Critical Responses to Postmodernism

Anthony Giddens attacks post-modernity firstly because he believes that we have not yet left modernity – and thus the sociology of modernity still provides the correct tools for analysing contemporary society, and secondly because he believes that there is still a social structure with both constrains and enables human action.

Structuration Theory

Giddens theory is that there is a ‘duality of structure’ – not only do structures constrain and determine certain forms of behaviour, but they also enable behaviour. Furthermore, the structural circumstances within which human action take place are reproduced (and changed) but this process.

For Giddens, structure is a moving thing – a moving body of rules and resources which agents use for action. For example, we are to an extent constrained by the use of language, but we can still modify it over time.

Risk and Reflexivity

Giddens distinguishes between two types of risk – external risks and manufactured risk – it is the difference between worrying about what nature can do to us, and worrying about what we have done to nature as a consequence of our own actions. Manufactured risks are central to late-modern society – and they infuse every aspect of our lives – both at the level of society, and at the level of intimate relations

Giddens – Reflexivity in Late Modernity

According to Giddens there are some very real (rather than just discursively mediated) institutional changes going on the world – the increasing pace of globalisation (especially the rise of global media and the spread of huge volumes of information), and the threat of nuclear proliferation, environmental decline and the challenges of migration all pose very real challenges which effect our lives.

The simple fact of the matter is that in light of these new problems, no one is certain about what to do about them, there are competing experts who have different opinions – however, we don’t just accept that anything goes – at an institutional level scientists and politicians do their best to meet the above challenges, even if this is in a climate of uncertainty. Meanwhile at the same time, exposure to new cultures via IT means that all of our traditions are now open to question.

As a result of all of these changes, the self becomes a reflexive project – we have to continually remake it in the light of continually produced new knowledge – everything becomes a choice, and the self has to be ‘worked on’. People start to put the self-first because this is a psychological requirement under conditions of social uncertainty.

The nature of self-identity changes – constructing a ‘narrative of the self’ becomes something we are forced to pay attention to – and the ‘obsessive’ process of self-reflection, self-construction and self-expression become the norm.

Two general social forms emerge as a result of this – firstly, the rise of therapy to help us get through the uncertainty of late-modern life and secondly the rise of the body as being central to identity – the later because nothing else is as ‘grounded’ as the body – hence why we obsess with our looks and clothes today.

One key part of what isn’t in Jones’s summary of Giddens also argues that the process of constructing a self-identity – which requires that we continually respond to changing social conditions – takes so much effort, that most of us ask fewer moral and existential questions, although some of us do – as is evidenced in the emergence of new social movements.

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