Anthony Giddens has provided extensive thought on the topic of modernity, particularly on the institutional dimensions of modernity. Giddens’ relies on several basic assumptions in his dicussion of modernity:
* Giddens closely relates modernity to Westernization of the world. He defines modernity simply as, ‘modes of soical life or organization which emerged in Europe from about the seventeenth century onwards and which subsequently became more or less worldwide in their influence.’
* Giddens objects to the idea that we are in a postmodern era, instead maintaining that we are in an era of late modernity.
* Giddens distinguishes between modern institutions and pre-modern institutions.
Dimensions of modernity
Giddens maintains that the dynamism of modernity is reliant on the following:
* Separation of time and space, the condition of time-space distanciation;
* Disembedding of social systems - The lifting out of social relations from local context.
* Reflexive appropriation of knowledge/Reflexivity - A process through which social practices are constantly examined and reformed.
For Giddens, globalization is a process through which local and distant social forms and events become more stretched than in previous periods. “Globalization can be defined as the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.”
By a process called "disembedding", modern artefacts, practices, and persons are objectified and made real. They are roped off from the experiences that surround them. They are bounded, defined, and alienated from their social contexts.
This process of disembedding removes experiences from their social and historical beds. Force is rarely required. The removal is typically understood to be a compliment -- as in the enthronement of a king. He is thereby elevated above all others in the realm, and his status becomes clearer as a result. And he is quite happy about the whole affair.
More than merely becoming clearer, a disembedded experience often gains a glow and an aura from this process of alienation. Consider for example, the disembedded objects in the glass cases in the Little Big Horn museum in South Dakota: a torn waistcoat, a bullet creased diary, the dingy gray jockstrap worn by General Custer during his last ill-fated days. Gray, but glowing, the jockstrap's not complaining. Indeed, it probably enjoys living life in the limelight instead of, uh, being kept under wraps. And why should it grouse about its eye-level life in the museum, seeing that its former elevation rarely exceeded the height of a waist.
The king and the jockstrap both profit handsomely from this simple corollary of disembedding: "removal from" entails "forgetting of." Disembedding Custer's jockstrap, by putting it in a museum case, make it very easy for viewers to overlook its, uh, original function. In the same way, the removal, the disembedding, of a person or an object from the confusing and humbling circumstances that surround it is a giant step in the direction of forgetting those circumstances. And, as a consequence, the object seems to be more clearly defined. Its nature is more easily discerned. It becomes a bonafide thing, a real object.
Strange, isn't it. Forgetting the confusing facts about things, helps viewers understand them more easily. Isn't that the way it is with a king. Upon his enthronment, whatever circumstances might have compromised his bid for kingship are fotten, and suddenly he is simply and really king.
Disembedding with its associated process of forgetting occurs all around us in the modern world, not just in museum cases or in regal enthronements. It is how everything in our lives achieves its status of being real. Things are "real things," to the degree that they escapes the confusions of time and changes, and, by being disembedded, are backed into the status of clear-cut reality. The disembedding hides all the situational forces that might compromise the clarity of their reality. Thereafter, they glows with reality as if one could never in his right mind even think to consider them otherwise. Coke is the real thing!
Curiously but significantly, that everything that ends up "real," does so by a process of negation. "All reification is forgetting," wrote Horkheimer. In modern life, as Marx famously observed, "All that is solid melts into air."
"Objects" emerging from this embedding process are considered worthy and valuable in part because they can be acquired, owned, and exchanged without one's having to drag along the whole raft of social relations associated with them. Disembedding facilitates ownership, and creates the possibility of object-valuation in a market economy.
However, such valued objects, here called commodities or commodity forms, reveal themselves to be as phantasmagorical as any