Late modernity (or liquid modernity) is the characterization of today's highly developed global societies as the continuation (or development) of modernity rather than as an element of the succeeding era known as postmodernity, or the postmodern. Introduced as "liquid" modernity by the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, late modernity is marked by the global capitalist economies with their increasing privatization of services and by the information revolution.
Social theorists and sociologists such as Scott Lash, Ulrich Beck, Zygmunt Bauman, and Anthony Giddens maintain (against postmodernists) that modernization continues into the contemporary era, which is thus better conceived as a radical state of late modernity. On technological and social changes since the 1960s, the concept of "late modernity" proposes that contemporary societies are a clear continuation of modern institutional transitions and cultural developments. Such authors talk about a reflexive modernization as post-traditional order which impact day-to-day social life and personal activities. Modernity now tends to be self-referring, instead of being defined largely in opposition to traditionalism, as with classical modernity.
Giddens does not dispute that important changes have occurred since "high" modernity, but he argues that we have not truly abandoned modernity. Rather, the modernity of contemporary society is a developed, radicalized, "late" modernity—but still modernity, not postmodernity. In such a perspective, postmodernism appears only as a hyper-technological version of modernity.
The subject is constructed in late modernity against the backdrop of a fragmented world of competing and contrasting identities and lifestyle cultures. The framing matrix of the late modern personality is the ambiguous way the fluid social relations of late modernity impinge on the individual, producing a reflexive and multiple self.
Zygmunt Bauman, who introduced the idea of liquid modernity, wrote that its characteristics are about the individual, namely increasing feelings of uncertainty and the privatization of ambivalence. It is a kind of chaotic continuation of modernity, where a person can shift from one social position to another in a fluid manner. Nomadism becomes a general trait of the "liquid modern" person as they flow through their own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values, and sometimes more—such as political or sexual orientation—excluding themselves from traditional networks of support, while also freeing themselves from the restrictions or requirements those networks impose.
Bauman stressed the new burden of responsibility that fluid modernism placed on the individual—traditional patterns would be replaced by self-chosen ones. Entry into the globalized society was open to anyone with their own stance and the ability to fund it, in a similar way as was the reception of travellers at the old-fashioned caravanserai. The result is a normative mindset with emphasis on shifting rather than on staying—on provisional in lieu of permanent (or "solid") commitment—which (the new style) can lead a person astray towards a prison of their own existential creation.
- Information society
- Network society
- Post-industrial society
- Second modernity
- Late capitalism
- Space of flows
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