Modernity – Unnecessarily complicated?

In The Consequences of Modernity, Anthony Giddens becomes our tour guide taking us through his ‘institutional analysis of modernity’, in the hopes he can then convince us that even with our cultural advances we yet remain in modernity with its consequences. First he defines modernity, dissects it through his interpretation and then uses many references to supports his views. His approach vows to be unique, such that the intended academic reader will experience modernity thru the backdrop of cultural references at the same time exposing its limits and validity. What he really accomplishes is an unnecessarily complicated, dynamic trip through our changing times while using cultural and institutional reference points, injecting complex relationships contrary to modernity’s simplistic definition.

Giddens first roughly defines modernity as “modes of social life or organization which emerged in Europe from about the seventeenth century onwards and which became more or less worldwide in their influence.” (p1) He does a great job here, as this simple definition is consistent with most dictionaries, but then alludes to some secretive meaning ‘stowed away in a black box’.

He continues our journey by teasing us with his rival colleague’s declarations that ‘we stand at the opening of a new era’. We are taunted with a ‘dazzling variety of terms’ (p1) in the hopes of we separate us from and forget our past, embracing the new dawn of change. Referencing Jean François Lyotard, who championed the concept we were moving away from current institutions such as faith in human engineered progress, Giddens faithfully teaches us Lyotard’s philosophy, as well as common responses critical to Lyotard. Surprisingly, Giddens expresses positions even contrasting both Lyotard’s and his critics. While we are intrigued by his complex move, we become disappointed with the lack of substance which is to follow. Unfortunately, instead of specifically debating the specifics of Lyotard and his critics, Giddens throws up his hands rationalizing that his beliefs on systematic knowledge cannot be obtained because of ‘being caught up in a universe of events we do not fully understand.’(p2).

On the simple subject of money, Giddens overly complicates this basic economic principle. His familiar moves of teasingly muddying the waters only to run away continues with statements like “What is money? Economists have never been able to agree” (p23). Any college freshman who has taken a basic course economics can reiterate Keynesian economic theory and its clear definitions of money.

On the simple subject of trust, Giddens once again overly complicates and injects his interests of this simple definition when he writes ‘this definition provides a useful starting point’. No, Mr. Giddens, that’s the definition, nothing more, nothing less. When Giddens tries to relate trust to the absence of time and space, he is seriously mistaken and his points are flawed. “There would be no need to trust anyone whose activities were continually visible and whose thought processes were transparent”. Mr. Giddens obviously never stood there and watched the political process, who continually act in the best interest of the people but at the same time watch the nation deteriorate.

Unfortunately, The Consequences of Modernity, Anthony Giddens overly complicates the fact that we live in post traditional, post medieval, modernity. As time marches on, we can always consider ourselves modern and even with our cultural advances we will always remain in modernity with all of its consequences.

3 thoughts on “Modernity – Unnecessarily complicated?

  1. Your blog post right from the beginning particularly intrigued me. I found it extremely interesting how you felt that Giddens’ readers were “teased” and “taunted” early in the chapter by the declarations of other writers. At first, I felt the same way when I read this part of the chapter. I also had similar feelings to you when you stated, “Unfortunately, instead of specifically debating the specifics of Lyotard and his critics, Giddens throws up his hands rationalizing that his beliefs on systematic knowledge cannot be obtained because of ‘being caught up in a universe of events we do not fully understand.’(p2).” However, I now believe that Giddens did not debate these other critics, because he did not necessarily disagree. I believe that his purpose was not to disagree, but to provide a different standpoint.

    I especially enjoyed your take on money. I believe that Giddens over complicates the concept of money far too extensively. Giddens asking, “What is money? Economists have never been able to agree” (Giddens 23) is one of the many examples where we share beliefs of simple ideas being taken too far. Your blog post was wonderfully written, and I believe you speak for many people with these concerns and confusions!

    Morgan Pudimott

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  2. Your acknowledgment of how Giddens continues to offer extremely complicated and unneeded relationships to convey what he believes to be modernity helped me to realize that this too was how I felt about the definition in which Giddens gives to modernity. As you pointed out, the first definition of modernity by Giddens can easily be regarded as correct by most. However, as he continues to definite modernity (and then money), his definition becomes so overly complex that there is much room for confusion and disagreement. Although I do agree with you in that Giddens over complicates such definitions, and similarly to what Morgan commented, I believe that Giddens does this with the intent of allowing modernity to be thought of as more than in a “black-and-white” way.

    I’m curious as to what your thoughts are regarding Giddens thoughts on trust, particularly the “elements involved as a series of ten points which include a definition of trust but also develop a range of related observations” (pg. 33) are.

    Amanda O’Keeffe

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  3. Chris,

    I agree with Morgan that your use of descriptive verbs gives your writing some real pep. I’m curious to see where your project leads you as we finish Giddens and you start researching your own topic. In the meantime, you claim that “Giddens overly complicates the fact that we live in post traditional, post medieval, modernity.” I wonder how a simpler conception of modernity would help us explain some of the pressing issues of our time. If money is a poor example of a “disembedding mechanism,” can you think of a better example? Or do you think the whole concept needs to be revised?

    DM

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