Friday, September 23, 2005

Late Modernity or Post-Modernity?

Anthony Giddens and Jean Francois-Lyotard made exemplary works on contemporary society, particularly changing social structures and evolving social forces. The writings of these two sociological thinkers are of great importance as they sought to explain the current phenomena on knowledge, culture, self-identity, among others, in which there is a central debate on whether contemporary society is still stuck in the period of modernity, late though it is, or has entered the stage which Lyotard eloquently describes as the Post-Modern Condition. This paper aims to compare and contrast the works of these two authors and determine in the end which of the two holds credible grounding.

Anthony Giddens never contradicted assertions of post-modernists led by Lyotard that society is indeed changing as seen by people’s skepticism towards meta-narratives such as Marxism, the heightened superficiality of men and women brought about by intense consumerism as a result of a more integrative capitalist world order. There is also not much debate on the reality of the computerization of societies, if at all, the world, as a result of the globalization of enterprise and the phenomenon of knowledge being reduced as a commodity for exchange. The rise of international information technology systems and the Internet has completely altered the world’s conception of national boundaries to that of a borderless world.

There is also an intense competition for brilliant engineers, intellectuals and professionals from the world over to man the factories and institutions of the leading knowledge-based economies of the world as knowledge has ceased to also be a nationalist matter, but on how to best offer oneself in the international division of labor. The emphasis too of the two authors on the diminishing powers of the State should be discussed. It is not ever too powerful now compared to the times in which it involved itself in wars of conquest for territories as the rise of multi-national corporations have already stretched the borders of capital and profit. There are already supra-national organizations such as the World Trade Organization which directly control international trade to prevent further escalation of previous imperialist wars, and dictate on member States the terms of trade which nation-states kowtow to.

Even the meta-narrative of the State being the regulatory power of society is now being diminished in which there is greater emphasis on micro issues of the self and its interplay with micro and macro forces. Lyotard was right to quip the cliché that no self is an island and thus, the relations of the self with society and the world becomes more and more complex and Giddens’ assertion that the self contributes much to the reproduction or destruction of prevailing social structures and institutions. For example, the fall of revisionist Communist regimes in the Iron Curtain would never have happened if one dissatisfied metalworker in Poland simply shrugged aside and kept silent. Lech Walesa did not do such and organized Solidarity Union which caused a chain reaction in the way other selves wrote their personal narratives. The interplay of the self with others in the society produces an aggregate effect beyond oneself.

Moreover, Giddens and Lyotard seems to speak in unison in criticizing the practice of presumably sound social theories by indicating the totalizing effect of socialist construction in communist countries, which is very far from the Marxist concept of the withering away of the state. Instead, communist countries are using the very theory of Marxism to continue the path of pathologic bureaucratization. On the other hand, Giddens criticized the use of institutionalized means by the state to jump to modernity by adapting capitalist democracies but at the same time retaining vestiges of gender inequalities and chauvinism in the present modern society. As can be seen now, the two thinkers’ similar sharp recognition of changing social realities from an old society to that of a new one is an immense contribution to contemporary sociological thought.

Inasmuch as Giddens and Lyotard have similarities, there are fundamental differences in the manner they perceive society, much more on how they analyze it. Giddens continuously asserts that we have not reached the post-modern stage yet, it is still in late modernity. Though there are changes in the lifestyle of people and the world getting more and more globalized, and the meta-narratives being broken for new social theories, all of these are manifestations of modernity in its advanced state. Though it is the self which will determine its own personal narrative against the traditional roles set by an old system, it cannot be classified as post-modern yet.

While it is true that there is an ongoing computerization of society and the world, Lyotard was false in assuming that human regulation formerly done by the state will entirely be entrusted to machines, as this has not happened as of yet, in a so-called postmodern society as we think we have now. Though there is great control on high-tech facilities such as satellites and military infrastructures, it is still run by human agencies, powerful institutions even. If in a so-called postmodern society, access to this information is held by a ruling class, though not entirely a political class, it cannot be considered postmodern as it validates a very modern theory of dialectical oppositions of class.

A society like such is still very much modern, though a very developed one. More so, Giddens and Leotard differ much on their method of analysis as Giddens uses structuration to explain social order and social reproduction, and suffice it to say that it has dialectical undertones in recognizing the interplay of macro and micro forces in society. Lyotard, on the other hand, uses language games to explain the dynamics of social relations and institutions, from the basic individual conversations to that of institutional messages delivered, distorted or not formally defined as they may be. This fundamental difference spells which theory is more convincing and more logical to be held sound and valid. The entire discourse on referent, sender and addressee does not in anyway explain fully how postmodernism is or how it came to be.

The assertion states the primacy of the self on the power over the messages that traverse around him which even regulatory mechanisms in the social system utilize to self-adjust. But is language not that important as it is now, assuming we are in the period of late modernity? While it is true, that messages do not flow in a sunny linear fashion without scheming countermoves and institutions imposing their will on certain messages as to distort them partly or entirely, does this explain convincingly explain the rise of multinational corporations and the increasing dependence on information technology? I believe it does not.

On the other hand, Giddens was clear in depicting his late modernity schema as that of an interplay of macro factors of state, religion, education, culture, among others, and micro factors such as that of everyday lives and relationships between individuals and the choices they make. This in effect is how society changes depending on the mutual response of the micro forces to the macro forces of society to reproduce the social structures or ignore it in part or in whole. This theoretical diagram sufficiently shows how society indeed changes and how the self creates his own self narrative in the social milieu of late modernity. Though the language games provide a glimpse of how things are in the social system, it seems to be detached from its assertions of a postmodern world save for the primacy of the self and the breaking up of the meta-narratives, which even Giddens compellingly explains.

In the final analysis, it should be said that we are still in the period of late modernity but are already barraged by social theories on postmodernism which gives a glimpse of how future social forces in societies might conduct their social dynamics and structures.

what a good read...
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