Social Theory and the Second Modernity

The three pillars of social life – earning a living; the rationalities of social action, control and governance; and the forms of social solidarity and cohesion – are still valid and highly topical. No doubt they form part of the foundation for the current trends of societal change. However, several contemporary sociological analyses suggest that Western societies and culture have, in recent decades, moved from the first modernity, characterized by the classic sociological thinkers, toward a second modernity (Giddens 1990; Beck 1992; Young 1999).

The descriptions of the second modernity vary depending on what aspect of human life or social action is in question and highlighted. Instead of Marx's revolutionary thesis, the second modernity has been described as a silent transition providing caustic signs only here and there (e.g. Beck 1992; Hardt and Negri 2001). However, the change has been regarded as fundamental and the second modernity has been characterized as 'radicalized modernity'. Compared with the claims on a transition to the postmodern era, which indicates an irreversible and fundamental stir in Western culture's deep structure, the second modernity thesis tend to be moderate (Giddens 1990, 150). It proposes that the features of modernity are culminating and that they are entering a reflexive, mature age where the whole civilization is facing the side effects of modern developments.

The second modernity debate is not only about repairing or managing with the side effects and the irreversible marks of the modern period. We may notice a variety of new types of developments and social changes deriving from, among other sources, technological development. Anthony Giddens (1990) has proposed three points of entry that capture the dynamics of the modern world: 1) the separation of time and space, the condition of articulation of social relations across wide spans of time and space, up to and including global systems; 2) the disembedding mechanisms of social institutions where the abstracts systems – symbolic tokens, such as money, and technical expertise – are disembedded from local and concrete relations; and 3) thoroughgoing institutional reflexivity, the regularized use of knowledge about the circumstances of social life as a constitutive element in its organisation and transformation.

Instead of leaping from one era to another, Giddens's entries to the problem of modernity create a continuum from classical sociology to the current debates. Institutional reflexivity can be connected substantially with Weber's descriptions regarding the rationalities of social action and, in particular, with the tendency of rationalizing administration. The disembedding mechanisms of social institutions as well as the separation of time and place from local and concrete relations are
inherently linked with the globalization of the economy, the rapid transportation of transnational political impulses and the social changes that follow them. However, the maturation of the first modernity and reflexivity are still in progress and late modernity has in no way displaced the hard-core principle of paid work: hundreds of millions migrants are currently sweeping around the globe looking for a job and there is a continuous debate on extending the age-related working career in the Western nation-states. It seems that new risks occur and high/late modernity tendencies are still seeking their shapes while the older risks related to the dominance of paid work, such as unemployment, poverty and work-based injuries, still exist. What may follow in social policy agendas is that, to borrow a Finnish proverb, gruel will be confused with porridge. It is clear that the problem of late modernity creates a new type of structural basis for social divisions, solidarity, cohesion and their manifestation. In the following section, these three perspectives are reflected on in more detail.

First, during the past four decades, the state and its policies have faced significant changes, referring here especially to the trend of advanced economic liberalism (Rose 1993), which aims for rapid and flexible movement of labour, goods, services and capital. The liberalization of markets, the privatization of public property, public sector cutbacks and the goals of recovering civil society have gradually spread out across the globe from the US and the UK (e.g. Pierson 1991). Moreover, the Eastern European countries have gradually enforced market economy logic after the mid-1980s, privatizing state property and reducing surveillance of their citizens (Castells 1998). Consequently, economic liberalization has produced social instability. Along with these policies, the terms of earning a living have hardened, the labour market has become more flexible and employment marked by a global and permanent uncertainty. Uncertainties, the fluctuation of global economic trends and their accelerating cycles increasingly condition people's everyday lives. On a global scale, wealth has increased and absolute poverty decreased. However, the growing inequality in the allocation of economic resources, as well as the question of social inequality between citizens in a broader sense, have gradually formed an increasing societal problem, leading to the radicalization of citizens' reactions within the Western nation-states.

A number of political measures and programmes have been launched that aim at reducing and managing these trends. However, in these efforts the status and position of the nation-states are ambivalent. On the one hand, the tendencies have created requirements for adaption and structural changes in the nationstates (Pierson 2001). The suggestions that nation-states are withdrawing, or even disappearing, along with the triumphal march of advanced liberalism may be overstated, but the economic ideology's is exerting new kind of pressure on their territories. David Harvey (2005) suggests that the ideology of the neoliberal state is to ensure the appropriate conditions for the market economy, market forces and their functioning in world politics. On the other hand, states increasingly take on, as Harvey suggests, the shape of collective private enterprises, competing in the fi of international relations. These tendencies
may question the traditional welfare state regime divisions as well as their leading functioning principles and rationalities.

Second, the increasingcompetitiveethos of the nation-states brings into question the changing rationalities and forms of social action, control and governance: If formal rationality and a calculating attitude are the distinctive features of modern Western culture, as suggested by Weber, how is such development to be understood in light of the current social theory and especially the second, late and radicalized modernity debates?

One of the current late modern features is the concept of risk and its discursive objectification as well as its formation. Risk is currently perhaps the most central input angle while structuring sociopolitical strategies and forming rationality. In the early 2000s, at the latest, this ultra-calculating attitude and way of seeing and perceiving has become a social fact. Some of the second modernity theorists have even proposed that late modern culture is to be characterized as risk culture, but their emphases vary. Giddens returns the second modernity debate about risk to issues of ontological security, individuation and trust, but the governance theorists, such as Pat O'Malley, highlight risk as a technology of governance and multilevel risk assessment practices (O'Malley 2004). Consequently, the risk debate has faced an incredible amount of different emphases, but their common feature is adherence to the questions of future predictability and controllability. Above all, risk management is considerably determined by future politics. In particular, O'Malley highlights the status of children in what he calls the risk-eliminating competitive states. Risk also creates major political leeway in the arena of public policy, because it can be exaggerated or downplayed

Third, building on Durkheim, we may ask what kind of issues related to social solidarity and cohesion arise in the context of the second modernity and the current debates. Durkheim suggested that the basis of solidarity in diversified and complex modern societies lies rather in human interdependence and the division of labour than uniformity. Weber, in turn, highlighted territory, physical enforcement monopoly and the resident's common activity as the features of the national communities. The fact is that modern societies are not only the communities filled with organic solidarity, the division of labour and interdependency but also the class societies where the unequal distribution of economic and political resources is a key source of the intergroup conflicts and ruptures in solidarity. Past decades preceding the neoliberal hegemony were an era of strong economic growth, when the equality of citizens was a priority. Historians have called these golden years (Hobsbawn 1994) and Beck argues that social solidarity, or the modern class society, was connected with the rationality of allocating and satisfying needs, increasing equality between the citizens and promoting their well-being.

In his works, Beck has also outlined the question of social solidarity in the second modernity. He proposes that there will be a fundamental shift in the foundation of solidarity and cohesion as the problems of the risk society intensify: a shared social anxiety and a sense of insecurity arise as the key factors while creating solidarity and together they produce the efforts for increasing security. The goal of positive social change and increasing wealth is no longer valid; the social utopia of the risk society is instead negative and defensive. The primary goal is preventing the worst, which is achieved with a variety of further individual and community restrictions. The driving force of solidarity is fear. These debates related to high modernity also conceal an implicit element that reduces fear: it is promoting trust between individuals and communities.

The societal tendencies leading to the change of solidarity are, however, much more complex than Beck's bipolar need–fear dichotomy presents. Along with technological development, the world has diminished and time–space compression is evident, offering further possibilities for the grounds and forms of social solidarity. Computer networks have expanded rapidly, media coverage has increased exponentially and the frequency of social networks has quickened. News information, transnational conversations and cultural influence circulate at a quickening pace everywhere around the world. The possibilities for forming networks of solidarity around the most diverse topics and experiences are evident. At the same time, international migration, immigration and the refugee problem pose questions of multiculturalism and xenophobia. In order to manage these problems, new forms of public surveillance techniques and enhanced border control have been applied. New technologies for governing, such as biometrics, satellite navigation and surveillance cameras, are continually being developed.

For the first time in world history, the technological development makes it possible

to control large masses of people, collect information and direct their activities.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >