Modernity is a term first coined by Charles Baudelaire in his 1863 essay titled The Painter of Modern Life. Baudelaire has defined modernity as the ‘indefinable something’ that a man has consistently pursued. In particular, as described in his essay, the term can be defined from the perspective of the socio-cultural phenomena, attitudes and the practices that a man has consistently pursued in the post-medieval era (Baudelaire, 1863). Evaluating the term in a context of modern sociological studies, modernity it is best described as the time-bound ensemble of particular socio-cultural norms, practices and attitudes that have risen from the post-medieval era and have been developing ever since. Modernity changes with the course of time with every new era considered more modern than the previous one. It encompasses a wide range of historical processes including the changes in fashion, warfare and the perception of traditions. In the context of Baudelaire’s understanding, modernity encompasses continued adoption of individualism, freedoms and formal equality. In addition, it captures the change from agrarianism to capitalism, economic industrialization and urbanization of social life among many other factors (Beck, 2015). Holistically, modernity ought to be interpreted in a manner that recognizes time-dictated changes as well as the evolution of traditions and social norms throughout history with an understanding that every new era comes with new values and norms. Therefore, this paper seeks to explore the characteristics of modernity along with its social actors.
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Characterization of modernity has been the subject of many sociological studies because its progressive nature leads to quick evolution of the characteristics. However, certain characteristics remain the same throughout time. First, modernity is bureaucratic meaning that it involves impersonal or people-focused systems of operations with specialization and division of labor and highly hierarchical methods and procedures. Second, modernity is characterized by increased mechanization of processes, adoption of mass production and innovative technology. Third major characteristic of modernity is nationalism with respect to the rise of nation-states, centralization of power and authority in the nation-states, and continuous movement from the local or ethnic groups. Closely related to the aspect of nationalism is the characteristic of universalism, which refers to increased proliferation of the global society. Universalism is driven by continued adoption of new technologies that enable communication across the nation-state borders and the development of transportation systems. Universalism caused stronger distinction between the nation-state values and global or universal values as well as increased exchange of ideas (Dallas Baptist University, n.d.).
In addition to the characteristics outlined above, other cross-cutting features of modernity include increased industrialization, which implies societies formed around production economies and industrial distribution of products. The industrial society also entails urbanization. In the context of modernity, urbanization encompasses increased growth of populations, increased migration to cultural centers and political locations as well as the formation of towns and cities around economic and socio-cultural locations including administrative centers. Lastly, modernity is characterized by intense transition from traditional norms, beliefs and values to more contemporary, universal, and arguably more acceptable and relevant norms prevalent within certain national boundaries (Dallas Baptist University, n.d.).
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Apart from the characteristics of modernity, there are the social actors of modernity. They include all social changes across different eras that help shedding light on the general understanding of modernity. Social change has been considered closer related to modernity as compared to all other factors (University of Twente, 2016). Such social actors as cultural proliferation, exchange of values and traditions, changing attitudes and understanding of religion comprise the key social actors of modernity. Notably, there are various criticisms of the adoption of social values across different frontiers. For example, religion indicates that the adoption of fashion highly antagonizes religious values (University of California Press, 2016). These social actors imply that social change involves a lot of subjectivism. In the context of modernity, subjectivism means that people are pushed inwards in search of definitions and evaluations of life’s truths and meanings. There is also secularization, which implies the loss of religious values in favor of global values. Additionally, there has been increased individualism, which entails alienation of the individual from the family, society, religion and/or other social systems that formerly have characterized human life. In relation to the understanding of human existence, these factors have been considered among the most divisive concepts of modernity especially in terms of religion (Dallas Baptist University, n.d.).
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In conclusion, this paper provides a detailed explanation of modernity. Emergence of the term modernity is attributed to Charles Baudelaire, who has first used the term in his 1863 essay titled The Painter of Modern Life. Baudelaire described modernity as indefinable something. However, the analysis has managed to capture various characteristics of modernity including universalism, mechanization and the development of capitalism. Additionally, the analysis has captured social actors of modernity, which include subjectivism, individualism and secularization of the society. Understanding the characteristics and actors of modernity helps the reader understand the concept itself.