Back To CourseUExcel Introduction to Sociology: Study Guide & Test Prep
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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.
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.
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.
If modern societies are continually moving forward, can there also be a next step, or rather something that's considered postmodern? Many sociologists like to think so. They consider postmodernity to be the social patterns of behavior and organization typical of postindustrial societies. So, in other words, now that many communities have made the move from premodern to modern societies, and have been so for some time, it's important to now investigate how these communities have adapted to this change.
While there are slight variations to what is considered postmodern, all schools of thought share the following major themes. The first is that modernity has failed. Many postmodern scholars argue that modernity was supposed to bring a new and better life because of all the innovation and technology, but instead social problems like poverty and financial insecurity still exist. Critics also feel that the bright light of 'progress' is fading. Modern people had always looked forward to the future with promise and hope, but now optimism has been replaced with concern for what the future holds.
Postmodern thinkers also feel that science no longer holds the answers. While many feel that science has solved some problems, and it did in fact advance societies from a premodern stage, it now has stagnated and failed to solve many old problems, such as poor health, or is instead giving rise to new problems, like pollution. However, not all postmodern thought is strictly pessimistic. Postmodern thought also sees things like an increase in cultural debates where ideas are taking more importance over material things, so concepts like social justice and the environment are able to be addressed. Also, there are changing social institutions, such as the formation of different types of family structures, that allow for the remaking of society.
Premodernity is the period of time where social patterns of organization existed before industrialization. Premodern societies tend to be very homogeneous, where many of the people that live there are the same and share a strong moral identity. There are also few specialized jobs and maybe only a few industries around which the community is based. Because of this, social mobility is also somewhat limited. However, with the rise of industrialization came the move towards modernity, or the social patterns of organization that resulted from widespread industrialization.
Modern societies are characterized as diverse, highly specialized, highly mobile, but also ones that value privacy more so than their premodern counterparts. Lastly, there are critics of our current modern society organization, which they title postmodernity. They largely feel that modernity has failed to live up to the expectations it originally set forth to truly advance society as a whole and promote the well-being of all.
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Back To CourseUExcel Introduction to Sociology: Study Guide & Test Prep
16 chapters | 144 lessons