A modern society first emerged in Western Europe during the late 18th century. It has four characteristics:
1. Nation state: The modern world is made up of a series of separate societies, all which have their own state. The states create institutions, which regulate the lives of their citizens. For example, education.
2. Capitalism: The economy of a modern society is capitalist. Capitalism brought about the industrialisation of modern societies and huge increases in wealth. However wealth distribution is unequal resulting in a class conflict.
3. Rationality, science, technology: The scientific way of thinking has replaced the influence of religious explanations of the world.
4. Individualism: Tradition and status becomes less important. You can choose your own course in life and your own identity. However inequalities such as class remain important in defining someone’s identity.
· The nation state has provided a basic framework for the lives of most people. However many sociologists argue we are affected by globalisation.
· Our lives are shaped by a global framework. Four changes have brought this about:
1. Technological changes: We can cross entire continents in a matter of hours. The internet helps in creating a time, space compression, closing distances between people.
2. Economic changes: The global economy is becoming increasingly an electronic economy. Instead of producing physical goods, much activity involves the production of information such as music.
3. Political changes: Many sociologists argue that globalisation undermines the power of the state. We live in a borderless world, which makes it harder for the nation state to regulate the activities of large capitalist enterprises.
4. Cultural and identity changes: Today, we find ourselves living in a global culture where western owned corporations spread the western culture around the world. For example, TNC’s such as Nike, selling the same consumer goods to many countries helps to promote a similar taste across national borders.
Postmodernism is an unstable, fragmented, media saturated global village, where images and reality are indistinguishable. In a postmodern world, we can shape our identity through consumption. Foucalt argues that there are no sure grounds for knowledge. There is no objective criteria we can use to prove a theory to be true or false. There are two consequences to this:
1. If we cannot guarantee our knowledge is correct then we cannot use it to improve society.
2. Thus any theory that claims to have the truth to improving society is a meta narrative – a big story, it is not the truth. Therefore there is no reason to accept their claims.
3. All views are true to those who hold them. No one has special access to the truth.
4. We should recognise and celebrate the diversity of views instead of seeking to impose one version of the truth on everybody.
5. Lyotard argues that in a post modern society, knowledge is a series of different language games.
6. Baudrillard argues that knowledge is central to a post modern society. Society is based on the buying and selling of knowledge in the forms of language and signs. Signs stand for nothing other than them selves. This is called simulacra. For example, soap opera characters are signs about signs and not about reality.
7. Baudrillard is negative about the post modern condition. The media has created a hyper reality – we are unable to distinguish between reality and media images. Consequently, we have lost the power to improve society.
· Late modernism argues that the changes we are witnessing are actually a continuation of modernity.
· Giddens argues that a defining characteristic of late modernism is it experiences rapid change. This is because of two features:
1. Disembedding: We no longer need face to face contact to interact. Traditions no longer serve as a guide to how we act.
2. Reflexivity: Because tradition no longer tells us how to act, we are forced to become reflexive. We constantly monitor and reflect on our actions. Thus nothing is fixed and society becomes unstable
3. Giddens argues that we face a number of risks in a late modern society such as economic risks and environmental risks, for e.g. global warming. Also, many of the risks are man made rather than natural.
4. He argues we can make plans to reduce risks and achieve progress to a better society.
5. Beck believes in the power of reason to improving the world.
6. Beck calls a late modern society a risk society because of the dangers we face. For example, we have faces many dangers because of our inability to control nature such as disease. He also notes that many of our risks are man made.
7. As a result we become more aware of risks and how to reduce them.
8. Much of our knowledge of risks comes from the media, who tend to exaggerate the views of the dangers we may face.