that we cant intervene and says we can make plans to reduce risks and improve society.  •Like Giddens, Beck is in the Enlightenment tradition (believes reason can improve society) but thinks we face new kinds of danger. No longer disease and famine (inability to control nature) but now MANUFACTURED risks (global warming/pollution) •Like Giddens, he thinks we are becoming ever more individualistic, and are not governed by tradition. We are more RISK CONSCIOUS, but much of this is distorted by media. •Whereas Beck thinks logic means we can overcome these problems (ie environmentalism) Baudrillard rejects enlightenment

8 of 10


•RUSTIN says it is capitalism, not technology that is the source of risk •HIRST rejects BECK’s idea that environmentalism can improve matters because it is too fragmented to challenge capitalism. •However, as a theory, it does provide an alternative to postmodernism. It has a more positive approach to change and the future.

9 of 10


•We know they believe in the Enlightenment so here they are similar to late modernists such as Beck and Giddens. •Unlike them though, some Marxists like Jameson and Harvey do think society has moved to a PM stage. •Very different explanation than Lyotard or Baudrillard for this though. They don’t see it as a break with the past, it is more the most recent stage of capitalism.

Harvey: Capitalism is a dynamic system, constantly developing new technologies and ways of organizing production to make a profit. However, capitalism is prone to periodic crises of profitability(the 1970s), and these produce major changes. These changes brought some cultural characteristics of postmodernity, such as diversity and choice. The crisis gave rise to a new regime of accumulation called flexible accumulation or post-Fordism.

Flexible accumulation – involves the use of ICT, an expanded service, job insecurity and the requirement for workers to be ‘flexible’ to fit their employer’s needs. It also brought changes in consumption. Cultural products such as fashion, music and computer games have become an important source of profit.

Harvey & Jameson argue that flexible accumulation has brought political changes characteristic of postmodernity. It has weakened the w/c and socialist movements. In their place, various oppositional movements have emerged, such as environmentalism, women’s liberation, anti-racism and so on.

Harvey & Jameson are hopeful that these new movements can form a ‘rainbow alliance’ to bring about change.

Thus, Marxist theorists of postmodernity agree with postmodernists that we have moved away from modernity to postmodernity. However, Best and Kellner note, they differ from postmodernists in two ways:

1.They retain a faith in Marxist theory as a means of explaining these changes. 2.They argue that the goal of the Enlightenment Project to change society for the better can still be achieved.

10 of 10


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Sociological theory resources »