Multiple Modernities Project
Modernity and Difference
Charles Taylor and Benjamin Lee
The project will study a set of issues which have been very under-examined in contemporary scholarship. These have to do with how we understand the rise of modernity, its relation to the predecessor "traditional" cultures, and the scope for difference within this. Some crucial questions here have been, as it were, kept off our screens by the hold of too narrow--one might say, too monistic--theories in this area.
1. The first foyer of research concerns what might be called "multiple modernities".
There seem to be two ways of understanding the rise of modernity which are at large in our culture. They are in effect two different "takes" on what makes our contemporary society different from its forebears. In one take, we can look on the difference between present day society and, say, that of mediaeval Europe as analogous to the difference between mediaeval Europe and China or India. In other words, we can think of the difference as one between civilizations, each with their own culture. Or alternatively, we can see the change from earlier centuries to today as involving something like "development", as the demise of a "traditional" society, and the rise of the "modern". And in this perspective, which seems to be the dominant one, things look rather different.
We want to call the first kind of understanding a "cultural" one, and the second "acultural". In using these terms, we are leaning on a use of the word 'culture' which is analogous to the sense it often has in anthropology. We are evoking the picture of a plurality of human cultures, each of which has a language and a set of practices which define specific understandings of personhood, social relations, states of mind/soul, goods and bads, virtues and vices, and the like. These languages are often mutually untranslatable.
With this model in mind, a "cultural" theory of modernity is one that characterizes the transformations which have issued in the modern West mainly in terms of the rise of a new culture. The contemporary Atlantic world is seen as a culture (or group of closely related cultures) among others, with its own specific understandings, e.g., of person, nature, the good, to be contrasted to all others, including its own predecessor civilization (with which it obviously also has a lot in common). By contrast, an "acultural" theory is one that describes these transformations in terms of some culture-neutral operation. By this we mean an operation which is not defined in terms of the specific cultures it carries us from and to, but is rather seen as of a type which any traditional culture could undergo.
An example of an acultural type of theory, indeed a paradigm case, would be one which conceives of modernity as the growth of reason, defined in various ways: e.g., as the growth of scientific consciousness, or the development of a secular outlook, or the rise of instrumental rationality, or an ever-clearer distinction between fact-finding and evaluation. Or else modernity might be accounted for in terms of social, as well as intellectual changes: the transformations, including the intellectual ones are seen as coming about as a result of increased mobility, concentration of populations, industrialization, or the like. In all these cases, modernity is conceived as a set of transformations which any and every culture can go through--and which all will probably be forced to undergo.
These changes are not defined by their end-point in a specific constellation of understandings of, say, person, society, good; they are rather described as a type of transformation to which any culture could in principle serve as "input". For instance, any culture could suffer the impact of growing scientific consciousness; any religion could undergo "secularization"; any set of ultimate ends could be challenged by a growth of instrumental thinking; any metaphysic could be dislocated by the split between fact and value.
It should be evident that the dominant theories of modernity over the last two centuries of have of the acultural sort. One might argue that this is wrong for a host of reasons. But what we want to bring out here is that they tend to prejudge the case against diversity, and too easily conclude to a future of greater and greater uniformity across cultures.
Acultural theories tend to describe the transition in terms of a loss of traditional beliefs and allegiances. This may be seen as coming about as a result of institutional changes: e.g., mobility and urbanization erode the beliefs and reference points of static rural society. Or the loss may be supposed to arise from the increasing operation of modern scientific reason. The change may be positively valued - or it may be judged a disaster by those for whom the traditional reference points were valuable, and scientific reason too narrow. But all these theories concur in describing the process: old views and loyalties are eroded. Old horizons are washed away, in Nietzsche's image. The sea of faith recedes, following Arnold. This stanza from his Dover Beach captures this perspective:
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Now the view that modernity arises through the dissipation of certain unsupported religious and metaphysical beliefs seems to imply that the paths of different civilizations are bound to converge. As they lose their traditional illusions, they will come together on the "rationally grounded" outlook which has resisted the challenge. The march of modernity will end up making all cultures look the same. This means, of course, that we expect they will end up looking like us.
This idea of "modernity" (in the singular) as a point of convergence is very much imbued with the logic of the acultural theory. "Development" occurs in "traditional" societies through "modernization". For this concept of the "traditional", what matters is not the specific features of earlier societies, which are very different from each other. What is crucial is just that by holding people within a sacred horizon, a fixed community, and unchallengeable custom, they impede development. Over against the blazing light of modern reason, all traditional societies look alike in their immoble night.
What they hold us back from is "development", conceived as the unfolding of our potentiality to grasp our real predicament and apply instrumental reason to it. The instrumental individual of secular outlook is always already there, ready to emerge when the traditional impediments fall away.
"Development" occurs through "modernization", which designates the ensemble of those culture-neutral processes, both in outlook (individuation, rise of instrumental reason), and in institutions and practices (industrialization, urbanization, mass literacy, the introduction of markets and bureaucratic states) which carry us through the transition.
This outlook projects a future in which we all emerge together into a single, homogeneous world culture. In our "traditional" societies, we were very different from each other. But once these earlier horizons have been lost, we shall all be the same. A cultural theory opens up a rather different gamut of prospects. If the transition to modernity is like the rise of a new culture, analogous to the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity in the early centuries, or of Indonesia to Islam after the fourteenth Century, then as in all such cases, the starting point will leave its impress on the end product. So Christianity was deeply marked by Greek philosophy, and Indonesian Islam is rather unlike the rest of the Islamic world. In a parallel fashion, transitions to what we might recognize as modernity, taking place in different civilizations, will produce different results, reflecting their divergent starting points. Their understandings of the person, social relations, states of mind, goods and bads, virtues and vices, sacred and profane, are likely to be distinct. The future of our world will be one in which all societies will undergo change, in institutions and outlook, and some of these changes may be parallel, but it will not converge, because new differences will emerge from the old.
Thus, instead of speaking of "modernity" in the singular, we should better speak of "multiple modernities".
Now the belief in modernity as convergence is not just the fruit of an acultural theory. Just as the account of the transition to modernity as our "coming to see" certain things contains a partial truth; so here there is undoubtedly some convergence involved in the triumphal march of modernity. A viable theory of multiple modernities has to be able to relate both the pull to sameness and the forces making for difference.
From one point of view, modernity is like a wave, flowing over and engulfing one traditional culture after another. If we understand by modernity, inter alia, the changes discussed above which carry the transition: e.g., the emergence of a market-industrial economy, of a bureaucratically-organized state, of modes of popular rule, then its progress is, indeed, wave-like. The first two changes, if not the third, are in a sense irresistible. Whoever fails to take them on, or some good functional equivalent, will fall so far behind in the power stakes as to be taken over, and forced to undergo these changes anyway. It was a stark appreciation of these power relations which impelled Japanese elites in the Meiji era, for instance, to undertake pre-emptive modernization. The fate of other Asian societies which had not managed to do so was an eloquent plea for this policy. There are good reasons in the relations of force for the onward march of modernity so defined.
But modernity as lived from the inside, as it were, is something different. The institutional changes just described always shake up and alter traditional culture. They did this in the original development in the West, and they have done this elsewhere. But outside of those cases where the original culture is quite destroyed, and the people either die or are forcibly assimilated--and European colonialism has a number of such cases to its discredit--a successful transition involves a people finding resources in their traditional culture which, modified and transposed, will enable them to take on the new practices. In this sense, modernity is not a single wave. It would be better, as we have just suggested, to speak of multiple modernities, as the cultures which emerge in the world to carry the institutional changes turn out to differ in important ways from each other. Thus a Japanese modernity, an Indian modernity, various modulations of Islamic modernity will probably enter alongside the gamut of Western societies, which are also far from being totally uniform.
Seen in this perspective, we can see that modernity--the wave--can be felt as a threat to a traditional culture. It will remain an external threat to those deeply committed against change. But there is another reaction, among those who want to take on some version of the institutional changes. Unlike the conservatives, they don't want to refuse these innovations. They want of course to avoid the fate of those aboriginal people who have just been engulfed and made over by the external power. What they are looking for is a creative adaptation, drawing on the cultural resources of their tradition, which would enable them to take on the new practices successfully. In short they want to do what has already been done in the West. But they see, or sense, that that cannot consist in just copying the West's adaptations. The creative adaptation using traditional resources has by definition to be different from culture to culture. Just taking over Western modernity couldn't be the answer. Or otherwise put, this answer comes too close to engulfment. They have to invent their own.
There is thus a "call to difference" felt by "modernizing" elites which corresponds to something objective in their situation. This is of course part of the background to nationalism.
Now just wanting a creative adaptation doesn't ensure that one bring it off. And some of the formulae proposed look with hindsight pretty much non-starters; as for instance the idea put forward by the government of Ching China after the Opium War, which can be roughly rendered: we'll take their technology and keep our culture. There are moments where the "modernizers" begin to look indistinguishable from the conservative enemies of change.
This kind of resistance results in what Rajeev Bhargava has called "patchwork" solutions, which attempt to tack the new power-conferring practices onto an unchanged way of life. But these institutions and practices almost always require new disciplines, new understandings of agency, new forms of sociability. We have only to think of what is required to participate as an entrepreneur in a modern market economy, or the kind of "rationalized" co-ordination required by a modern bureaucracy, to see that this is so. The really creative adaptation is one which can modify our existing culture so as to make, e.g., successful entrepreneurship and bureaucratic organization henceforth part of our repertory. This generally cannot be brought about without profound changes in our earlier way of life.
The point of the "multiple modernities" thesis is that these adaptations don't have to and generally won't be identical across civilizations. Something is indeed, converging here, while other things diverge. It might be tempting to say: the institutions and practices converge, while the cultures find new forms of differentiation. But that can only be a first approximation. Because in fact the institutional forms will also frequently be different.
Take the example just mentioned of entrepreneurship. It is a condition of successful participation in a market economy, itself a condition of economic growth, and hence welfare and/or power. But it is clear that the entrepreneurial cultures of Japan, Chinese societies, the Indian merchant castes and groups differ from each other and from those of the West. Indeed, business cultures differ even between the societies of the Atlantic region, as Francis Fukuyama has persuasively argued. But with the cultures also go differences in form: in size of firm, basis of trust within it, its modes of procedure, etc. These forms and cultures will be more or less successful in different circumstances, and they may thus keep tabs on each other, and even try to borrow; but this doesn't mean that they can or will converge.
We have to remember that what is required by the "wave" of modernity is that one come up, not with identical institutions, but with functionally equivalent ones. The "bottom line" is e.g., competing successfully in the international market. More than one kind of firm and business culture can enable this. A given society will, indeed must adopt the mode for which it has the cultural resources. That is the essence of creative adaptation.
If this perspective of divergence in convergence is right, then we can see how exclusive reliance on an acultural theory unfits us for what is perhaps the most important task of social sciences in our day: understanding the full gamut of multiple modernities which are in the making in different parts of the world. It locks us into an ethnocentric prison, condemned to project our own forms onto everyone else, and blissfully unaware of what we are doing.
So the first foyer of research involves the exploration of these multiple modernities. We mentioned the different cultures of entrepreneurship, but there is also important research to be done in the place and use of media in society, in the ways the functions of the North Atlantic "welfare state" are assumed or not by different kinds of community: family, clan, caste, etc.; in the very different political cultures of representative democracies: in India there is a strong attachment of masses of people to the forms of representative democracy, but the way these are "imagined" by Indian voters obviously differs from North Atlantic models; and yet remarkably little work has been done on the shape of this social imaginary. Again, modern societies obviously differ greatly in the place they have for religion, and this is so even between states which are alike in espousing some variant of "secularism". What exists under this label is quite different in India, for instance, than in France or the USA. And there are many more such areas begging for further study.
2. The second foyer of research concerns the "social imaginary".
The term has already arisen in the above discussion; and inevitably so, because any attempt to define the different cultures of modernity can't be satisfied just with marking differences in explicit theory and in institutions. Indeed, these may not be very great. What matters, and what helps determine the repertory of practices that a given population has at its disposal, is how the society with its institutions and practices is imagined by those who live in and by these.
It is important to distinguish social imaginary from social theory. There are a number of crucial differences between the two. We speak of "imaginary" (i) because it's the way ordinary people "imagine" their social surroundings, and this is often not expressed in theoretical terms: it is carried in gestures. Rituals, images, stories, legends, etc. But it is also the case that (ii) theory is often the possession of a small minority, whereas what is interesting in social imaginary is that it is shared by large groups of people, if not the whole society. Which leads to a third difference: (iii) the social imaginary is that common understanding which makes possible common practices, and widely shared sense of legitimacy.
The social imaginary sometimes evolves in the same direction as theory, but often considerably after it. Thus the modern notion of a social order based on the mutual benefit of equal participants is elaborated first in theories of the State of Nature and contract (e.g., Grotius and Locke). But something similar only enters the social imaginary, and hence action, of significant groups in the following century. We see this, for instance with the developing idea of the public sphere in the eighteenth century. The dispersed publications and small group or local exchanges come to be construed as one big debate, from which the "public opinion" of a whole society emerges. This is the first time that such a meta-topical, continuing space is conceived of as grounded in nothing other than common action in secular time, that is, without the kind of action-transcendent grounding in higher time which kingdoms, churches, long-established legal systems enjoyed.
In fact, the modern age sees the invention/development of quite new forms of collective agency, and what we might call planes of interaction. Agencies like the "public", considered as a collective that can come to an opinion of common mind about something; and of course, most famously, for the sovereign "people"; by "planes of interaction", we mean, for instance the new understanding of the economy, as a unitary system, where there is no single common agency, but rather a terrain in which their actions mutually affect each other, and concatenate into a global result. Another important example of modern planes are the new public urban spaces, the boulevards, arcades, shopping malls, which Baudelaire and then Benjamin have made theoretically famous, in which we all act in consciousness of our mutual presence and visibility. These planes are an important feature of the modern world, and they now extend not only beyond any given visible location, but even internationally, in say, the fans of an international star.
All these new forms have the feature that they are or can be meta-topical, that is transcend particular times and places. The agencies are national (and sometimes transnational ) and continuing, for instance. Secondly, they are constituted by new forms of social imaginary in purely secular time. This is reflected in the fact, third, that they give an unprecedented place to simultaneity, that is imaginings of a plurality of sites, otherwise unrelated, in which action proceeding at the same time is drawn together in the new agency or plane. The dispersed discussions in coffee-houses and salons can be imagined together as the public sphere, the response of fans in separate locations are drawn together into the same plane.
The creation of these new forms through the social imaginary draws on new modes and shapes of narration. The people, for instance, as continuing agency is held together through the story we tell about it: our people has a past in which it was unconscious of itself and disunited; then it comes to consciousness, takes its fate in hand in a revolutionary moment, and becomes a sovereign agency in a certain state form. The people crystallizes through a narrative, in which its history is plotted; but unlike earlier collective agencies, the medieveal kingdom, the church, this narrative runs in purely secular time. The forms and institutions of modernity depend on a range of secular emplotments which shape the new forms of social imaginary.
These emplotments draw on and transform pre-existing repertories, in (1) modes of narration, like epics, stories, legends, which provide the background for new modes, like, e.g., the novel; sometimes in (2) theoretical formulations, which have played a particularly important role in the rise of Western modernity, and (3) in collective actions, rituals, like processions, joyuses entrees, humble petitions, food riots, representative institutions, which emerge transformed, for instance, in the practices of demonstration and self-management of the democratic age.
In the West, we can see these forces at work in the development in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of a new social imaginary, that of the public sphere. Epistemology and method based social philosophies interact with new types of narrated fiction to create forms of subjectivity expressive of a new, rising bourgeois class. The circulation and discussion of these forms in coffee houses, salons, magazines, journals, and newspapers creates a new meta-topical space, out of which develop modern conceptions of publics, publicness, and publicity. After, and partly on the basis of these key notions of the public sphere, the modern theory of legitimacy mutates into a social imaginary which makes popular sovereignty the main, and later only possible basis of legitimacy. We can see how older ideas of legitimacy are colonized, as it were, with the new understandings of order, and then transformed, in certain cases, without a clear break.
The United States is a case in point. The reigning notions of legitimacy in Britain and America, the ones which fired the English Civil War, for instance, as well as the beginnings of the Colonies' rebellion, were basically backward-looking. They turned around the idea of an "ancient constitution", an order based on law holding "since time out of mind", in which Parliament had its rightful place beside the King. This was typical of pre-modern understandings of order, which referred back to a "time of origins" (Eliade's phrase), which was not in ordinary time.
This earlier justification emerges from the American Revolution transformed into a full-fledged foundation in popular sovereignty, whereby the US constitution is put in the mouth of "We, the people". The transition is the easier, because what was understood as the traditional law gave an important place to elected assemblies and their consent to taxation. All that was needed was (a) to shift the balance in these so as to make elections the only source of legitimate power, and (b) to reconceive what was taking place in these elections as an expression of a popular will to refound the state.
Now what has to take place for this change to come off is a transformed social imaginary, in which the idea of foundation is taken out of the mythical early time, and seen as something that people can do today. In other words, it becomes something that can be brought about by collective action in contemporary, purely secular time. This happened sometime in the eighteenth century, but really more towards its end than its beginning. Elites propounded theories of founding action beforehand, but these hadn't adequately sunk into the general social imaginary for them to be acted on. So that 1688, radical departure as it may seem to us in retrospect, was presented as an act of continuity, of return to a pre-existent legality. (We are fooled by a change in semantics. The "Glorious Revolution" had the original sense of a return to the original position; not the modern sense of a innovative turn-over. Of course, it helped by its Wirkungsgeschichte to alter the sense.)
This fit between theory and social imaginary is crucial to the outcome. Popular Sovereignty could be invoked in the American case, because it had a generally agreed institutional meaning. All the colonists agreed that the way to found a new constitution was through some kind of assembly, perhaps slightly larger than the normal one, such as in Massachusetts in 1779. Elevating the notion of a constitutional convention from a state to a national level would allow the creation of a government whose authority would rest on the notion of the people of the United States and not on state governments or the particular constituencies they represented. The notion of the American people would thus face two directions: it would be a transcendent source of legitimacy abstract enough to legitimate the founding law of laws, i.e., the constitution, yet be embodied in every citizen. The force of the old representative institutions helped to "interpret" in practical terms the new concept. This radically new view of the sovereignty of the people also builds upon a vision of community at the heart of the social imaginary of the public sphere--that of the political community as a reading (i.e., educated ) public held together by a potentially infinitely open-ended process of reading and criticism--only the basic text is the constitution and the rationality of the interpetive process is represented by the Supreme Court.
Quite different was the case in the French Revolution, with fateful effects. The impossibility remarked by all historians of "bringing the Revolution to an end" came partly from this, that any particular expression of popular sovereignty could be challenged by some other, with substantial support. Thus the members of the Convention were eventually purged in 1793 under threat of the activists from the Paris sections, and that in the name of the "people". The immediate consequences are too horrible and too well-known to need repetition.
Similarly, there may be a gap between the theory and social imaginary of political elites, and that of the less educated classes, or those in rural areas. This again is something that has been well documented for France during most of the nineteenth Century, in spite of the confident remarks of Republican leaders about the nation "one and indivisible". The transformation wrought by the Third Republic was to make this vision of France real for the first time. We can only understand this change as a transformation of the social imaginary. So looking at the modern social imaginary has obvious relevance and interest for the history of the last few centuries. But it is not just relevant to the past. One of the most important features of modern society is just that it has developed a new range of social imaginaries, which underlie its peculiar understandings of legitimation, most specially popular sovereignty. These are at the heart of modern political life, and the problems it suffers from.
Take the example of contemporary China. The government's promotion of Chinese uniqueness is based upon a social imaginary of popular sovereignty whose history stretches back to the turn of the century. With the collapse of the Ching Dynasty, reformers such as Liang Qichao began to formulate a notion of "the people" and "the new citizen" that became an integral part of China's drive towards modernity. Western social philosophy introduced an epistemological dimension to Chinese discourses which had traditionally emphasized ethics and aesthetics. Vernacular fiction, especially in the form of the novel, became the language in which "the voice of the people" could be expressed, rather than classical Chinese.
Mao would draw upon this background to create a notion of the Communist party as the vanguard of the people, a revolutionary elite which would penetrate into and mobilize all sectors of society, including the arts and media. Breaking with Lenin, he substituted the peasantry for the urban proletariat as the revolutionary core of the people, and created an all-embracing ideology, Maoism, that spoke on their behalf, thus unifying all public voices into one. The connection with Western social imaginaries of popular sovereignty was by no means indirect. Mao had avidly read Liang Qichao's Xinmin Congbao in which Liang prefaces his discussion of Rousseau with a quotation from Kant declaring the Social Contract to be a framework for establishing a nation. Mao's philosophy teacher and future father-in-law was a disciple of the Oxford neo-Hegelian Thomas Hill Green, whose major work, Principles of Political Obligation, concerns the dialectic between individual wills and the larger community. Green's neo-Hegelianism puts the general will into motion; it prepares the route for the materialism Mao would adopt later from Marxism. The party would represent the general will of the people, and political society would be the ultimate realization of individual freedom.
With the communist victory, a Rousseau inspired vision of the fusion of state and society led by a party that represented the general will in the name of liberation became institutionalized in China. Unlike Western social imaginaries of the public sphere, the Chinese model has a center, the party, from which all ideological and cultural legitimation radiates. Print, media, art, and literature are all supported and cultivated by the party, which then transmits them to the population; like in Rousseau's vision, print communication should transparently transmit the will of the party; the basic model, taken from the formative years in Yenan, is of an extended face-to-face political process. Its physical embodiment would be Tiananmen Square, the huge public space in front of the old imperial Forbidden City in which the party leaders could face an assembled mass of a million citizens; the Square was a microcosm of the party and its people and its basic structure is replicated in village squares over all of China.
It is this model of popular sovereignty and peoplehood that the government invokes in its call for "socialism with uniquely Chinese characteristics." Yet the post-Tiananmen economic opening up is creating a pan-Chinese cultural "nationalism" built upon a shared print culture, and the increasing international circulation of Chinese intellectuals, cultural practitioners, and labor. This transnational public also parallels the movements of Chinese venture capital (perhaps the largest pool of such capital in the world), as well as the circulation of new images of cosmopolitan lifestyles through an increasingly dense traffic in videos, movies, popular magazines, music, and novels. The characteristics of this emerging transnational Chinese public culture work directly against the model of political legitimisation of the present Mainland government. It has no effective center, and is a print and mass mediated space which links together several public cultures which all deviate from the classical model of nation centered public identities: these include Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and the increasingly important overseas Chinese communities, especially in the United States, Canada, and Southeast Asia. The interactions between these competing social imaginaries will set the trajectory of future social transformations throughout the greater China region.
Here something which arose in the discussion of multiple modernities becomes relevant. Once one sees modern cultures in the plural, one can see that the differences don't only lie between "civilizations". Even different North Atlantic societies diverge in significant ways. We referred to this above in connection with national differences in entrepreneurial cultures. But it is also evident in the social imaginaries underpinning popular sovereignty. The work of Pierre Rosanvallon, tracing the advent of universal suffrage in France, illustrates this very tellingly. Modern society invents or imagines a new collective agency, which it requires, the "people", sometimes also called in France and America in the eighteenth century the "nation". This must have a certain kind of unity to function as it is supposed to. How to understand this unity?
One of the most common modes has been what we call "nationalism", that is, the understanding of the people's unity as grounded in a pre-existing oneness as a nation, defined by language, culture or history. Modern nationalism is still something which baffles us. Some authors have understood that it requires a certain form of social imaginary. But not all seem to understand the importance of this.
We need to understand better the important features of this kind of social imaginary, the more so in that theories of nationalism tend to be rather thin. We have to understand the ways in which it incorporates typically modern understandings of time, of space, of history - for instance, the typical narrativity of the growth of potential culture or consciousness into actualization, which involves a very different temporality from the pre-modern modes.
We also have to understand how this social imaginary can be imposed by elites on very different kinds of popular imaginaries, producing a wide range of compromise forms, which are very different from each other. People still often speak as though "nationalism" were a single phenomenon, perhaps with less or more virulent forms, but in essence the same from Scotland to the Respublika Srbska; and this seems very wrong.
It is not only nationalism, but the modern phenomena, and problems, of globalization, of civil society, of the public sphere, of the conditions of mutual trust, language of secular regimes, of multiculturalism, that all need to be re-examined in this light (issues that this project will directly address). The notion of a social imaginary allows us to see more clearly the interactions among multiple cultural perspectives without reducing them to some external frame. Nationalism, for example, uses premodern and modern social imaginaries to construct secularized forms of collective agency; these are then presupposed by "new social movements" and transnational social imaginaries constructed through a global mass media and cultural economy.
In addition, there is the entire phenomenon of "development", that is the evolution of societies under the impress of others, more "advanced", who borrow, adapt, create new and hybrid forms. We connect back up here to foyer 1. The approach we are developing would see the acultural view of society as a particular social imaginary that developed in the West and then spread to other societies, often as an integral part of programs of national development.
In the West, this viewpoint can be traced backed to Descartes and Hobbes in which epistemology becomes the starting point for philosophy, and epistemic certainty can only be achieved by applying abstract, deductive, and rational methods of reasoning. The result is an unsituated, disengaged subject who has an overview of everything and for whom being situated produces biases which have to be overcome. This "view from nowhere" then becomes a presupposition not only for the natural sciences, but for any type of research. The modern nationstate relies on the instrumentalities of objective research (economic statistics, maps, censuses) that institutionalize the "view from nowhere" as a fundamental presupposition of the international order. The rapid spread of the idea of research, to the point where it has become the defining characteristic of reliable knowledge across societies and disciplines, points to its connections with the social imaginary of nationalism.
Seeing research as a fundamental component of modern social imaginaries such as nationalism provides a new perspective on how to create an international research community that can respond to global conditions. Instead of research being an arm of the construction of an acultural viewpoint on society and culture, we might seriously consider that there are now different social imaginaries of research developing. Research and the multiple ethics that might support it could be topics of discussion and debates among scholars and cultural practitioners from other societies and traditions of inquiry. Recognition of the potential multiplicity of research ethics and agendas would provide a more effective space for creating an international and democratic community of researchers than the insistence that a particular acultural research ethic was given and unassailable.
One can envisage another implication of the recognition and search for multiple modernities, one that would realize its normative promise more fully. This is an important issue, indeed, one of the great issues of our time. But the two questions are distinct: can we create a normatively superior modernity? and can there be a plurality of culturally different modernities? We should just add that the attempt to realize new positive answers to the second question should be subject to the normative conmditions which the first raises. Not every mode of cultural distinctness is thereby justified and good.
Just for this reason, there is room for a normatively ordered discussion around this axis of mulitiple modernities.