Not Signed-In
Which clippings match 'Ecological Threats' keyword pg.1 of 1
19 JANUARY 2011

An Inconvenient Truth (2006)



Simon Perkins
07 MARCH 2006

New Modernity, Reflexive Modernity and Second Modernity

"Given the fact that people are likely to continue to seek the whole – that this is something inherent to the meaning–making, symbolizing process that makes us human beings – are there strategies for creating a way of living in the complex, plural realities we live in that can take into account the shifting factors in our existence, that can deal with the instabilities that are created without giving in to ways of seeking the whole that may be deeply flawed, either morally or socially?

What I would like to sketch out here are some attempts that are being made in that direction, that going beyond simply revelling in plurality (what Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby designated a number of years ago as 'mosaic madness'[37]) or a kind of Balkanized multiculturalism that collapses at the first sign of stress. It goes by a number of names, and is being constructed especially by thinkers in Great Britain and in Germany. It was initially called 'reflexive modernity.' Somewhat later, Scott Lash called it a 'second modernity.' Most recently, Ulrich Beck has been calling it a 'new cosmopolitanism.'[38] Let us look at each of these names to explore how they are reading what needs to change in our perception of modernity.

'Reflexive modernity' refers to an attitude in our reading of modernity. It is intended to convey that our experience of modernity is no longer simply a phenomenological one, accepting the principles and promises of modernity at face value. Rather, we take a reflective, even critical posture toward it. For example, that progress and innovation are taken for granted as defining features of modernity is no longer assumed. We have been experiencing the limits of progress and innovation as values that can be accepted uncritically. This is most evident in debates about the environment. Is drilling for oil in wildlife reserves to be accepted because of the West's insatiable hunger for petroleum, even if it is a potential danger to the environment? The threat of global terrorism likewise compels us not take our security for granted any longer. Our sense of risk in general has been heightened, be it for reasons of ecology, the volatility of financial markets, the spread of communicable diseases such as SARS or avian flue [sic]. Reflexive modernity, then, means that we experience reality increasingly at one remove. We now question what we once took for granted.

'Second modernity' is an attempt to seek the whole, using the framework of reflexive modernity. It reflects the fact that we have moved beyond the first modernity, but are not mired in a fragmented postmodernity. One of the features of a second modernity is a sense that many of the boundaries that defined the first modernity have been shifted. These shifts are sometimes experienced as a deterritorialization, that is, boundaries which once defined and even protected us are no longer fulfilling these functions. This is most evident in the experience of the pluralization of our societies through migration. Not only are dominant culture people confronted with a multiplicity of ethnic identities, the situation has become such in some places that there is no ethnic majority any more. That, for instance, is the case in Los Angeles, and becoming increasingly so in other urban centres of immigration. Ecological threats in the atmosphere – be they the hole in the ozone layer or the cloud of smog hanging over South Asia from the cooking fires – know no national boundaries. Thus boundaries that define identities are found to be shifting as are those we thought once protected us. The United States thought it was largely safe from global terrorism because of the expanse of two oceans on its eastern and western frontiers. September 11 changed all of that.

Deterritorialization is experienced also in the fact that boundaries that once defined purity are being replaced by concepts of mixing and hybridity. As people migrate, mix, and marry racial identities become blurred. Jacques Audinet has called this 'the human face of globalization.'[39] To be of mixed race was through much of the nineteenth and twentieth century a sign of being impure, even of weaker stock. But things are changing rapidly in this regard. The golfer Tiger Woods has become an icon of this new hybridity: not only drawing his identity from African and Asian resources, but also by being the very opposite of a scion of a debilitated stock. He is the number one golfer in the world. Mestizaje, métissage, creolization – whatever it is called – represents now a new and positive way of being in the world.

The second modernity not only forces us to rethink boundaries; it calls forth new decisions. The debate about genetically modified crops, and the divide between North America and Europe on this matter, represents one set of such decisions to be made. The capacities of biotechnology to prolong life have created another. The line between medicinal supplements and doping in professional sports raises yet another. This second modernity raises, therefore, a whole set of questions that must be addressed now in a way that was not the case even in the immediate past.[40]

Finally, the most recent term introduced for this new modernity is cosmopolitanism. This is of course an older term, usually intended to convey the sense of being (as its etymology implies) a world citizen. It was typically used of elite populations, who had the means to travel frequently, and who as a result of this felt at home in many places in the world. In this newer usage that older meaning is not denied, but has been supplemented in two key ways. First of all, the new cosmopolitans are not so much an elite as they are the mass of migrants moving around the world today. Some are professionals and middle class, but the great majority of them are working class people. They are cosmopolitan in their capacity to negotiate multiple cultures, both in their current place of residence, their workplace, and their country of origin, and in their use of communications media to hold all of this together. Cultural critic Paul Gilroy sees them creating a new sense of convivência, or capacity to live together and interact with the great deal of difference that surrounds them. They do not experience cosmopolitan life as tourists or sometime visitors, but as those who must encounter and interact with difference every day of their lives. They do not have the luxury of experiencing the different as exotic or romantic; it is part of their ongoing struggle for survival.[41] The other dimension of this new cosmopolitanism is that its thinking and decisionmaking is increasingly characterized by a 'both–and' rather than an 'either–or' approach. Modernity was marked by its capacity to differentiate and make distinctions. That is, after all, a key aspect of critical thinking. Confronted as it is with increasing plurality and complexity, the new cosmopolitanism is more keenly aware of the need to capture that sense of complexity in its decision–making. A simple differentiation is less useful to explain phenomena in the world today. For example, the early stages of globalization were often characterized as a homogenization of the world: global flows from the media would gradually erase differences and we would all come to be more and more alike. Experience has shown, however, that such is not entirely the case. While some things have become more the same, the reaction against this homogenization has been new emphases on the local. English may be becoming the universal language of commerce and education in Europe, but this has also led to a revival of many local languages – such as Breton, Frisian, and Ladino – that once were considered doomed to extinction. Globalization has become, in the words of Roland Robertson, 'glocalization,' a mixture of the global and the local.[42] It is this 'both–and' attitude that is most characteristic of the new cosmopolitanism. Ways need to be found to incorporate the plurality we experience into our decisionmaking, our policies, and our ways of life, and taking an inclusive, rather than an exclusive, attitude is a major way of doing this."

(Robert J. Schreiter, pp.21–24)

37). Reginald Bibby, Mosaic Madness (Toronto: Stoddard, 1990).
38). Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Scott Lash, Reflexive Modernization (Stanford: Standord University Press, 1994); Scott Lash, Another Modernity (London: Sage, 1999); Ulrich Beck, Der kosmopolitische Blick (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2004).
39). Jacques Audinet, The Human Face of Globalization: From Multicultural to Mestizaje (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005).
40). These questions of deterritorialization and new decisions in second modernity are explored in a variety of fields in Ulrich Beck and Christoph Lau (eds.), Entgrenzung und Entscheidung (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2005). This book and Beck's Der kosmopolitische Blick both appear in a series with Suhrkamp edited by Beck, entitled Edition Zweite Moderne.
41). Paul Gilroy, Postcolonial Melancholia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). Convivência is a Portuguese term referring to the capacity of people from different backgrounds to live together. Theo Sundermeier is credited with introducing the term into theology. See the entry 'Konvivenz,' RGG IV, 1654.
42). I explore Robertson's idea in The New Catholicity: Theology between the Global and the Local (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997).

Schreiter, R. J. (2005). A New Modernity: Living and Believing in an Unstable World. The Anthony Jordan Lectures, Newman Theological College, Edmonton Alberta, March 18–19, 2005 pp.21–24. http://www.mission– (Accessed 10 August 2005)


avian flu • Balkansbiotechnologyboundaries • Breton • communicable diseases • communications mediacomplexity • convivencia • cosmopolitan • cosmopolitan life • cosmopolitanismcountry of origincreole • creolization • critical posturecritical thinkingcultural identitydecision makingdefining features of modernitydeterritorializationdifferencedifferentiationdistinctions • doping • ecological threatsecology • elite • elite populations • environment • environment reserves • ethnic majority • Europeexistenceexoticextinctionfinancial markets • first modernity • fragmented postmodernity • Frisian • genetically modified crops • global • global flows • global terrorism • globalisationglobalizationglocalglocalization • golf • homogenizationhybridisationhybridity • immediate past • immigrationimpurityinnovation • instabilities • Jacques Audinet • Ladino • limits of innovation • limits of progress • live together • local • local languages • Los Angelesluxury • medicinal supplements • mestizaje • metissage • middle class • migration • mixed race • mixturemodernity • mosaic madness • multiculturalism • multiple cultures • multiplicity of ethnic identities • national boundaries • new cosmopolitanism • new cosmopolitans • new hybriditynew modernitynineteenth centuryNorth America • oil reserves • ozone layer • Paul Gilroyperception of modernity • petroleum • phenomenologicalphenomenology • place of residence • plural realities • pluralismpluralistic societyplurality • policies • postmodernity • principles of modernity • professional sports • professionals • progress • prolong life • promises of modernity • purity • racial identities • reading of modernity • reflexive modernisationreflexive modernity • Reginald Bibby • rethink boundariesRobert Schreiter • Roland Robertson • romantic • SARS • scion • Scott Lashsecond modernity • sense of risk • September 11 2001shifting factorsSouth Asiasurvival • Tiger Woods • tourists • travel frequently • twentieth centuryUlrich BeckUnited States • universal language of commerce • urban centres • ways of life • weaker stock • wildlife reservesworking classworkplace • world citizen

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