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Islam, Rights, and Ethical Life

The Problem of Political Modernity in the Islamic World

Michael J. Thompson

This paper considers the roots of the dissonance between political modernity and Islamic societies. It argues that primacy has to be given to the analysis of different paradigms of 'ethical life' which are ways in which ethical-political categories are organized within society. A distinction is made between 'nomocentric' and 'rights-based' paradigms of ethical life, the former associated with a system of moral duties and the latter with a system of political and ethical rights accorded to the individual. I argue that the emphasis on a nomocentric paradigm of ethical life has the effect of suppressing the development of a rights-based ethical and political discourse in large enough segments of the society to limit a progressive change toward political modernity. I further analyze the ways in which forces of social and economic modernisation play a role in antagonizing the relation between modernity and the more traditional forms of ethical life which predominate in Islamic society and political/ethical thought.

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Bodily Transgression

Conflicting Spaces and Gendered Boundaries of Modernity and Islam in Contemporary Turkey

Mahiye Seçil Dağtaş

As Islamic discourses and practices gain increasing public visibility in Turkey and redefine the gendered boundaries of the state, officers' clubs have become the ideal national 'public sphere' of the military and therefore the site in which female citizens' bodies are displayed as the secular markers of Turkey's modernity. Focusing on an anecdote from ethnographic research on wedding ceremonies held in military officers' clubs in Istanbul, this article explores how the competing discourses on modernity and secularism are manifested and contested concretely in specific gendered, corporeal, emotional and spatial practices in contemporary Turkey.

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Peter C. Meilaender

Among the challenges of today's globalizing world is the disruption that local communities experience, in developed and developing countries alike, in the face of economic and political modernization. Yet, such problems are not unprecedented. To the contrary, communities across nineteenth-century Europe faced similar difficulties as a result of the Industrial Revolution and political upheaval. For insights into such challenges, I turn to a perhaps unlikely resource for coming to grips with globalization: Jeremias Gotthelf, whose novel Die Käserei in der Vehfreude has been described by Hanns Peter Holl as an “examination of European developments of the 1840s.“ Through his portrayal of a Swiss village's attempt to form a cheese-making cooperative and sell its wares, with all the difficulties it encounters in the process, Gotthelf reveals himself as an important political thinker, whose treatment of democracy, community, and modernity remains relevant for us today.

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Plural Modernity

Changing Modern Institutional Forms—Disciplines and Nation-States

Filipe Carreira da Silva and Mónica Brito Vieira

The article begins with the assumption that modernity is undergoing a profound change. The focus is on the structural transformation of two typical modern institutional regimes: the academic discipline and the territorial nation-state. Their demise as the predominant institutional forms in the realms of science and politics signals the end of the modern project—or at least the need for its profound redefinition. It is suggested that such a redefinition entails a radical conceptual shift in the social sciences and that the meta-theoretical expression of this shift can be designated as 'dialogical pluralism'. At a theoretical level, both modernization theories and the recent program of 'multiple modernities' are rejected. A plural modernity, with several distinct varieties, seems a more promising perspective.

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Looking at Assam

The American Baptist Missionary and Assamese Modernity

Nandana Dutta

In the troubled area of “Assamese modernity” studies, always caught in the shadow of the Bengal Renaissance and its confident march toward cultural reawakening, the American Baptist Missionary is an important figure “looking” at the people, culture, and land in ways that are crucially different from the British. For this article's argument, it is the account produced by British administrator William Robinson, along with the letter he wrote on the Assamese language establishing it as a dialect of the Bengali, that bear examination alongside the writings of the Americans and, most specifically, Nathan Brown and Miles Bronson, who were best equipped and therefore most convincing and articulate in a counter effort to prove the separateness of the Assamese language. I look back at this corpus of writings that constitute an early debate on the identity of the Assamese and suggest that Assam's long history of resistant cultural politics and its peculiarly schizophrenic identity-making process may be traced to this early polarization of discourse between the British and Americans. While it might be too reductionist to claim that Assamese modernity is a legacy of the Americans, unlike the largely British inspired Bengal Renaissance, it is still worthwhile to examine the legacy of American Baptist missionaries in order to understand and distinguish Assamese modernity from the Bengali.

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The Notion of Modernity in Nineteenth-Century Spain

An Example of Conceptual History

Javier Fernández Sebastián and Gonzalo Capellan de Miguel

This article provides an account of the concepts of modernidad and modernismo in the Spanish language, chiefly in Spain, from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. This account also reflects the peculiarities of how conceptual history is being conducted in Spain, which resulted in the recently published Diccionario de Conceptos Políticos y Sociales del Siglo xix Español. The authors conclude that an examination of these two terms reveals that the emphasis upon Spanish singularity has been exaggerated and that, despite the presumed historical backwardness of the country, Spain played an outstanding role in the creation of the language of modernity and postmodernity.

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Neither Reformers nor Réformés

The Construction of French Modernity in the Nineteenth Century

Gavin Murray-Miller

Modernity has typically been considered a process consisting of “modernizing” initiatives concerned with nation-building, industrial economic development, and new social and political practices associated with democratization. This article engages ongoing debates regarding the import and meaning of modernity for historians and argues in favor of an historically situated understanding of the modern based upon an examination of social power and identity in post-revolutionary France. In particular, it assesses the transformation of social and political relationships in the nineteenth century as France embraced mass democracy and overseas imperial expansion in North Africa, arguing that modernity became a convenient means of preserving elite primacy and identity in an age increasingly oriented toward egalitarianism, democratic participation, and the acquisition of global empires.

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Modernity, Ḥadāthā, and Modernité in the Works of Abdallah Laroui

Conceptual Translation and the Politics of Historicity

Nils Riecken

The puzzle this article examines is how one can study the concept of modernity within the history of its universalization as a process of translation. For this purpose, I look at how the contemporary Moroccan historian and intellectual Abdallah Laroui has critically engaged with the history, politics, and epistemology of translating modernity (Arabic ḥadāthā, French modernité) into his intellectual and political setting of Morocco, North Africa, and the Middle East during and after the colonial period. I read him as making a critical intervention into existing modes of timing and spacing the concept of modernity and, thus, what I describe as the politics of historicity. In conclusion, I make a methodological plea for framing the history of concepts across political borders in terms of translational practices.

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Mohammed A. Bamyeh

The globalization of modernity obviously exceeds in its profundity the signifiers of open pathways and commodity circulation—clothing, music, food, and so on—tend to capture much of our immediate attention. In the first place, among tales of cultural dissemination modernity has the unique feature that it made its epoch without a heroic duel with any opposing force. The effort expended today to magnify the scale of supposedly ‘anti-modern’ fanaticism, or to force the world into the logic of a clash of ‘civilizations’ notwithstanding, the globalization of modernity owes much to the fact that, in its broadest outlines, it has never been truly rejected by any significant force in any society. Hardly any commentator on modernity, after all, defines the term in ways, which, upon closer inspection, reveal anything in modernity that should be anathema to social processes and longings everywhere. If we define modernity in terms of material outcomes—prosperity, longevity, lack of scarcity, leisure time, better communication systems, better housing, education, a wider range of consumer commodities—it is hard to see how any of this could be opposed by anybody, although these outcomes may be rejected by ascetic monks in any society, modern or not. If we define modernity in terms of social structure, such as predominantly urban life and within it a strong bourgeois class, it is easy to see that this outcome has been the conscious goal of policies in most of the world even before the termination of the alternative path of East bloc socialism.

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Alain Vaillant

During the nineteenth century, not only did the extraordinary development of the printed press transform the cultural environment, but it also brought about major formal changes in literature. This article explores these trasnformations through a focus on the contemporary use of the concept of “modernity.” The word dates back to 1688 at least, but it was mostly employed during the nineteenth century to describe post-revolutionary France and especially to criticize its consumerism and materialistic “bourgeoisie.” Nineteenth-century media culture embodied the triumph of “modernity,” especially in the form of the petite presse (“small press”). Born in a world where censorship still compromised the freedom of speech, the petite presse was an illustrated, satirical, ironical, and wisecracking medium. It aspired to a generalized non-seriousness which would, for a long time, be viewed as the “Parisian spirit.”