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Modernity in the Dock

The problematisation of modernity as a transnational heuristic owes much to the relatively recent demise of the 'modernisation' paradigm, the central pillar of which Gaonkar identifies as:

The proposition that societal modernisation, once activated, moves inexorably toward establishing a certain type of mental outlook (scientific rationalism, pragmatic instrumentalism, secularism) and a certain type of institutional order (popular government, bureaucratic administration, market-driven industrial economy) irrespective of the culture and politics of a given place. (2001: 16)

According to Elsje Fourie, the demise of and theoretical backlash against the modernisation paradigm has left its portrayal 'disowned', 'deconstructed' and 'unfashionable' to the 'extent that no formal discussion of' modernity 'seems complete without a distancing of author from subject' (2012: 53). Part of the postmodern turn, Jean-François Lyotard did much to set the tone for those eager to disown and deconstruct prevalent understandings of modernity as ineluctably associated with historical convergence and socio-cultural homogenisation. Lyotard allies Wittgenstein's notion of 'language games' with the assertion that the rise of the 'postindustrial age' and 'postmodern culture' of the late-twentieth century involves a loss of' credulity' in respect of traditional modes of' legitimation' and established 'grand narratives' by which modernity has customarily been underwritten. The postmodern 'incredulity toward metanarratives', he argues, both rejects notions of 'totality', 'unicity' and 'system' and 'refines our sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable'. In marked contrast to modernising narratives of homogeneity and convergence, Lyotard posits 'local determinism' and 'temporal disjunction' as characteristic of postmodernity's 'breaking up of grand Narratives' (1984: xxiii-xxv, 3-37). Though of a principally philosophical nature, the postmodern problematisation of 'metadiscourse' exemplified by Lyotard has enjoyed continued popularity among social scientists uncomfortable with the concept of modernity as a 'Great Unifier' (Therborn 1995) or seeking to articulate a 'culturalist approach' to regional dynamics free from 'a larger narrative explaining how everything is ordered in a universally valid theoretical system which subjects them to a teleological necessity or causation' (Baykan 1990: 139).

The disowning and deconstruction of established portrayals of modernity is likewise undertaken by scholars championing postcolonial and subaltern narratives rooted in regional identity-politics. Walter Mignolo, for example, espouses a 'geopolitics of knowledge' which rejects the 'colonial imaginary' underwriting Western theories of modernity in favour of the 'reinstitution of location as a geopolitical and epistemological configuration of knowledge production' (2000: 305). As 'there is no modernity without coloniality', he argues, there can be no 'critique of modernity from the perspective of modernity itself'. Forged through the 'desubalternization of local knowledge', the reconstruction of 'local histories' as 'pluritopic' critiques of modernity offers the only viable means of escaping the 'coloniality of power' implicit within the 'overarching metaphor' of 'Occidentalism' (2000: 13, 43, 87). In the same vein, Gurminder Bhambra eschews prevailing 'sociological constructions of modernity' because of their dependence upon 'a particular historical understanding' which 'privileges' one regional perspective over others. Formulated amidst the 'institutions', 'practices' and 'structures' of Europe, he maintains, the '"facts" of modernity' articulated by dominant 'analytical categories' are nothing more than 'hermeneutical fabrications' unavoidably peddling 'a form of Eurocentrism' (2007: 145-7).

Avoiding the wholesale disownment and scorched-earth deconstructionism championed by Mignolo and Bhambra, Arjun Appadurai nevertheless performs an act of authorial distancing from established theorisations of modernity by calling for more pluriform representations which account for 'the multiple worlds that are constituted by the historically situated imaginations of persons and groups spread around the globe' (1996: 33). Articulated by complementary qualifications of modernity (or modernities) as, for example, 'alternative' (Goankar 2001), 'hybrid' (Canclini 1995), 'later' (Kaya 2004), 'local' (Rosati 2012), 'mixed' (Ortiz 1994), 'organised' (Carleheden 2007), 'successive' (Wagner 2012) and 'varied' (Schmidt 2006), the most popular form of terminological distancing from traditional notions of modernity has been effected by appending the prefix 'multiple' (e.g. Eisenstadt 2000; Arnason 2002). Indeed, both across the sociological community in general and within the sociology of religion in particular, the 'multiple modernities' paradigm has enjoyed something akin to hermeneutical dominance subsequent to its formative popularisation by Shmuel Eisenstadt.

 
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