Who does modernity serve? – week 7

Posted by in Week 7

What is modernity? From our standpoint in the internet age, the technological ‘miracles’ of the telegraph and the ‘horseless carriage’ can seem ridiculous at best. However, what began to emerge in the later part of the nineteenth and continuing into the twentieth century was a globalized utopia that became named modernity. Modernity became a cultural ideal, characterized in political (liberal democracy), economic (industrialization, global trade), social (family units, institutionalized education) qualities, as well as other hallmarks of a ‘modern’ society.

An underlying question remains: who manufactured this cultural ideal that is modernity? And subsequently, who did this obsession with modernity serve? Who did modernity leave behind?

The drive towards modernity depends on underlying assumptions of an ideal society and the historical trajectory towards it. Positivism provides the theoretical underpinning to which modernity is an end. A growing sense of global community brought modernity its universalist scope, forging into the nation-state imaginations a dictate of linear progress. Does modernity leave space for diversity or inter-cultural particularities?

James Creelman’s 1908 article, Porfirio Díaz, Hero of the Americas, alludes to this sense of modernity and its implied positivist paradigm. Creelman speaks of Mexico having “entered serenely and preparedly upon the last complete phase of their liberties” could now embrace democracy (having fulfilled the previous “phase” of order and “economic development”).

How does this conception of modernity change from previous cultural dynamics in Latin America that we’ve studied? Where does modernity break from a past of colonial domination, where does it reproduce/maintain historical violences? To what extent is modernity an illusion, and conversely, to what extent does it implicate radical change/(r)evolution?