Modernity / Imagination / Imagery / Methods

Inglis, David (2010) Modernity / Imagination / Imagery / Methods. [Video] (Unpublished)

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Recording of presentation given at Vital Signs 2 Conference, 7-9 September 2010, University of Manchester
From its very beginnings, social thought has engaged with what it imagines to be ‘modernity’ as if such an entity self-evidently existed, even if its precise contours were open to contestation. The powerful imagining of the existence of the ‘modern’ lives on today in terminology (post-modernity, late modernity, second modernity and suchlike) that apparently breaks with classical assumptions, but in fact reproduces their core element, namely imagining that there is something called the ‘modern’ and that we are fated to live within it. Thus even the most apparently radical breaks with ‘modernist’ thinking are themselves ‘modern’ through and through, because they assume the prior existence of modernity even as they bid farewell to it. Post-modern and late-modern theorising are as convinced of the existence, and allegedly special features, of modernity as were the thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The problem that besets the social sciences, classical and contemporary, rests in the fact that ‘modernity’, and related terminology, constitutes the phrasing through which what we think of as modern society in fact thinks about itself. The social sciences thus risk uncritically accepting accepts an imagery and an imaginary that uncritically buys into the self-image of the very society they are supposed to be analysing. And the self-image of that society hinges around its claimed uniqueness, modern social conditions being thought to be wholly unlike anything that has gone before. In this sense, the hallmark of the modern is its narcissistic sense of its own unprecedented nature. The social sciences have unwittingly engaged in forms of performativity, whereby the imagined constellation called ‘modernity’ has been conjured into existence, ascribed an obdurate reality, and thus solidified in wider forms of consciousness well beyond the gates of the academy. But what if modernity has never existed, except as an imaginary object constantly performed and re-performed into existence, not least by the apparently ‘critical’ social sciences themselves? This would pose vast challenges to social science conceptualisation and methodology, some of which will be unpacked here. But reflexive recognition of this curious state of affairs might also lead to certain forms of conceptual and methodological liberation. What such liberation may look like is here sketched out and reflected upon.

Item Type: Video
Uncontrolled Keywords: Modernity, imagination, methods, Realities
Subjects: 4. Qualitative Data Handling and Data Analysis > 4.13 Visual Data Analysis
4. Qualitative Data Handling and Data Analysis > 4.23 Qualitative Approaches (other)
Depositing User: Realities user
Date Deposited: 22 Dec 2010 13:46
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2021 13:53

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