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Note on Consequences of Modernity

September 15, 2008

Notes:  The Contours of High Modernity[1]


Obviously Giddens rejects that we have moved from a modern society to a post-modern or informational society.  Rather he promotes that we are still in the modern age perhaps a “high modern society”.  Giddens takes no small amount of time to discuss three conceptions regarding society and modernity.  These three concepts are “institutional diagnosis of modernity”, “society as the primary focus of sociological analysis”, and “the connections between sociological knowledge and the characteristics of modernity” (10, 11).  Then proposes that in order to understand what makes modernity what it is we must not follow these concepts (16).


Rather Giddens says that what makes modernity what it is relates to three other “sources”: Modernity and ‘time and space’; ‘disembedding’ of social systems; and ‘reflexive ordering and reordering’ of social relations” (17). 


Time & Space.  Both pre-modern and modern society have time and space.  With modernity became uniform and in the last decades has become coordinated.  Space used to be closely connected with place, such as the act of going to work meant traveling from home to the office or company.  Once there you were in the place fulfilling your function (space) at a given time.  In the current age (ICTs) technology has enabled us to disjoin space and place.  As Giddens mentions “advent of modernity increasingly tears space away from place by fostering relations between ‘absent’ others, locationally distant from any given situation of face-to-face interaction…. it becomes increasingly phantasmagoric” the society is enabled to be socialized through sometimes quite distant points (19).  This “distanciation” seems to me to relate to a concept of “virtual” reality which we have discussed earlier.  Much like telework, telemedicine, and other such “distance” mediated activities, even a class conducted via Blackboard!  This frees up opportunity to interact, allows organized society to connect in greater and newer ways, and world-wide associations are brought together at one time thereby allowing many different historical trends to converge into a new reality.


Disembedded Systems.  Upon this concept of time and space is constructed the concept of disembedding of social systems.  Two types of disembedded systems are proposed: symbolic tokens (things for exchange) and expert systems (ways to organize social environments or large amount of material).  Giddens uses money as the example of the symbolic tokens process.  Money has been taken out of the local realm of negotiation and exchanged purchase.  Now money is more than simply a check or even a credit card.  The Concept of money that allows an otherwise exchange of perhaps unrelated items or services may only be a “digital string of numbers”.  The medium of exchange once recognized “currency” (commodity money or bank money) is no longer needed in order to allow people to consummate a transaction.  Now those who may never meet, nor physically exchange currency may come together in hyper-text and consummate a deal or purchase a product on e-bay (money proper).


Money is one example, but the crux of the thought is that for the disembedded mechanism to function there must be trust and faith (a type) within the institutions of modern society.  Institutions are of course “abstract” social concepts that assist society to flow and function properly.


Expert systems are ways to organize and manage.  Expert knowledge is integrated into the society so that it is continuous and ever present (27).  Examples are OSHA safety rules, Housing Inspections, Building Codes, Judicial System, Utility Companies, the transportation system, communications system, our pay check, insurance, and other daily services and regulations we normally do not think of each day of our lives.  We have faith that these things exist and will assist our lives.  In other wise we respect a concept of “authority” or superior construct that makes sure our world turns each day.  We accept and rely on this social order although we never perhaps are able to actually define the processes.


Trust.  Faith leads to trust and trust bridges the gap to confidence.  Trust is associated with absence of space and time.  There is a definitive definition of trust at page 34.  Trust and risk are associated.

[1] Giddens, Anthony. 1990.  “The Contours of High Modernity.” Pps. 1-34 in The Consequences of Modernity.  Cambridge: Polity

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