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Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age Paperback – July 1, 1991
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'This book supplies the missing psychological link in Anthony Giddens' ever more substantial body of work on the sociology of modernity ... rich and measured ... His dialectical approach, moreover, affords many insights into the interconnection between the invasive and disorienting effects of commercial and technical imperatives.' New Statesman and Society
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Building on the ideas set out in the authors The Consequences of Modernity
, this book focuses on the self and the emergence of new mechanisms of self-identity that are shaped by—yet also shape—the institutions of modernity. The author argues that the self is not a passive entity, determined by external influences. Rather, in forging their self-identities, no matter how local their contexts of action, individuals contribute to and directly promote social influences that are global in their consequences and implications.
The author sketches the contours of the he calls “high modernity”—the world of our day—and considers its ramifications for the self and self-identity. In this context, he analyzes the meaning to the self of such concepts as trust, fate, risk, and security and goes on the examine the “sequestration of experience,” the process by which high modernity separates day-to-day social life from a variety of experiences and broad issues of morality. The author demonstrates how personal meaninglessness—the feeling that life has nothing worthwhile to offer—becomes a fundamental psychic problem in circumstances of high modernity. The book concludes with a discussion of “life politics,” a politics of selfactualization operating on both the individual and collective levels.
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The strength of Giddens' work has always been his identification of reflexivity as the central mechanism behind social and psychological transformations - the nested critique of society that sets up progressively complex turnovers in psyche and structure, one on the heels of the other, institutionalizing doubt as a central feature of existential and social life. Giddens makes clear that "postmodernity" is a meaningless term for his purposes; instead he takes the more sensible route (alongside contemporaries such as the brilliant Scott Lash) and employs the term "high modernity" to describe the present times as of the same conceputal order (albeit much more "intense" in critical ways) than preceding centuries. He compares and contrasts the self and the other, the mechanics of disembedding and reimbedding, the dynamics of intensionality and extensionality, and the twin states of trust and risk in a way that convincingly demonstrates that modernity is a game whose time is not yet up - and whose textures social science is capable of elegantly describing, and possibly even explaining. Giddens' theory of the "pure relationship" and his related analyses of self-society relationships are extremely important theoretically to many areas of the social sciences, including nation-state theory, globalization, development ethnography, refugee studies, and cultural studies. His work is even beginning to exert an influence on parallel disciplines as well, for example discourse analysis.
So, while the philosopher might dismiss this work as dependent on the truth-claims of modern psychology, the sociologist (at whatever level of expertise) will find this to be an engaging, challenging, and clearly written work with far-ranging application to empirical social-scientific material.
Giddens is an optimist, as well as a very capable writer. His book proceeds in a well-planned series of steps from basic principles of modern life to the power we can still exert as individuals and as social movements. (The text becomes easier to read as you go along, I've found.)
The threat of global warming hangs over the text, and its relevance is even clearer now, 18 years after the book was published. Furthermore, I think Giddens assumes that certain movements, such as therapy and woman's liberation, have gone further and reached more of the population than they really have. But the book's message of possibilities persists, and goads us on to moral action.
Giddens adopts the latter. He argues from results of psychological experiments that human beings are subject to a sense of security since a newborn. By the sense can one assure the continuity of the self-identity. The continuity furtherly guarantees that the person not get into psychological disorder.
The self-identity in "high-modernity" has to cope with new problems. Giddens avoids using the term "postmodern", but he does points out the failure of the Enlightenment project which other postmodernists recognize. Giddens admits that human knowledge cannot reach so far as to set out a orderly plan of the society. The uncertainty signified by the sphere of the unknown/ unrealizable forms a great challenge to the self identity he mentioned above. Giddens tries to describe the society in high-modernity as a "risk community" and politics of life. The former concept may be inspired by Ulrich Beck. And the latter means an incorporation of global or domestic issues into everyday decisions, such as whether or not to buy environment-friendly products.
The style of this book can be seemed as a detail part of his structuration theory, which attempts to combined the conflicting individualist and structuralist perspectives. Those who are familiar with the agent/ structure controversies may find this book helpful.
On the contrary, those who have a better taste for philosophy or postmodern discourse would find the arguments of Giddens implausible. He seeks justifications from the validity and reliability of psychological experiments. Unfortunately, psychology itself is suspicious, since the explanation and attribution of experiment results are also subject to our cognitive framework. This critique may leads to phenomenological or postmodern reflexions, the former of which remains in line with subject philosophy while the latter of which de-construct the subject and put their eyes on language, discourse and desire.
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