432.1 Productive misunderstandings: Global modernity and non-western rationalities

Friday, August 3, 2012: 9:00 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Boris HOLZER , Faculty of Sociology, Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany
Global modernity arises from the interactions between an increasingly global cultural matrix and local modes of appropriation. Based upon predominantly Western principles of ‘rationalized’ modernity, a ‘world culture’ (J.W. Meyer) has come to provide the framework of individual and corporate action, i.e. a set of expectations about what constitutes a state, an organization or an individual as an ‘actor.’ Expectations may be met – or disappointed, rejected, ignored. Thus the framework of global modernity does not presuppose homogeneity. It merely informs observations of convergence or divergence and does not as such determine the adoption of specific ideas or institutions. Closer inspection therefore reveals a plethora of persisting variations. The globe is covered by ‘nation-states,’ but sometimes they lack a nation, sometimes an effective state bureaucracy. There are only few countries which do not call themselves democratic, but often that democracy does not have much to do with the parliamentary democracy of Western Europe. Invoking the same concepts obviously does not result in sharing the same practice. As a result, the sociology of global modernity faces the challenge of analysing variations beneath the surface of appearances. Using the example of modernization in Thailand, I show that the diffusion of modernity rests on two rails of (productive) misunderstanding: On the one hand, changes brought about by modernization may be depicted in terms of other rationalities, e.g. Buddhist standards of right conduct, to make them acceptable for local audiences; on the other hand, traditional practices and institutions such as the monarchy may be framed in a modernist manner to gain the approval of global observers. In both cases the heterogeneity of global modernity, particularly the extent to which it is based on contradictory rationalities is concealed – and thereby made possible.