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Modernity as Experience and Interpretation

Modernity as Experience and Interpretation

Peter Wagner

ISBN: 978-0-745-64218-5

Jun 2008, Polity

296 pages

In Stock



We are all modern today. But modernity today is not what it used to be. Over the past few decades, modernity has been radically changed by globalization, individualization, new inequalities, and fundamentalism. A novel way of analysing contemporary societies is needed. This book proposes such an analysis.

Every society seeks answers to certain basic questions: how to order life in common; how to satisfy human needs; how to establish knowledge. Sociology long assumed that the answers had been found once and for all: a liberal-democratic state, a market economy, and free scientific institutions. This trinity used to be called ‘modern society’.

By contrast, this book is based on the idea that, under conditions of modernity, there are no stable and certain answers to these questions. There is a plurality of possible answers, every proposed answer can be criticized and contested, and every society needs to find its answer on its own.

This new sociology of modernity proposes two key instruments through which to understand the answers given to those questions: the experiences human beings have of their own modernity and the interpretations they give to those experiences. It reviews the history of ‘Western’ modernity in this light and then focuses on the specific answers that were and are being developed in Europe.

Preface vii

1 Ways of Understanding Modernity 1

Part I: Interpretations of Political Modernity: Liberty and its Discontents 19

Overture: Multiple Interpretations of Political Modernity 21

2 Modernity and the Question of Freedom 24

3 The Political Forms of Modernity 39

4 Modernity as a Project of Emancipation and the Possibility of Politics 62

Part II: Interpretations of Economic Modernity: The Endgame and After 75

Overture: Capitalism and Modernity as Social Formations and as Imaginary Signifi cations 77

5 The Critique of Capitalism and its Impasse 83

6 Towards a Historical-Comparative Sociology of Capitalism 103

7 The Exit from Organized Economic Modernity 123

Part III: Interpretations of Epistemic Modernity: Distance and Involvement 143

Overture: The Quest for Knowledge beyond Experience and Interpretation 145

8 The Critique of Science and its Prospects 149

9 Varieties of Socio-political Interpretations of Modernity 165

Part IV: The European Experience and Interpretation of Modernity 189

Overture: European Integration as an Interpretation of Modernity 191

10 Logics of European History 196

11 Regionalizing European Modernity 215

Part V: The Analysis of Modernity and the Need for a New Sociology 231

Overture: When the Light of the Cultural Problems has Moved On 233

12 The Social Theory and Political Philosophy of Modernity 235

13 The Conceptual History and Historical Sociology of Modernity 247

Notes 265

References 282

Index 297

  • Following on from the author’s previous successful work in this area, this is a groundbreaking new sociology of modernity debates
    Peter Wagner is an internationally respected thinker in this area
  • Wagner considers what we mean when we speak of modern societies as ‘modern’, and poses an original answer to this question
  • Reviews the history of ‘Western’ modernity and then focuses on the specific answers that were and are being developed in Europe