Modernity, Late Modernity and
What is it all about?
The Key Debate
Sociologists all agree there is something called
Modernity and Post Modernity – where they
differ is which one they think society currently
Classical Theorists and Modernity
Classical Sociologists (aka people writing over a
hundred years ago) also discussed modernity.
The ones we will concentrate on are:
Marx, Durkheim and Weber
Classical Theory and Modernity -
Modernity is defined by organic solidarity and
the weakening of the collective conscience.
Modernity has advantages such as more
freedom but disadvantages such as weakening
morals causing people to suffer from anomie.
Classical Theory and Modernity - Marx
For Marx modernity is defined by capitalism
Marx recognises that society has advanced and
improved but is very critical of capitalism due
to issues such as exploitation, alienation etc
Classical Theory and Modernity -
Weber sees modernity as having the problem of
the “iron cage of rationality”. This is where
rational thought stops humans expressing
their natural characteristics. Weber
recognises modernity as being an
improvement on previous systems – but is still
concerned about rationality.
Giddens and Late Modernity
Giddens defines late modernity as:
3. Surveillance capacity
4. Military power
This links to Giddens Structuration theory and
reflexivity is important – the idea that actions
are examined, reflected on and changed.
Giddens and Risk
In modernity there are global risks e.g. Nuclear
war can kill us all. People are more aware of
risks and religion and culture is less important
and doesn’t provide as much stability for
Giddens describes these risks “juggernaut of
modernity” where people feel insecure and
Late Modernity: Beck and “Risk”
Beck claims that science helps create risk. As
people experience risk they become experts
on the areas that concern them, collecting
data and reflecting on those risks. Beck claims
that politics attempts to deal with these risks
not just governments but other groups.
As a result modernity generates risks and
attempts to tackle risk.
Postmodernists argue that we have moved
beyond modernity into a new kind of society.
Baudrillard and Postmodernity
Modernity has “ruptured” and become a new
type of society
Baudrillard rejects metanarratives in sociology
e.g. Marxism/Feminism – as Marxism has been
defeated by capitalism it discredits grand
Society is now dominated by media, computing
industry and entertainment.
Hyperreality – people can’t distinguish between
reality and fiction e.g writing to characters on
Simulacra – people don’t live in the real world
TV has become part of life and life has become
part of TV (e.g. Reality TV)
Lyotard and Postmodernity
Lyotard rejects metanarratives....in the whole of
society. He defines postmodernity as a series
of “smallish” and localised truths.
Evaluation of Postmodernity
1. Postmodern ideas are often vaugue and
abstract so it is difficult to apply them to the
2. Postmodern sociologists critique society but
make no positive suggestions about what
society should be
3. Feminists criticise the way that Postmodenrity
rejects the idea of gender oppression and
denies what they see as their truth.
Evaluation of Baudrillard
People are able to distinguish between reality
and fiction and do live in the real world.
Has capitalism really defeated Marxist thinking?
In a time of global economic crisis and
recession there are serious debates about the
sustainability and type of capitalism that can
and should exists.
Evaluation of Lyotard
Lyotard criticises metanarratives but is in a sense
replacing the metanarratives he claims are not
needed with a new metanarrative!