Modernization and Modernity in History Research Paper

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Modernization and modernity have emerged, particularly after World War II, as key concepts in Western social science. They refer to a long-term process of change primarily in the Western world, but also outside the Euro-Atlantic hemisphere, by which traditional, agrarian societies are transformed into the complex systems of industrial (and possibly democratic) societies typical of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries (‘modernization’). As a result of this process, societies and cultures develop a typical set of characteristics (e.g., in personality structure, organizations and institutions, and systems of belief and symbolic expression) that set them apart from older, premodern types of sociocultural systems (‘modernity’). For many centuries, scholars have described and tried to explain—and also, to intellectually support—the process of modernization in terms of concepts such as social differentiation, rationalization, or economic development. From the 1950s onward, such concepts have been more explicitly formulated as social scientific theories of Western development, especially in American social science, but spreading very influentially from there to the academic cultures of other Western countries (‘modernization theory’). As modernization describes a process of change in history, research in this field has proved to be a very important, almost paradigmatic area of cooperation and exchange between the social sciences and the discipline of history, and a particular branch of sociology called ‘historical sociology’ has centered around the concept of modernization as Westernization of societies, mostly during the past three to five centuries. Since the 1980s, modernization theories have increasingly been attacked—and often rejected—for their normative, Western-biased implications. At the same time, however, the concept of modernity has become more prominent in attempts at defining twentieth-century culture and its ambiguities. In addition, the 1990s have witnessed a renaissance of modernization theory in a reformulated framework of cultural skepticism and multiculturalism, an intellectual trend that is also significant for new attempts at ‘bringing society back in’ as the pendulum swings back from a radical emphasis on ‘culture’ in history and other social sciences.

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1. Concepts of Modernity and Modernization before 1945

The term ‘modern’ (Latin modernus) has been in use since the fifth century AD to distinguish the ‘new’ or ‘current’ from the ‘old’ or ‘antique’ (Latin antiquus), especially as a means of describing and legitimizing new institutions, new legal rules, or new scholarly assumptions (Gumbrecht 1978). Thus, the term ‘modern’ has been carrying some normative implications from its very inception; to claim modernity for oneself meant a depreciation of the old or traditional and the attempt to win distance from it. In a very general sense and up to our own time, the concept of ‘modern modernity’ is anchored in an attempt at defining one’s own ‘present’ by differentiating it from the past. The conflict over the primacy of the new, or modern, over the old, or antique, has paradigmatically been fought out in the French Querelles des anciens et des modernes in the late seventeenth century; after the ‘Querelles,’ the superiority of the modern over the classic, or traditional, has rarely been fundamentally in doubt in the Western tradition of thought. The emphasis on the ‘modern’ gained additional support in the eighteenth century, when the enlightenment shifted historical thinking from cyclical to linear-progressive models. Since then, and especially after the American and French revolutions, the modern world was considered a world that in a radical and emphatic way was open into the future, a future that was to be attained by a natural progression of the cultural state of society.

In the wake of this fundamental shift, ‘modern’ was no longer just an opposition to the old or classic, but came to be regarded as the long-term process of change that was called ‘modernization’ in twentiethcentury social science. In that sense, the so-called ‘stage theories’ of historical development brought forward most impressively by writers of the Scottish enlightenment (Smith, Ferguson, and others) can be seen as the first explicit and scientific modernization theories; at the same time, they were founded on the claim of a Western superiority over colonial or ‘savage’ societies. During the nineteenth century, when developmental and progressivist thinking became a dominant pattern, the idea of modernization became closely connected to evolutionary theory; the process of modernization was considered an ever-advancing evolution of Western traits leading toward a highly industrialized, rational, and bureaucratic social organization. This link to evolutionary theory prominently figured in the modernization theories of the mid-twentieth century, but has lost much of its appeal since then. Probably the most prominent, and certainly the most influential, variant of nineteenth century (evolutionary) modernization theories has been Karl Marx’ and Friedrich Engels’ historicalmaterialist theory of Western development. It provided a consistent view of the long-term processes of change, identified mechanisms of social change and progress (namely, the evolution of the productive forces and the subsequent change of social (class) relations), and it underscored the importance of the transition to a capitalist industrial economy in the nineteenth century. In doing so, it provided a model for later modernization theories, be they Marxist or anti-Marxist, and at the same time established a powerful ‘master narrative’ of Western history which patterned much historical writing in the twentieth century.

The most important bridge between those ‘classical’ theories of modernization (from the enlightenment to Marxism) and the more specifically scholarly-scientific approaches to modernization that developed in the mid-twentieth century was built by the founding fathers of modern sociology around the turn of the century, especially by Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. Weber’s idea of modernization as occidental rationalization, empirically grounded in his political sociology and his comparative sociology of religion, proved enormously influential in systematic and historical sociology—from Talcott Parsons to Reinhard Bendix and S. N. Eisenstadt—as well as in history. Weber succeeded in combining scope and historical depth with analytical concepts; he evaded the pitfalls of Marxism by giving weight to cultural, religious, and intellectual factors as well as material factors in his view on the specificity of modern Western development. Although the high tide of classical Weberian sociology, and of the adoption of Weberian categories in historical writing, may have been over since the late 1970s or 1980s, his thought remains influential in recent attempts at reformulating the ideas of modernity and modernization, as Weber is now seen less as an advocate of progress and rationalization, and more as a shrewd observer of the deep ambiguities of modernization and modern life.

2. Modernization and Modernization Theory in the Social Sciences after 1945

After World War II, ‘modernization theory’ in a more limited, very specific sense emerged in the context of American social science, and American postwar political culture in general. With the ‘American century’ and the vision of a ‘Pax americana’ reaching its climax, economic, political, and social development elsewhere in the world was increasingly viewed in the perspective of progressive Americanization that would, in the end, lead to a homogeneous system of modern, industrial societies. The modernization of the West, and the US in particular, was regarded a model for the future development of ‘Third World’ countries, their agrarian societies, and authoritarian political structures. The optimistic mood of social-scientific theories in this vein, their sometimes crude and simplistic assumptions about modernization, and their somewhat intellectually ‘imperialist’ stance towards nonEuropean cultures, have been much criticized since the late 1960s. In some areas of cultural theory and cultural history, they have been treated with contempt or, at best, with disregard. However, one should not ignore the fact that in the 1950s and 1960s modernization theory marked an important step in the professionalization of concepts of social change and development, and in the thinking about ‘modernity’ in general. Also, concepts of modernization developed in sociology and political science often radiated beyond the boundaries of their disciplines and proved very influential in other disciplines such as history.

The approaches of modernization theory between the 1950s and 1970s need not be described here in detail (for an overview and literature, see Lerner et al. 1968), but it may be useful to mention some fundamental concepts and assumptions, especially insofar as they inspired empirical work in historical sociology or history proper. The classical, post-1945 modernization theory crystallized at a time when structuralfunctional theory in sociology stood in high regard, and when social and cultural problems were often discussed in terms of a theory of social systems. Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons best epitomizes this approach; like many others, he attempted to link the somewhat static assumptions of functionalism with more dynamic Weberian concepts of rationalization and evolutionary change in Western history (see, e.g., Parsons 1966). American modernization theory mostly concentrated on the transition from ‘traditional society’ to industrial capitalism in the economy, and on the transition to democracy and mass participation in the realm of politics. For Western societies, this implied a strong focus on the nineteenth century, a time period which at that time also became increasingly important in the work of historians in many countries. While quantitative approaches in modernization theory were rarely applied in empirical historical studies, qualitative analytical concepts like theories of economic growth (e.g., Walt W. Rostow, Alexander Gerschenkron) and of political modernization, especially of state-formation and nation-building (e.g., Karl W. Deutsch), proved attractive for historians interested in problems of social and institutional change.

In modernization theories of the 1950s and 1960s, a dichotomy of ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ often figured prominently; sociologists and political scientists established catalogs with typical features of ‘traditional’ societies (e.g., agrarian, localistic, and homogeneous) and contrasted them with features of ‘modern’ societies (e.g., urban, centralistic, and heterogeneous). Though this seemed to confirm a static, even ahistorical bias in modernization theory, the traditional-modern-dichotomy, which in many respects traces back to Ferdinand Toennies’ distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, became a widespread analytical tool in history and historical sociology in the 1960s and 1970s. Concepts such as this, focusing on the transition from tradition to modernity through a series of crises which modernizing societies had to undergo, proved attractive to historians who were interested in the history of revolutions or in the emergence of participatory democracy. They also triggered a wave of empirical work in historical sociology between the late 1950s and the early 1970s in which historical processes of transition to modernity were analyzed, as in Neil Smelser’s application of Parsonian theory to English industrialization (Smelser 1959). Other scholars made use of Weberian concepts of comparative change in Western and non-Western (e.g., China, Japan) societies (see, e.g., Eisenstadt 1973, Moore 1966). This line of research has never been completely cut off, but it grew thinner and, in the 1980s and 1990s, stood under an ever larger shadow of cultural theory and anthropology, that is, of disciplines and approaches which fundamentally questioned the assumptions of macrosociological, Western-oriented modernization theory.

3. Modernization and Modernization Theory in Historical Work

Historians in many Western countries have found theoretical concepts on modernity and modernization increasingly interesting since the 1950s, and especially during the 1960s and 1970s. There are several reasons for this. First, the postwar modernization theories were more than an intradisciplinary project; they served as an expression of a general mood and intellectual climate—of progress, of Western success, etc.—that did not leave academics from other disciplines, particularly in the humanities, unaffected. Second, the discipline of history at that time was very much in search for new approaches, for new master narratives, which would be able to support the ongoing broad expansion of history into the fields of social and economic history. At the same time, more historians became interested in comparative or international history, and modernization theory offered ways and concepts of pursuing such approaches. Third, the period of the 1950s to the 1970s was characterized by an intense cooperation between historians and social scientists; historians were looking for theoretical models in sociology and political science, while on the other hand, students of these disciplines attempted to treat their subjects—the formation of societies, the building of nation-states, or the emergence of party systems—with more historical depth (Kocka 1996). In a very general sense, in which ‘modernization theory’ is not understood as a coherent theoretical concept, but more as a diffuse historical ‘plot structure’ of societal modernization, economic progress, and political democratization, it may indeed be said that ‘The quintessential professionalized historical discourse of the first postwar decades was modernization theory’ (Applegate 1999, p. 1162). However, this statement could also be made for much of nineteenth and early twentieth-century liberal (‘Whig’) historiography; and even in the 1960s or 1970s, it was always a small minority of historians who made explicit use of socialscientific concepts of modernity and modernization in their empirical work. Also, national cultures and traditions of historiography diverged very much in that regard. While Anglo-American ‘empiricist’ culture generally worked as a barrier against the intrusion of theoretical concepts in historical writing, German scientific culture, with its strong traditions of fundamental theorizing, encouraged the adaptation of such concepts. American (US) and German historiography can serve as examples for a somewhat closer look at the role of modernization theory in the discipline of history.

3.1 USA

The fact that the US were the seedbed for the most influential modernization theories after 1945 might induce the assumption that concepts of modernization have been widely adopted by American historians, but that is not the case, at least not with modernization theories in a more limited, social-scientific meaning of that term. It is true that American historiography had a long tradition of ‘progressivist’ interpretation of its nation’s history, even before the rise of the ‘Progressive Historians’ at the beginning of the twentieth century. Indeed, it is safe to say that a progressivist impulse constituted the very beginnings of American national historiography in the early nineteenth century (e.g., George Bancroft). After the nineteenth-century idea of progress had lost much of its original persuasion, modernization theory offered a somewhat more sophisticated replacement. Yet, as Dorothy Ross has maintained, ‘Its ideological use, reductionism, and historical determinism made historians wary of it from the start,’ and ‘Only few historical studies have in fact openly claimed modernization as the theoretical basis of their work’ (Ross 1998, p. 93). On the other hand, central assumptions of modernization theory often tacitly informed 1950s historiography, particularly in the then predominant school of ‘consensus history,’ which sought to establish an image of America as a country of conflict-free modernism. While it can be argued that in this perspective America had never been truly ‘traditional’ as European feudal societies were, influential consensus historians such as David Potter drew on social-scientific notions of a modernizing American character; Potter (1954), for example, explicitly referred to David Riesman’s theory of a transition from ‘inner-directed’ to ‘other-directed’ man. Similarly, it is very common among American historians to point to a fundamental dichotomy between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, and to use this distinction for describing modernization processes, or historical developments that lead in the direction of a growing social complexity and differentiation. In what can be regarded as one of the most important historical case studies on American modernization, Robert Wiebe has argued for a fundamental change in the organizing principles of American society in the decades around 1900, a change which he describes as the transition from ‘island communities’ with their communal values to a technological and industrialized order shaped by the bureaucratic mentality of a new, professional middle class (Wiebe 1967). Still, American historians have generally been hesitant in explicitly using modernization theories from sociology or political science; even more so since around 1980, when the culturalist turn in the humanities generated additional skepticism about master narratives of progress and linear development.

3.2 Germany

In parts of the West German historical profession during the 1960s, an intellectual climate very favorable to the reception of ideas on modernization in general, and of social-scientific theories of modernization in particular, developed. It was part of a broader, international tendency toward social and economic history in the postwar decades, at the expense of the more traditional political and diplomatic history, but probably even more important were factors specific to German history, and to the German political situation after the Third Reich. As a younger generation of academics began to orient themselves toward the West, especially the US, they opened up for new theoretical and interpretative concepts brought forward by American social science; and modernization theory with its broad perspectives on comparative social change was regarded as one of the most intellectually promising programs (Wehler 1975). The experience of fascism and the Holocaust in Germany lead many historians and social scientists to ask for long-term developments in German history responsible for the German inclination towards authoritarian government in the twentieth century, and the answer was found in failures of the modernization process in Germany especially since the mid-nineteenth century, after the revolution of 1848 and Bismarck’s unification of Germany.

In a book enormously influential with the general public and professional historians alike, sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf eloquently elaborated the notion of Germany as a country being unable to adapt its institutional structures and its mentalities to the necessities of a ‘modern’ society. Paradoxically, Dahrendorf argued, only the results of the National Socialist regime finally threw Germany into modernity (Dahrendorf 1965). In the following two or three decades, much of nineteenth and twentieth-century German social history was influenced by an interpretive framework of a German ‘Sonderweg’ into modernity, that is, a specific course of German history characterized by deficient modernization, with the transition to democracy and to modern civil values lagging behind other Western countries (see Kocka 1999). As German social historians, more so than their colleagues in the UK, France, or the US, were interested in theoretical concepts of social history and social change, they also undertook efforts at explicitly using social-scientific modernization theories in their empirical work and in their writing of history. The most ambitious and widely discussed project in this vein is Hans-Ulrich Wehler’s multi-volume ‘Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte,’ a broad attempt at synthesizing modern German history with a focus on social and economic structures, and with a discussion of Germany’s specific modernization problems as its red thread and intellectual core (Wehler 1987–95).

In Wehler’s work as well as in German history in general, however, Weberian concepts of modernity and of comparative social change increasingly superseded, especially since the 1980s, concepts from contemporary American social science. A Weberian perspective seemed to offer more historical depth, going beyond the assumption of a sharp break between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’ world in the nineteenth century. Even more important, as naively optimistic versions of modernization theory became less persuasive in the 1980s, Max Weber’s emphasis on the ambiguities of modernization, on the complicated web of gains and losses called forth by the Western rationalization process, looked more attractive to many historians. In this perspective, the failures of German history culminating in the Third Reich were not simply caused by a modernization lag, but were, at least in part, inherent problems and results of modernity itself. This fundamental shift in the assessment of modernity and modernization, however, was not restricted to Germany, but can be traced as a general trend in historical and social-scientific thought since the 1980s.

4. From Modernization to Modernity: Critique and Reappraisal Since the 1980s

Since around 1980, postwar concepts of modernization and modernity have come under heavy attack, in history as well as in the social sciences and humanities in general. Within the overall trend toward a more critical, or skeptical, appraisal of modernization in history, it is important to distinguish several strands, even if they often overlap in historiographical practice.

4.1 The Problem of Early Modern History

In many Western countries, the history of what in English-language usage is called the ‘early modern’ period, that is, the history of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, has witnessed an unprecedented expansion since around 1970—particularly in Germany and the US, perhaps less so in the UK and France (where the history of this period is called ‘histoire moderne’). As social historians have taken a much closer look at societies which according to social-scientific modernization theory are ‘traditional’ and ‘static’ societies, it appears that Western societies before the industrial and democratic revolutions were not so traditional after all, but quite dynamic and expansive. This has been a heavy blow to theoretical and historical assumptions about a sharp break between traditional and modern societies that presumably happened (in North America and Western Europe) in the decades around 1800. It has thus prompted historians to ask for ‘modern’ structures in earlier times, and for continuities of ‘tradition’ in the industrial period, with the effect of further questioning historiographical models of modernization as teleological evolution and linear progression. Among interpretations of longterm change in Europe since the Middle Ages, German sociologist Norbert Elias’ theory of the civilization process proved very stimulating among historians from the late 1970s, perhaps because his perspective on civilization is compatible with both ‘optimistic’ and ‘pessimistic’ viewpoints on modernization (Elias 1976). A ‘pessimistic’ reading of Elias focuses on the process of growing ‘discipline,’ self-control, and oppression, in many ways similar to Michel Foucault’s understanding of modernity that became influential at about the same time. Especially in French and Italian historiography on the early modern era, modernization was now regarded as a strategic project of literate elites for the suppression of popular culture and ordinary people (see, for example, Muchembled 1978).

4.2 Cultural Modernity in the Twentieth Century

Along with the ‘culturalist turn’ in the humanities, with the emergence of cultural anthropology as a paradigmatic discipline for the whole field of humanities, the core meaning and content of the concept of ‘modernity’ has shifted from economy to culture. When historians, and scholars in general, talk about modernity, they now hardly ever refer to the economic modernity that originated in the European and North American industrial revolutions, as was the case between the 1950s and 1970s. Instead, they refer to the idea of a specifically modern culture, that is, to the idea that modernity is defined by certain attitudes and belief systems, by models of cultural expression as they have been shaped, for example, by the mass media. It is important to recognize that the idea of modernity as culture is by no means new; after all, the ‘Querelles’ of the seventeenth century were about culture, and a cultural approach to the understanding of modernity is central to writers like Baudelaire in the nineteenth century as well as to many Neo-Marxian strands of thought in the twentieth century, from Gramsci to Adorno and Habermas. In recent years, the current experience of a new information and knowledge revolution has directed attention towards the role of science and knowledge in the formation of modern culture; again, it can be said that modernity now appears to be less a product of economic forces, and more a product of systematic knowledge, its reproduction and its application through the emergence of a system of scientific disciplines.

Two further changes go along with this shift from economy to culture. First, instead of using the term ‘modernization’ (and hence emphasizing a processual change), many cultural theorists and historians now prefer to talk about ‘modernity’ or ‘modernism’ because they have become uncertain whether the notion of the modern and the idea of progress and development should be linked closely to one another, as was the case with the ‘older’ modernization theories. Second, although ‘modernity’ may be used very widely to characterize cultural innovation in different historical times, there is a clear propensity to concentrate on the twentieth century, and define the twentieth century as an age of modernity—whereas former modernization theories, as has been pointed out before, tended to see the nineteenth century as the crucial breakthrough period of the modern. Particularly in American and in German historiography, the beginning of the twentieth century is now regarded as a period of fundamental change in society and culture, as a time when modern, urban mass-society as we still today know it, first crystallized. Instead of pointing to industrial production forces, historians have come to view the beginnings of a consumer society as a strong indicator for modernity (see, e.g., Dumenil 1995).

4.3 Contradictions of Modernity

It has already been mentioned that postwar modernization theories have come under attack for their sometimes all too simplistic constructions, for their bias on Westernization, and for their claim that modernization unmistakably effected economic or political ‘progress.’ As historians have started to ask for the ‘social costs’ of modernization, for the experience of the ‘losers’ in this process, the balance sheet began to look different. However, the assumption now is often not just that modernization had some ambivalent consequences or side-effects, but that modernization and modernity in themselves carry some dangerous, anti-civilizatory and eventually catastrophic potentials. Like the concept of ‘cultural modernity’ sketched before, the notion of inherent contradictions of modernity is very much grounded in the historical experience of the twentieth century: namely, in the experience of dictatorship and totalitarianism, of mass murder and ethnic cleansing. Those dark sides of twentieth century history can no longer be persuasively explained as abnormal aberrations from an otherwise successful path of modernization; modernization and modernity rather look janus-faced; they bear in them the potentials for both civilization and barbarism, and there is no way of neatly separating those two sides. In the 1980s, twentieth century German history provided the first important paradigm for this interpretation. In research about Weimar and Nazi Germany, it turned out that modernism, or the quest for modernization, could be politically reactionary in both its intentions and its effects (Herf 1984). During the 1990s, a fierce debate was fought among German historians over the question of the ostensible ‘modernity’ of National Socialism (see Frei 1993). At the same time, the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany came to be seen as a paradigm for general contradictions of the modernization process; it hinted at contradictions not only apparent in German history, but also in the history of Western civilization as a whole. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in a widely received book maintained that ‘The Holocaust was born and executed in our modern rational society’ (Bauman 1989 p. X). Hence, the Holocaust poses a question not just to German history, but to ‘Western civilization’ as a whole. The Holocaust, in other words, in the 1990s often serves as a metaphor for the potentially murderous implications of modernity and modernization in the Western trajectory.

4.4 From Modernity to Postmodernism?

Instead of reformulating modernization into modernity and pointing at its contradictions, a second way of dealing with the widespread discontents with the postwar modernization theories in the 1980s was to leave the ‘modern’ behind and claim a new era of ‘postmodernism,’ and the reign of postmodern intellectual principles in the humanities and social sciences. In the fields of literature, political science, and cultural criticism, the impact of the postmodernist impulse has been enormous, but historical discourse has been much less influenced by it in all major Western countries. Although some claims about the ‘end of history’ or the ‘end of modernity’ resonated among historians, hardly any serious attempts were undertaken to conceptualize ‘postmodernity’ as a distinct epoch in the context of historical periodization. Nor have there been many efforts at describing certain social or cultural phenomena of the twentieth century under the heading of postmodernism in a way that was comparable to the notion of a modernist culture that emerged during the same time.

As a methodological and theoretical concept, postmodernism was somewhat more successful. Borrowing from literary and cultural theory, historians in the late 1980s and 1990s discussed whether the time-honored claims of historiography to objectivity and factuality could still be sustained, and whether the narrative master-plots of history—of which ‘modernization’ was one of the most important—should be followed in historical writing at all (for a fair, yet critical discussion of these issues, see Appleby et al. 1994). In its resistance against the modernization master narrative of history, the postmodernist impulse shared some of the more general skepticism about linear-progressive theories of history and social development, but it soon turned out that any contemporary reformulation of modernization concepts, however critical it was considering the ecological crisis, ethnic mass murders, or the challenges of multiculturalism, would be best advised to stick to the category of modernity. For to claim a new, postmodern era did not eventually promise to be helpful in the attempt at explaining the often bitter consequences of modernity and modernization, an attempt that most historians and social scientists still find necessary.

5. Toward a New Theory of Modernization?

While historians are still debating the end of modernization, and the demise of the grand narrative of modernization in historical writing, the concept of modernization has witnessed a remarkable renaissance in sociology since the midto late-1980s (Mergel 1997, p. 203). The experiences of ecological crisis and catastrophe on the one hand, and of economic globalization and a worldwide diffusion of cultures on the other hand, has made sociologists think anew about societal change on a macro-level, on differences between tradition and modernity, and on the possible course and direction of social evolution at the turn of the millennium. The enormous dynamics of change in contemporary society is now being conceived as an equivalent to the major transition described by older modernization theories as a shift from agrarian to industrial societies. As the classical form of industrial societies is coming to an end, Ulrich Beck has argued, it is becoming ‘tradition’ itself, a tradition that is now undergoing a process of second-degree rationalization (Beck 1986). Industrial society was only ‘half-modern’ and is now being dissolved in a process called ‘reflexive modernization,’ because the modernization process is becoming reflexive by being reproduced and pushed forward in scientific and public discourses about the problems generated by it.

The concept of reflexive modernization has also been suggested by Anthony Giddens in what he calls an ‘institutional analysis of modernity with cultural and epistemological overtones’ (Giddens 1990, p. I, cf. Beck et al. 1994). For Giddens, the dynamism of modernity derives from (a) a separation of time and space (‘time-space-distanciation’); (b) the ‘disembedding’ of social systems in an increasingly globalized world; and (c) a reflexive ordering and reordering of social relations, affected by continual inputs of knowledge (Giddens 1990, pp. 16–7). In this second stage, or ‘radicalized modernity,’ social change is not any longer comparable to a car controlled by the driver, but is like a ‘juggernaut’—‘a runaway engine of enormous power which, collectively as human beings, we can drive to some extent, but which also threatens to rush out of our control and which could rend itself asunder’ (Giddens 1990, p. 139). In Giddens’ view, globalization is not simply a spreading of Western culture and economy throughout the world; yet he firmly remains committed to the idea of modernity as a Western project.

Other authors, who argue from a ‘post-colonial’ political and epistemological perspective, are more skeptical about the Westernness of the ongoing modernization process. As traditional spatial boundaries disappear, cultures overlap and identities become hybrid creatures with different cultural backgrounds. The result, then, is not a continuation of Western modernity, but a new plurality of modernities (‘multiple modernities’) without a clear priority of the West (see Appadurai 1996).

However, as a common denominator of all these approaches, an emphasis on the spatial reordering of social relations and on the complicated relationship between globalization and local identity formation emerges. The new theories about reflexive and global modernization are important because they shift attention from a somewhat static notion of cultural modernity back to modernization as a process in time, and that is, among other things, what makes them particularly promising in the field of history. On the other hand, their understanding of historical processes, especially their assessment of social change in the period of the first (industrial) modernization and prior to it, is often superficial, and sometimes naıve. Historians are just beginning to discuss the new macrosociological theories of modernization, and perhaps a fruitful dialogue between historians and sociologists will develop in the near future. The idea of modernization has weathered many storms and changed its appearance, but it seems that it still offers an indispensable clue to the historical and sociological analysis of long-term changes in society and culture.


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