Giddens – on globalisation and postmodernism

Hi, I’ve just started trawling through my class notes from last year on ‘Culture and Identity’ – some it might be useful to students – it’s of little use to me given that we had to abandon the culture and identity module we taught last year due to 1. The AQA’s incompetence in standardising that option appropriately last year and 2. the fact that the chief examiner Robb Webb agenda sets by exluding this particular option from his text book – meant it was rational to switch to the one unit he includes 

Anyway, I thought this summary of Gidden’s take on Globalisation might help add to an understanding of the difference between ‘postmodernism’ which is anti-theory and late-modernism (Giddens term) which holds that it’s still possible to generate theory even though we live in a postmodernised society – it’s all from his book ‘Runaway World’

Giddens recognises that Globalisation has changed our society, but criticises post-modernism in two ways:

  1. He argues that the idea that traditional institutions have lost their power to socialise us is too simplistic.
  2. He argues that the idea that people simply ‘choose their identities freely’ in a post-modern identity shopping mall is also too simplistic.

 Giddens argues the following:

  • Globalisation has undermined what Giddens calls ‘Tradition for tradition’s sake’, that is the power of traditional institutions to socialise people without them thinking about it. Instead, people reflect on traditions (such as marriage, religion, career progression) and decide for themselves whether that tradition is right for them. This Giddens calls reflexivity. BUT so many people still choose ‘traditional’ ways of being such as religion, etc. that many of our institutions still have some power to influence us. Giddens is saying that institutions are not as powerful as Marxists and Functionalists would suggest but that individuals are not as free as Postmodernists would suggest.
  • Giddens accepts that there is more choice, but this has lead to the rise of ‘expert systems’. We now turn to experts to advise us on what we should do. This starts at child birth, hence the super nanny clip. Also think of self help books that people buy and there are even experts that can tell us ‘how to be’! People still look around for guidance.
  • Globalisation has also created new risks, such that we now live in a ‘risk society. This has made us much more cautious in the way we do many things. Think of the ‘cotton wool kids’, surely these have less freedom than their parents had when they were being socialised?
  • Uncertainty in society has created two major problems: Firstly, Fundamentalism and secondly an increase in addiction. Giddens sees both of these as attempts by individuals to create a sense of stability and certainty in their lives. Giddens argues that people do not simply choose to become Fundamentalists, and people do not choose to become shopaholics. These are responses to living in an uncertain world.
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