Rethinking modernity and capitalism

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Jan Nederveen Pieterse University of California–Santa Barbara

abstract We have entered an era of multipolarity, but much thinking continues in unipolar terms, in terms of lumping concepts such as modernity and capitalism. In a multipolar era, thinking in plural terms is more relevant and appropriate, but runs counter to formidable pressures towards convergence that are built into the status quo and international institutions, and into macro theories in social science. Ideas of convergence upon the model of Anglo-American capitalism and liberal democracy are continuously rehearsed in mainstream media, as if the ‘rise of the rest’ is supposed to follow in the footsteps of the rise of the West. The major macro theories in sociology are clustered around the categories of modernity and capitalism. While macro theories are important in that they are part of the classical foundations, the flipside is that since their rise has correlated with the rise of Europe and the West they come with in-built centrism, a view from the West as the centre, a hegemonic view. This article discusses (1) oscillations towards and away from convergence in actual contemporary dynamics, (2) sociology of convergence thinking, (3) counterpoints, (4) the case of China, and concludes with open-ended reflections. 

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