Anthony Giddens argues that the shift to late modern society results in religion becoming more popular.
Giddens is one of four ‘sociologists of postmodernity’, all of whom argue that postmodernisation results in the nature of religion changing, but not necessarily declining in importance.
NB – see this post (forthcoming) on how to avoid getting confused over the terms ‘postmodernism/ late modernism etc…
Anthony Giddens: late modernity and religion
Giddens recognizes that ‘religious cosmology’ is undermined by the increasing importance of scientific knowledge in late modern society. However, he argues that is traditional ways of life rather than religious beliefs and practices which are more profoundly affected by this shift.
In Modernity and Self Identity, Giddens argues that the conditions of late modernity actually lay the foundations for a resurgence of religion.
Giddens argues that as tradition loses its grip on individuals, they become increasingly reflexive: they increasingly question what they should be doing with their lives, and are required to find their own way in life, rather than this being laid down by tradition.
However, individuals face problems in constructing their own, individual self-identities for two main reasons:
Competing experts provide different advice – scientific knowledge may have taken over from religion, but different scientific experts provided different, and often conflicting advice on ‘how to live’.
Existential questions become separated from every day life – according to Giddens, the seriously ill and dying and the mad are separated out from ordinary every day life and hidden from view in institutions. These are precisely the kind of people which would make us confront the big questions of existence, but in late modernity society is structured in such a way as to stop us thinking about the ‘big existential questions’.
The institutions of modernity thus fail to provide sufficient structure to guide people through life, and people’s lives are lived in a moral vacuum with a sense of personal meaninglessness the norm. People en mass suffer from what Giddens calls ontological security – they don’t really know who they are, or what to do with their lives.
It is in such a situation that religion can perform a vital function – by providing a sense of moral purpose, as well as answers to the big existential questions of life.
However, unlike modern or pre-modern societies, individuals now have to choose for themselves which religion to follow…. an this might be anything from New Age religions to one of the various strains of religious fundamentalism…
A summary of the work of three postmodern thinkers: Lyotard, Baudrillard and Bauman who argue that we need to think differently about the social world now we have moved out of the modernity.
Postmodernism is an intellectual movement that became popular in the 1980s, and the ideas associated with it can be seen as a response to the social changes occurring with the shift from modernity to postmodernity.
Postmodernists claim that the classic social thinkers took their inspiration from the idea that history has a shape – it ‘goes somewhere’ and is progressive. Jean Francois Lyotard argues that this idea has now collapsed and there are no longer any ‘metanarratives’ – overall conceptions of history or society – that make any sense.
The postmodern world is not destined, as Marx hoped, to be a harmonious socialist one, and thus Marxism (along with Functionalism and Feminism) and its promise of a better future are no longer relevant to the more complex and less predictable post-modern age.
Similarly, Lyotard argues that scientific research is no longer done purely to uncover knowledge to make the world a better place (like the original Enlightenment thinkers thought was the case), but simply to empower those with the money who fund it. This could explain why we have nuclear weapons but no cure for cancer.
Moreover, it seems that the pursuit of scientific knowledge (and especially its application) has in some ways made the world a riskier, more dangerous place – nuclear weapons and global warming are both the products of science, for example.
Democracy has spread around the world, but in many developed political systems voters are apathetic and politicians reviled. In short, for many postmodern theorists, the grand project of modernity has run into the sand.
For Jean Baudrillard (1929 – 2007), the post-modern age is a world where people respond to media images rather than to real persons or places. Thus when Diana, princes of Wales, died in 1997, there was an enormous outpouring of grief all over the world. But were people mourning a real person? Princes Diana existed for most people only through the mass media, and her death was presented like an event in a soap opera rather than an event in real life. Separating out reality from representation has become impossible when all that exists is ‘hyperreality – the mixing of the two.
Zygmunt Bauman (1992) offers a helpful distinction between two ways of thinking about the postmodern. Do we need a sociology of postmodernity, or a postmodern sociology?
The first view accepts that the social world has moved rapidly in a postmodern direction. The enormous growth and spread of the mass media, new information technologies, the more fluid movement of people across the world and the development of multicultural societies – all of these mean that we no longer live in a modern world, but in a postmodern world. However, on this view there is no compelling reason to think that sociology cannot describe, understand and explain the emerging postmodern world.
The second view suggests that the type of sociology which successfully analysed the modern world of capitalism, industrialization, and nation states is no longer capable of dealing with the de-centred, pluralistic, media-saturated, globalizing postmodern world. In short, we need a postmodern sociology for a postmodern world. However, it remains unclear what such a sociology would look like.
Bauman accepts that the modern project originating in the European Enlightenment of rationally shaping society no longer makes sense, at leas not in the way thought possible by Comte, Marx or other classical theorists. However, since the turn of the century, Bauman increasingly moved away from the term ‘postmodern’ – which he says has become corrupted by too much diverse usage – and now describes our age as one of ‘liquid modernity‘, reflecting the fact that it is in constant flux and uncertainty in spite of all attempts to impose order and stability on the world.
Many sociologists reject the thesis that we are entering a postmodern age altogether, and one staunch critic of postmodern theory is Jurgen Habermas (1983), who sees modernity as an ‘incomplete project’. Instead of consigning modernity to the dustbin of history, we should be extending it, pushing for more democracy, more freedom and more rational policy. Habermas argues that Postmodernists are essentially pessimists and defeatists.
Whichever view you think more plausible, it is the case that postmodern analyses have lost ground to the theory of globalisation, which has become the dominant theoretical framework for understanding the direction of social change in the 21st century.
Giddens and Sutton (2017) Sociology
Signposting and Related Posts
I typically expose students to postmodernism in the first few weeks of first year teaching, but the above material might be better saved for the end of the second year which is the best time to teach social theories, postmodernism coming towards the end after the classic modernist theories such as Functionalism and Marxism.
Before thinking about theories of postmodernity you need to be familiar with the main differences between the two historical eras mdoernity and postmodernity, summarised (with pictures) in this post: From Modernity to Postmodernity.
A brief summary of, and elaboration on Anthony Giddens’ take on what the sociological imagination involves…
Learning to think sociologically means cultivating the sociological imagination. Studying sociology cannot be just a routine process of acquiring knowledge. A sociologist is someone who is able to break free from the immediacy of personal circumstances and put things in a wider context. Sociological work depends on what the American author C. Wright Mills, in a famous phrase, called the sociological imagination (Mills 1970).
The sociological imagination requires us, above all, to ‘think ourselves away’ from the familiar routines of our daily lives in order to look at them anew. The best way to illustrate what this involves is take a simple act which millions of people do every day, such as drinking a cup of coffee. A sociological investigation of coffee reveals that there are many social processes associated with the act.
First, coffee is not just a refreshing drink but it has symbolic value as part of our day to day social activities. Often the rituals associated with coffee drinking are more important than consuming the drink itself. For example, the morning cup of coffee is, for many people, the central part of their morning routine, an essential part of starting the day, while ‘meeting someone for coffee’ is typically not just about drinking coffee, but forms the basis for socialising and social interaction, which offer a rich vein of subject matter for sociologists to investigate.
Second, coffee contains caffeine, a drug which stimulates certain parts of the brain. As such, people drink coffee to aid concentration, or simply ‘give them a lift’. Coffee is a habit-forming substance, and such many people feel as if they cannot get through a typical day without their daily coffee injections. Coffee, like alcohol in the United Kingdom, is a legal drug, and yet other mind-altering drugs such as cannabis and cocaine are illegal. Other societies have different rules pertaining to mind altering, addictive drugs – and the question of why such rules come about and why they differ from culture to culture is of interest to sociologists.
Third, when we drink a cup of coffee, we are caught up in a complex set of global social and economic interactions which link us to millions of other people in other countries. There is a huge global production chain associated with coffee – it is grown in Asia, Africa and Latin America, typically by quite poor farmers, then bought in bulk by local distributors, and then typically shipped to Europe where it is roasted and ground, and also packaged and branded. If you add on the processes which go in a coffee shop, there are 6 chains from coffee farmer to consumer.
Fourth – historically, the production and consumption of coffee is tied up with the history of colonialism – a period in which European powers invaded Asia, Africa and Latin America and set up colonies which specialised in particular crops (such as tea, coffee, sugar and bananas) for export back to the ‘mother countries’ – the fact that coffee is grown in huge quantities in countries such as Colombia and Indonesia is a legacy of the colonial era.
Fifth – drinking coffee ties us into relations with some of the world’s largest Corporations – such as Nestle and Starbucks – many of these corporations have been accused of exploiting coffee pickers by paying very little for the coffee they buy in order to maximise their profits, thus ‘coffee as usual’ perpetuates global capitalism. Of course, there is now ‘fair trade coffee’, so purchasing coffee involves making ethical choices about whether you go for the cheapest cup or pay extra to give the farmers a chance of a decent wage.
Sixth – there have been recent concerns about the environmental impact of growing coffee – when any product is ‘factory farmed’, it depletes the soil and reduces biodiversity in a local area – not to mention to pollution associated with shipping the product several thousand miles around the globe.
Try cultivating your own sociological imagination:
Take any product and ask yourself the following in relation to it:
What social rituals are associated with consuming the product?
What norms and rules exist which limit the use of the product or similar product?
How does the product connect you to global economic and social processes?
What is the history of the product?
What Corporations are typically involved in the manufacture and distribution of the product. Are there any ethical concerns about the companies involved, are there any ethical alternatives?
A summary of Giddens’ ‘Sociology’ (2017): The Introduction
‘The world we live in today can feel liberating and exciting but, at the same time confusing and worrying. Global communications and friendships across national boundaries are in many ways easier to sustain than in previous times, yet we also see violent crime, international terrorism, emerging wars and persistent economic and social inequality.
The modern world presents us with many opportunities and possibilities, but it is also fraught with high-consequence risks, most notably the damaging impact of our high-consumption lifestyle on the environment.
Most people within the relatively rich countries are materially better off than ever before, but in other parts of the world many millions live in situations of poverty where children die for the lack of fundamental things such as food, safe water supplies and basic healthcare. How can this be, when humanity as a whole has the capability to control its own destiny that would have been unimaginable to previous generations’?
How did this world come about?
Why are the conditions of life today so different from those of the past?
Why is there so much inequality in the world?
Where are today’s societies heading in the future?
These ‘big questions’, among many others, are the prime concerns of sociology, and if you have ever asked yourself any of the above big questions, then you can consider yourself a novice sociologist.
Sociology can be simply defined as ‘the scientific study of human life, social groups, whole societies and the human world as such… Its subject matter is our own behaviour as social beings in relationship with many other people. ‘
The scope of sociology is extremely wide, ranging from the analysis of passing encounters between individuals on the street to the investigation of crime, international relations and global forms of terrorism.
Most of us see the world in terms of familiar features, through our friends, families and working-lives, but sociology insists that we take a broader view in order to understand why we act in the way that we do.
Sociology teaches us that much of what we regard as natural, inevitable, good and true may not be so, and that the basic worldview we have is simply a result of the historical context in which we live and the social processes which frame our daily lives.
Understanding the subtle yet complex and profound ways in which our individual lives reflect the contexts of our social experience is basic to the sociologist’s outlook.
The rest of Giddens’ introductory chapter covers the following:
An introduction to sociology as a way of thinking – ‘the sociological imagination’.
How sociology came into existence – introducing some of the ideas of the founders of sociology – Auguste Comte, Emile Durkhiem, Karl Marx and Max Weber , and the ‘neglected founders’ of sociology.
The three basic sociological traditions – Functionalism, conflict perspectives, and symbolic interactionism.
What sociology might be used for – should it public (political) or private?
A few thoughts on this introduction
What isn’t clear from this section (although Giddens does make it clear later on) is that There are some sociologists who would reject aspects of his definition of sociology – there are those who do not think sociology should be a science, for example and there are those who think sociology should be much more focused on micro processes – Giddens has a very global (verging on futuristic IMO) approach to sociology.
For those studying A-level sociology, this isn’t an A-level text book, and YES, the restraints of the A-level syllabus means you won’t be spending much time focusing on interesting issues such as global warming or terrorism, you’re much more likely to be focusing on turgid sociology from the 1970s and 80s, because that’s what’s on the spec, and so you could be assessed on it, and your teachers can’t risk not teaching it!
You might like to read my summary of Bauman and May’s take on the same question: ‘what is sociology’?
If you want to check out one of Giddens’ major contributions to sociology – have a look at my summary of his 1991 classic ‘Modernity and Self-identity’ – a great read, but it helps if you’ve already studied both sociology and psychology.
From a structurationist perspective, a social theory must explain both social reproduction (social order being reproduced over time by people continuing to act in ways inherited from the past) and social transformation (how social order is changed by people, intentionally or unintentionally, through their interactions.
Structuration theory seeks to overcome what it sees as the failings of earlier social theory, avoiding both its ‘objectivist’ and ‘subjectivist’ extremes by forging new terminology to describe how people both create and are created by social reproduction and transformation.
The very word structuration attempts to show that social structure and individual action are elements of one single process, the ‘constitution of society’ as Giddens (1984) puts it.
The two most important contemporary structuration theorists are Giddens and Bourdieu. What they both have in common is that they focus on social ‘practices’ rather than ‘actions’. Practices are everyday activities that are routinized, and social structure is just simply routinized practices, and the memories in people’s heads that allow them to keep doing those practices in those ways over time. (Reckwitz 2002).
Thus ‘social structure’ and ‘society’ are not ‘things’ outside of individuals and their practices, they are those practices.
The focus on practices draws from phenomenology the idea of ‘practical consciousness’, the idea that what most people do most of the time is semi-conscious. Practical consciousness, or practices are informed by a stock of taken-for-granted knowledge that makes-up and makes possible our everyday life-worlds. It is these practices which we generally do not reflect upon.
Bourdieu’s and Giddens’ structuration theories differ because they have been developed for different purposes.
Bourdieu, drawing mainly on Marx (especially), Weber and Durkheim, regarded his sociology as one aimed at revealing the nature and operation of forms of domination (which Bourdieu calls forms of ‘symbolic violence’), especially by the higher classes over the lower classes, and in his later life, Bourdieu was an outspoken intellectual, critical of neo-liberal policies.
In contrast, Giddens, drawing mainly on ethnomethodology, put his structuration theory at the service of the ‘third way’ politics associated with Bill Clinton and Tony Blaire which endeavoured to recast ‘soft left’ social democratic policies into an age of global capitalism. Structuration theory was also used by Giddens to diagnose contemporary social and cultural change, including transformations in self-identity and intimacy. (Giddens 1991).
Bourdieu tended to focus on the harms which symbolic violence did to the marginalised, while Giddens tended to focus on new opportunities for liberation which existed for all social classes.
Criticisms of these two are that Bourdieu ends up being too objectivist, Giddens, too subjectivist.
structure emerges out of and enables action, the two are fundamentally linked!
Social Structure is also only ever the outcomes of practices which have previously happened, and it makes practices possible (the duality of structure), and it is not separate from action.
Giddens rejects Positivism because of its mistaken search for the general laws of social life. Giddens believes that human beings are thoughtful and creative and thus cannot be wholly predicted in advance.
Marx downgraded the centrality of capitalism to being just one of four pillars of late-modernity along with surveillance, military power and industrialism.
Giddens draws selectively on a wide range of action theories, including Goffman, to argue that individuals always have some form of agency to transform a situation; even slaves have the capacity to act in different ways.
Practices always have the possibility of changing, and we can never guarantee that they will be reproduced, and one of the key features of late modern (compared to traditional) societies, is that there are more transformations in a shorter period of time.
He sees actors as using knowledge to engage in practical action, thus society is consciously reproduced (or transformed) in every social encounter.
However – ‘the realm of human agency is bounded’ for the ‘constitution of society is a skilled accomplishment of its members, but one that does not take place under conditions that are wholly intended or wholly comprehended by them’. (1976). For Giddens – people make society but with resources and ‘practices’ inherited from the past.
Structure for Giddens is not something which exists outside of the individual, but just patterns of practices. As practices change so does structure, and vice-versa.
Most of our practices take place at the level of practical consciousness, where we just act without thinking about it, however sometimes we operate at the level of ‘discursive consciousness’ – where we reflect on how we did things, but sometimes we find it difficult to talk about – here the example is given of footballers finding it difficult to describe how to play a game of football, they just know how to do it, when they doing it.
Practical consciousness is informed by ‘Mutual knowledge’ – taken for granted knowledge about how to act, which is based around ‘rules’ about the right and wrong way to do things. Rules persist among large groups of people and are lodged in agents’ heads in ‘memory traces’ (similar to Bourdieu’s ideas on socialisation and the habitus).
When agents are engaged in practices they draw on resources – there are two kinds – authoritative ones (status) and allocative ones (basically money and stuff) – an agent’s capacity to carry out their practices is influenced by their access to resources (similar to Bourdieu’s ideas about ‘skilled’ players of the game).
Giddens understands social institutions (such as family, and economic arrangements) as practices which have become routinized, carried out by a majority of agents across time and space. A social institution only exists because several individuals constantly make it over and over again.
Social Structure is also only ever the outcomes of practices which have previously happened, and it makes practices possible (the duality of structure), and it is not separate from action.
For Giddens social structures do not reproduce themselves… it is always agents and their practices that reproduce structures, depending on circumstances. After all, ‘structure’ is simply made up of rules (in agents’ heads) and resources, which make action possible (Bourdieu claims it is the habitus which makes this possible). Simultaneously, practices create and recreate rules and resources. Therefor structure only exists in practices and in the memory traces in agents’ practical consciousness, and has no existence external to these.
Sources and signposting
This post is summarized from Inglis, D (2012) – A Invitation to Social Theory, Polity.
Chas and Dave may not realise it, but I think many of their songs demonstrate how their (working class male) experience of the shift in gender-relations and the emergence of the pure relationship hasn’t been a comfortable one…
‘London Girls’ seems to be a a clear indication of what they want in a woman….a simple, traditional ‘girl’ who does your washing, mends your clothes and doesn’t complain when you leave your tat lying around the house…
Sorry to say lads, but that kind of traditional ‘gal is a rare find these days, especially among working class couples, where it’s more likely that both partners will have to work to survive, so they’re pretty much setting themselves up for frustration wishing for the past.
In another song, ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’, Anthony Giddens might point out that this is an inevitable consequence of the ‘Pure Relationship’ now being the typical type of relationship in late-modern society.
From this analytical point of view, the lads might lament a little less – it’s not that one of them in-particular was never good enough, it’s that in the age of individualised relationships, where we both expect more but don’t have the time to make sufficient compromises, most (yes – MOST) relationships are doomed to failure.
The Song ‘Rabbit’ seems to further indicate a negative experience of their partners’ constant chatter – despite having ‘wonderful arms, and…. charms’ (I kid you not, it’s an actual line in the song), they can’t stand her constant talking.
Ulrich Beck might point out that this is something which is much more likely to be expected in the age of the negotiated family, where the expectations of relationships constantly shift, and so require more discussion to keep them on track.
You could also interpret Chas and Dave’s music as something of a reaction against cosmopolitanism – they’ve been around the world, yet all they want is Jellied Eels and a Pint, thank you very much. I guess if they wan’t cheering up, they could always go down to Margate… I’ve heard it’s pretty reactionary down that way….
P.S. When it comes to the Heathrow Christmas advert – I’m with Charlie Brooker – This is just too weird, they should never have gone there!
Blame Relative Deprivation and YouTube for this Post!
So there I was on Zoopla having a new years gawp at how I could buy a three bedroom end of terrace house in Margate for £50K less than my two bed flat in Surrey – and that ‘Down to Margate’ song popped into my head. A few clicks and a few songs later the idea for this post just sort of emerged… Sorry!
Anthony Giddens is one of the world’s leading sociologists and one of the main critics of Postmodern thought – and should be taught as part of the second year A level Sociology module in Theory and Methods. Below is a summary of one of his major works – Modernity and Self-Identity (the introduction and chapter one).
Introduction – An Overview of the Whole Book –
Modernity is more complex and interconnected than ever before and modern institutions are more dynamic than at any previous point in history – at both an institutional level and in terms of how they impact on the individual and intimate life.
In modernity there is an increasing interconnection between two extremes – the global and personal dispositions (extensionality and intentionality).
The new mechanisms of self-identity shape and are shaped by the institutions of modernity and Sociology is a fundamental part of the institutional reflexivity of modernity.
There is a basic dialectic between modern institutions which encourage the repression of ‘living out’ existential questions in day to day life and the emergence of life-politics which seeks to manifest them.
Late Modernity has the following characteristics:
It is more intensely reflexive.
There has been a profound reorganisation of time and space – disembedding mechanisms change the nature of day to day social life.
It institutionalises radical doubt – all knowledge takes the form of a hypothesis – claims which may be true are always potentially open for revision such that the self has to be continuously (re-) made amidst a puzzling array of possibilities.
In circumstances of uncertainty and multiple choice the notions of risk and trust become central. Trust is necessary to form a protective cocoon so that we may ‘go on’ with our day to day life. Risk is also central – in modernity the future is continuously drawn into the present by means of the reflexive organisation of knowledge environments. Modernity makes some areas of life safer, but also opens up new risks.
The influence of distant happenings on proximate events become more and more common place – the media is common place and is what binds us together in this (against hyperreality).
Because of all of the above ‘lifestyle’ becomes central – reflexively organised life planning becomes a central feature of the structuring of self-identity, which normally presumes a consideration of risks as filtered through contact with expert knowledge.
The Pure Relationship is the main type of relationship.
Re-skilling becomes central to life.
The construction and control of the body becomes central.
Science, technology and expertise play a more fundamental role in the ‘sequestration of experience’. The overall thrust of modern institutions is to create settings of action ordered in terms of modernity’s own dynamics and severed from external criteria’ – as a result action becomes severed from existential questions.
Mechanisms of shame rather than guilt come to the fore in late modernity. Narcissism and personal meaninglessness become the main problems of self-development – ”authenticity’ is frequently devoid of any moral anchoring.
Yet the repression of existential questions is not complete – and life politics emerges in response.
Baudrillard confuses the pervasive impact of mediated experience with the internal referentiality of the social systems of modernity – these systems become largely autonomous and determined by their own constitutive influences.
The construction of self identity does not float free – class and other divisions can be partially defined through differential access to opportunities for self-actualisation.
Chapter One – The Contours of High Modernity
Starts with the example of divorce to illustrate the gist of the chapter.
The experience of intimate life is not separate from social life. High modernity demands that we continually remake ourselves, and so it is with many relationships – as evidenced in the persistent high divorce rate, which is simply a consequence of the ‘pure relationship’ being the main type of relationship today.
Divorce is not necessarily a tragedy – for some it is an opportunity to further develop themselves, while for others they retreat into a resigned numbness. To make a ‘success’ out of divorce, one has to mourn it, accept that the marriage is ended, and move on!
Modernity: Some general considerations:
Modernity has the following features –
It is industrial – social relations are rooted in the widespread use of material power and machinery in production processes.
It is capitalist – we live in a system of commodity production which involves both competitive product markets and the commodification of labour power.
There are significant institutions of surveillance – the supervisory control of subject populations – both visible and in terms of the use of information to coordinate social activities.
We live in the context of the industrialisation of war – modernity has ushered in a context of ‘total war’ – the potential destructive power of weaponry, most obviously nuclear arms, is immense.
Modernity produces certain distinct social forms – most obviously the nation state, or a system of nation states, which follow coordinated policies or plans on a global scale – nation states permit and entail concentrated reflexive monitoring.
Modernity is also characterised by extreme dynamism – the current world is a runaway world – the pace, scope and profoundness of changes is significantly greater than any time before.
The peculiar character of modernity consists in the following:
Firstly – the separation of time and space and the emptying out of time and space – the clock being the most obvious manifestation which presumed deeply structured changes in the tissue of everyday life, which were universalising, on a global scale. This is a dialectical process – the severance of time from space allows for new formations – such as the ‘use of history to make history’ – as in the significance of the year 2000, just because it was the year 2000.
Secondly – the disembedding of social institutions – the lifting out of social relations from local contexts. There are two main ways this occurs – through symbolic tokens (such as money) and expert systems (therapists) and each of these permeate every aspect of late-modern life, and both depend on trust. Trust, a leap of faith is essential – because in a disembedded system we cannot know everything. Risk is also part of this.
Institutional reflexivity is the third feature of late modernity – the regularised use of knowledge about circumstances of social life as a constitutive element in its organisation and transformation.
The local, the global and the transformation of day-to-day-life
There is a dialectic between Modernity’s universalising efforts and the actual consequences: In the attempt to know and predict everything, in fact competing knowledge systems have emerged, and there is no way of knowing with any certainty which is correct, thus uncertainty lies at the heart of daily life.
The mediation of experience
Today, virtually all experience is mediated, but this does not result in post-modern fragmentation – in fact mediation is precisely what unifies all of us – pre-modern life is what was truly fragmented. We are now all painfully and persistently aware of the various modern problems which we cannot escape.
The Existential Parameters of High Modernity
The Future is the driving force of high modernity – or rather the attempt to colonise it based on the use of knowledge. We do this in the context of risk – We are all confronted with uncertainty because the rise of competing expert systems just makes us more uncertain. Expert knowledge has failed to make the world more predictable.
Why Modernity and Personal Identity?
Because never before has there been a time when so many people have been unified into the demands to reflexively make themselves – it is the institutional context of modernity which makes this possible – Globalisation, and abstract systems demand that we engage in self-construction, and therapy becomes central to this.
A brief summary of Anthony Giddens’ work on the relationship between the self and society in late-modern age.
Self-identity, history, modernity.
Drawing on a therapeutic text – ‘Self-Therapy’ by Janette Rainwater – Giddens selects ten features which are distinctive about the search for self-identity in the late modern age:
The self is seen as a reflexive project for which the individual is responsible. Self-understanding is relegated to the more inclusive and fundamental aim of rebuilding a more rewarding sense of identity.
The self forms a trajectory of development from the the past to the anticipated future. The lifespan rather than external events is in the foreground, the later are cast as either fortuitous or throwing up barriers which need to be overcome.
Reflexivity becomes continuous – the individual continuously asks the question ‘what am I doing in this moment, and what can I do to change?’ In this, reflexivity belongs to the reflexive historicity of modernity.
The narrative of the self is made explicit – in the keeping of an autobiography – which requires continual creative input.
Self-actualisation implies the control of time – essentially, the establishing of zones of time which have only remote connections with external temporal orders. Holding a dialogue with time is the very basis of self-realisation, and using the ever-present moment to direct one’s future life course is essential.
The reflexivity of the self extends to the body. Awareness of the body is central to the grasping of the moment. The point here is to establish a differentiated self, not to dissolve the ego.
Self-actualisation is understood as a balance between opportunity and risk. The individual has to be prepared to take on greater levels of risk than is normal – to change is to risk things getting worse.
The moral thread of self-actualisation is one of authenticity… Personal growth depends on conquering emotional blocks and tensions that prevent us from understanding ourselves – recover or repeat old habits is the mantra.
The life course is seen as a series of ‘passages’. All such transitions involve loss.
The line of development of the self is internally referential – it is the creation of a personal belief system by which someone changes – one’s first loyalty is to oneself.
Giddens now asks how can we connect up these ten features of self-identity to the institutional transformations characteristic of the late-modern world?
Lifestyle and Life Plans
Therapy (and it’s focus on self-identity reconstruction) is a response to the backdrop to the existential terrain of late modern life which consists of the following features:
it is reflexively organised
it is permeated by abstract systems (money/ time)
the reordering of time and space has realigned the global and the local.
This has resulted in the following societal level changes
We live in a post-traditional order, the signposts offered by tradition are now blank
We have a pluralisation of lifeworlds – the milieu which we are exposed to are much more diverse.
Experts do not agree, so there is no longer a certain source of knowledge.
The prevalence of mediated experiences – the collage effect of the media – we have new communities and shed loads of new possibilities.
All of this has results in the primacy of lifestyle (and thus lifestyle planning and therapy)
A lifestyle may be defined as a more or less integrated set of practices which an individual embraces because they give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity. A lifestyle implies a plurality of choices – it is something which is adopted rather than handed down (and should not merely be conflated with consumerism in this instance).
(NB Giddens also says that we do not all have complete freedom of choice over our lifestyles – we are restricted by work, and by class etc… and moreover, the lifestyle pattern we choose limits what we can do if we wish to maintain an authentic narrative of the self.
Life planning becomes essential in the above social context – life planning is an attempt to ‘colonise the future’.in conditions of social uncertainty – which is precisely what modern institutions do at the societal level.
Thus life-planning and therapy kind of ‘mirror’ a broader (globalised) social context which is itself reflexive.
Two things in particular become central to ‘life planning’– (1) The Pure Relationship comes to be crucial to the reflexive project of the self and (2) the body becomes subject of ever greater levels of personal control, which I’ll cover in the next blog post or two.