‘Small change of the universal’: beyond modernity?
Article first published online: 14 SEP 2010
© London School of Economics and Political Science 2010
The British Journal of Sociology
Special Issue: Varieties of second modernity: extra-European and European experiences and perspectives. Editors: Ulrich Beck and Edgar Grande
Volume 61, Issue 3, pages 565–578, September 2010
How to Cite
Maharaj, S. (2010), ‘Small change of the universal’: beyond modernity?. The British Journal of Sociology, 61: 565–578. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2010.01326.x
- Issue published online: 14 SEP 2010
- Article first published online: 14 SEP 2010
- (Date accepted: June 2010)
- Impure cosmopolitanism;
- modelling global modernities;
The paper is a sounding of Ulrich Beck's and Edgar Grande's conceptual map of the varieties of second modernity – Western and Non-Western, European and beyond – that makes up today's world. Their mapping is examined in the light of two, striking analytical perspectives associated with Ulrich Beck: everyday ‘cosmopolitization’ and his call for a methodological cosmopolitanism. A line of inquiry explores whether contemporary modernities are essentially expressions of a single, underlying modernization drive or whether they are utterly disparate entities. The implications of treating them as ‘variants and variations’ are unpacked with reference to musical models and how they generate difference. The probe into methodological cosmopolitanism touches on ‘de-provincialization’ that is somewhat at odds with the postcolonial project of ‘provincializing’ Europe. It looks at the attempt to go beyond ‘nation-bound’ sociological dualisms in determining the appropriate ‘unit of analysis’ for our ever-morphing current reality. Does this imply engaging with ‘singularity’– with a mode of conceptualization that sidesteps the universal/particular couple and related either/or thinking? References to the making of the ‘first modernity’ under unequal centre/periphery relations of colonial power are aired for possible lessons in mappings of the second.
Ulrich Beck's ‘impure, really-existing cosmopolitanism’– in contrast to its speculative counterpart derived from the realm of pure ideas – springs from humdrum global economic and political links and institutions that span out across, above and beyond the ‘container of the national space’. With the inadvertent cosmopolitical impact of the migrations it amounts in practice to a functioning ‘cosmopolitan realpolitik’. Is there room for it to develop or will it stall as a mere front for national, tribal-territorial interests – going the way of ‘multiculturalism and diversity’ that seem increasingly to serve as governmental ideologies for managing global difference? Whether each of the varieties of second modernity throws up a ‘cosmopolitan vision’ of its own remains to be determined more fully. It seems possible that friction between the modernities might fetch up on a higher plane as clashing cosmopolitanisms. Historical precedents give scant comfort if we look at the fate of the ecumenic empires of the ancient world of the ‘first cosmopolitan age’ or at landmark cosmopolitan endeavours such as Aby Warburg's and WEB Du Bois' on the eve of counter-cosmopolitan currents of the 1930s. An abiding scepticism prevails about the capacity of ‘impure cosmopolitanism’ to bootstrap and elaborate itself from an involuntary, reflex condition into a self-reflexive, critical dispensation.