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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Social Change @21Cent.........

The critics of modernity, going back at least to the 19th century, have told us that modern society is hurtling forward, its social ties unraveling behind it, its citizens left unhinged and bewildered. In recent decades, disintegration has remained a persistent image in popular social criticism, from Alvin Toffler's Future Shock and Philip Slater's The Pursuit of Loneliness (both published in 1970) to more current entrants such as Judith Warner's 2005 book Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. And now comes the sociologist Dalton Conley tapping into the same trope and, like many before him, presenting the crisis of contemporary society as bearing most sharply, indeed almost exclusively, on the privileged.

The trouble with this long tradition, and particularly with Conley's rendition of it, is that the evidence doesn't support the view that modernity has disoriented all groups in society, much less that it has peculiarly shaken up the privileged. Despite the pervasive image of a postmodern self, fragmented and fractured, the educated have found new ways to knit their lives together. It is the less educated, squeezed on every front, whose lives have become more insecure and unstable in both work and family life.

A professor at New York University, Conley has important articles and books to his credit, and much of his work deals critically with social inequality. His Being Black, Living in the Red is a substantial study of the sources and consequences of racial differences in wealth. The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why is an intriguing analysis of the limited role of genes and family background in accounting for achievement, highlighting instead the role of luck, accident, and the inability of parents with many children to provide opportunities to all of them.

In contrast to his earlier work, however, Elsewhere, U.S.A. is a disjointed dervish of a book that embodies its author's diagnosis of modern life. It is frenetic, disorganized, marred by leaps of logic and digressions galore. Its saving grace is that it challenges us to understand how contemporary social transformations affect the realms of personal life: love, friendships, the sense of self. But to grasp those connections, we have to pay attention to facts that Conley dismisses or ignores.

Amid a welter of kvetchy asides (Conley hates advertisements on movie screens, logos on T-shirts, and people who yak on their cell phones in public), Elsewhere, U.S.A. offers two big concepts to diagnose modern society's ills: the "elsewhere" society, and the "intravidual." "Mrs. and Mr. Elsewhere," workaholic professionals, always feel they should be somewhere else than where they currently are, and so they betray those around them as their mind races ahead to the next encounter, or they look around for a more desirable interaction. The intravidual is the reciprocal of this dissociated society: Rather than an integrated self, the modern person is internally fragmented.

Along with these two big concepts, Conley emphasizes four forces that drive contemporary social change. New technologies create a 24/7, sped-up work life that continuously intrudes on family time. Growing income inequality makes those near the top envious and insecure, leading them to work ever harder. Women's participation in paid work erodes community life, breaks down the boundary between work and leisure, and strains families. And the networked society permits an almost infinite number of selves -- virtual and actual -- as people participate in multiple communities of varying depth and reality, from the anonymous others who "recommend" films on Netflix, to friends of friends on Facebook, to the avatars in virtual social universes.

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Posted by Ajay :: 5:12 PM :: 0 comments

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