Attractiveness and Destruction: Polanyi and the Ambivalence of Products of Modernity

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 16:00
Location: Hörsaal 45 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Elisio MACAMO, University of Basel, Switzerland
In the scholarly debates modernity is discussed as an historical era with specific structures, as an analytic category or as a project. Depending on the specific approach modernity is linked to concepts as enlightenment, capitalism and/or democracy to name just the most important ones. In everyday life a different perception of modernity is more important. The simple question is which achievements are offered by modernity. This might be ideas and ideologies but there is a wide disagreement on which ideologies are to prefer. Much more consensus could be found with regard to industrially produced goods like cars, communication devices (mobile phones, radio, TV) or weapons. However, these are linked to specific modes of production; processes of organization, know-how and infrastructure. They may be labeled as “products of modernity”.  

But these products are linked to basic structures of modernity which are according to Giddens industrialized production, capitalism, state structures and bureaucratic structures of surveillance and control. Whereas this modernity functions in democratic as well as in authoritarian systems it implies in any case a radical change for pre-modern structures in production and society. In this sense the so-called “Islamic State” is as modern as the USA. This radical change has been analyzed by Polanyi in his “Great Transformation” and criticized by James Scott in “Seeing like state”. A theory of modernity has to meet the challenge to offer a conceptual framework that marks the communalities of modern societies and includes at the same time their diversity and captures the ambiguity of “products of modernity”.