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Organization, Regulations, and Courses 2017-18

MALS 280 Legitimacy of Global Modernity

What are the main sources of social order in an increasingly global world (dis)order? We reside at the far end of vast, rapid and complex processes of social transformation referred to as modernization. These processes include the development of new ways of organizing economies, politics, culture, and society—the fundamental building blocks of human communities. One central issue addressed in this course is the worth or legitimacy of modernity. Which of the institutions and ideas that structured and guided processes of modernization are worth defending or reforming? Which should be rejected? Or should we reject them all and instead embrace a new, post-modern political epoch? To approach these questions we will focus on the market economy, the nation state, discipline and discourse, and we will read from the giants of modern social theory: Smith, Marx and Weber, Tocqueville and Mill, Foucault and Habermas. Processes of modernization also draw more and more persons and societies into the net of interconnectiv¬≠ity, mobility, and hybridity that we refer to as globalization. Understanding modernity as inherently global, originally imperial, and now increasingly post-colonial raises a further set of issues. Once we are attentive to the roles played by colonial domination and racial exploitation in generating modern social orders, does this fundamentally alter our verdict on these processes? What are implications of the fact that many of the tools of resistance to Western imperialism and domination seem to have been forged in the process of modernization itself? Does the Eurocentrism of the tradition of modern social theory invalidate its central concepts and insights? Or can they be reformulated in a way that divorces their critical power from the prejudices that informed their elaboration? Are ‘Europeans’ increasingly ‘provincialized’ as Western political, social and epistemic hegemony declines in an ever-more global world? This course tackles these issues in tandem. It pairs some of the most important modern social theorists with some of their most trenchant global and post-colonial critics, exploring several dimensions of the interchange between ‘the West and the rest’ and in the process throwing into sharp focus the question of the legitimacy of global modernity.


David Peritz