Late modernity (or liquid modernity) is the characterisation 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-British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, late modernity is marked by the global capitalist economies with their increasing privatisation of services and by the information revolution.
Late modernity vs. postmodernity
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 process: in Giddens' words, "social practices are constantly examined and reformed in the light of incoming information about those very practices, thus constitutively altering their character". Modernity now tends to be self-referring, instead of being defined largely in opposition to traditionalism, as with classical modernity.
Anthony 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 life-style 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’ man as he flows through his own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and sometimes more—such as political or sexual orientation—excluding himself from traditional networks of support.
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.
- Anita Harris, Future Girl (2004) p. 3
- Marc Cools et al., Safety, Societal Problems and Citizens' Perceptions (2010) p. 88
- Giddens, in "Classical modernity and late modernity" (1990) p. 38
- R. Appignanesi et al., Postmodernism for Beginners (Cambridge 1995) p. 126 and p. 172
- Jennifer Craik, The Face of Fashion (London 1994) p. 8
- Kim Toffoletti, Baudrillard Reframed (London 2011) p. 75
- John Mandalios, Civilization and the Human Subject (1999) p. 2
- Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (2000) p. 8
- Bauman, p. 23
- Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (London 1994) p. 124
- Richard Brown, in Neil Corcoran ed, Do you, Mr Jones? (London 2002) p. 196 and p. 219
- Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Scott Lash. 1994. Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order. Blackwell.
- Beck, Ulrich. 1992. Risk Society. SAGE Publications.
- Giddens, Anthony. 1991. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford University Press.
- Lash, Scott. 1990. The Sociology of Postmodernism. Routledge.