late modernity

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A term used by writers who do not accept that there has been a transition to a new societal stage of post-modernity, but who do wish to acknowledge that there has been a radical intensification of some of the tendencies of modernity. Emphases differ but the general position is associated most prominently with the works of Anthony Giddens, Frederic Jameson, David Harvey, and Jürgen Habermas. Whereas postmodernists tend to emphasize fragmentation and centrifugal forces at the cultural level, these theorists focus on the heightening and extension of a range of institutional features that are said to underlie these cultural changes. They also emphasize the continued significance both of centripetal, ordering, forces, and of the possibility for emancipatory politics. For Harvey and Jameson, the fluidities, disjunctions, simulations and forms of nihilism that post-modernism detects and promotes in the cultural sphere are the product of deeper structural changes brought about in the post-industrial, globally networked, period of late capitalism, the era of post-fordism. Giddens, likewise, emphasizes the intensification and reconfiguration of global capitalism, but in conjunction also with parallel transformations in the capacity for surveillance and administrative control, the nation-state system, and the world military order. Both Giddens and Harvey place issues of time and space at the centre of their analyses. Information, media, and transportation technologies mean that the world has radically shrunk in terms of communication, identity, and the co-ordination of activities. Giddens draws on Ulrich Beck's notion of ‘reflexive modernization’ to emphasize the double-bind in which, in an age of heightened complexity, diverse perspectives and an unprecedented access to knowledge about the conditions of activity, such information is inevitably and chronically employed to reorder and redefine that activity, despite the knowledge that the effects will often be perverse.

Subjects: Sociology.

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