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The Evolution from Premodern to Modern & Postmodern Societies

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  • 0:01 Premodern Society
  • 1:53 Modern Society
  • 3:27 From Premodernity to…
  • 5:57 Postmodernity
  • 7:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The advent of the Industrial Revolution during the late 1700s began a transformation in many developed countries around the world. The following lesson will discuss this transformation. A short quiz will follow to check you understanding.

Premodern Society

If you live or have ever lived in a big city, I live in Chicago, one of the things you'll notice right away is how busy it is. Honking cars, brightly lit billboards, towering skyscrapers, and massive crowds are just a few of the things you'll see.

Now, contrast that image with a city you'll find a few hours outside of Chicago, in Galena, Illinois. Galena has that small town, traditional feel, with picturesque houses and where people move at a more leisurely pace. The social patterns that you would find in a place like Galena, Illinois are close to what we would call premodern, or traditional, at least when compared to a city like Chicago. While there aren't many truly premodern places left in the U.S., we still use the term premodernity to refer to those social patterns in a society that existed before wide-scale industrialization.

To truly understand what a premodern society might look like, there are some characteristics that many of them share. Premodern societies tend to be very homogeneous, where many of the people that live there are the same, usually in terms of race, ethnicity, and education level and who share a strong moral identity. There are also few specialized jobs (and few white collar ones as well) and maybe only a few industries around which the community is based. Because of this, social mobility is also somewhat limited.

However, since premodern communities are smaller, many of the people in the town get to know one another on a personal level, and these personal relationships serve as checks to behavior. For instance, if you're caught speeding and are pulled over, anyone that passes you in a small town like Galena will probably have heard about it. Lastly, any significant change in the makeup and identity of these types of communities is slow and happens over generations.

Modern Society

In contrast, a city like Chicago has a much different feel to it, which we'll get to in a moment. But first, let us define a modern society as a society that strives to continually move forward through its evolving ideas, values, and innovation. Specifically, the idea of modernity is the social patterns that have been created as a result of industrialization. The Industrial Revolution, that started in Europe during the mid-1700s, is often the dividing line between premodern and modern societies; however, that's not to say that today there still aren't any semi-premodern societies left. They are just less likely to be found in an industrialized country like the United States, but they do still exist in some form here in our country. Also, if you were to travel to a place like Pakistan or Ghana, you would probably still find many premodern societies.

Nevertheless, some of the more notable features of a modern society include a society that's fairly diverse in terms of the people that live there and the values that they hold. There are also a number of specialized jobs and many industries around which they are based. Because of this, social mobility is easier to come by, as is a high-quality education with which to achieve that mobility. However, since modern communities can become rather large, there aren't many face-to-face communications and personal relationships that are formed between people. People learn about happenings in their community through the media rather than informal conversations. While a society like this does value privacy, there is something to be said about the loss of feeling like a close-knit community.

From Premodernity to Postmodernity

The perceptions we have of premodern versus modern societies also differ. We link modernity to the idea of progress or a state of perpetual improvement, and we see stability as stagnation, so it's become important for societies to move towards modernity. And while we said that the Industrial Revolution was the accepted dividing line between premodern and modern societies, the fact is that the move towards modernity is a continual process. But how do we know that modernity is actually occurring? Well, there are three general effects that happen when modernity occurs.

The first is the decline of small, traditional communities. For thousands of years, villages were more rural than urban and social life revolved around family and neighborhoods. Such traditional worlds gave each person a well-defined place that offered a strong sense of identity, belonging, and purpose. For example, if you wanted bread, you went to the baker, if you had a problem in town, you went to the town sheriff, and if something broke in your house, you knew the person to call. Everyone in these small communities had a role to play in the functioning of the community as a whole. Today, cities are exploding in terms of population, and there is no longer just one single identity or role of those that are living in a city have.

The second way that modernity happens is with the expansion of personal choice. Members of traditional societies often viewed their lives as shaped by forces beyond their control, things like God, spirits, or fate. In modern societies, there is a sense of an openness to change and being able to take control of one's life to make it however they want. Furthermore, modernity brings with it increasing social diversity. In premodern communities, family ties and religious beliefs dictated what to believe and enforced conformity, which led to little diversity of thought. Modernization, however, promotes a more rational, scientific worldview that also includes a place for more personal choice. Also, as modern communities grow, people from different social backgrounds mix together, which encourages diverse beliefs and behavior.

Lastly, modernity occurs as communities promote a vision toward the future. Traditional societies let the past dictate how they live and often move at a more leisurely pace. Modern societies, however, are always looking towards the next thing. One of the hallmark phrases of a modern society is that 'time is money,' which shows a continual desire to move forward rather than taking time to look back.

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