Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Challenge of Modernity

Modernity means transformation to a new way of leading life. New developments consistently bring changes to different aspects of the environment around us. This leads to change in the environment we are accustomed to live in. It has been observed that cumulative effect of such changes leads to a need for paradigm shift in well established structure of social values and cultural norms. And every society is forced to adapt to the changing dynamics of the environment, often to survive with the same relevance among contemporary societies. This tilts the orientation of existing structure of social values and cultural norms towards newer horizons. Those societies which, transit through the transformation in such a way that they get poised to take advantage of new opportunities unveiled by changed environment, are usually better placed to lead other societies.
In last 400 - 500 years most of the changes to the environment around us have been due to influence of events like industrial revolution, introduction of formal education, colonial rule and emergence of nation states, world wars, cold war regime and recent information technology revolution. 
Broadly, some prominent impacts of these events are listed as under:- 
1. Economic Scenario: A shift from ‘agriculture based economy’ to ‘industry based economy’, the evolution of ‘manufacturing sector’ and ‘service sector’ and broad acceptance of capitalist economy as best suited arrangement (in most parts of the world) brought about changes in the way people thought about money, savings and growth. Understanding dynamics of day to day business in context to changing micro-economical parameters and changing macro-economical parameters became critical for success of business and for prosperity of society. Challenges of Product and Service Innovations, Process Innovations, Standardization and Quality Consciousness, Management of Supply Chain in co-ordination with emergence of policy based legal framework for conducting business began to impact commercial world across the globe. With growing inter-connection in commercial world, changes in global perspective began to influence lives of people much more than ever before. 
2. Political Scenario and Governance Model: This period has seen shifting ambitions of states. There was a shift from interest in territorial gains to interest in colonial rule and eventually to interest in developing economic advantage. In this period, states learned to practice internal sovereignty through means of legitimizing their actions and to practice external sovereignty through diplomatic means. Such shifts may have been the result of learning from situational responses chosen by the dominant western powers to the historical developments in different parts of the world.

The period has seen emergence of nation states in the political order across the globe. Evolutionary process for establishment of a state may include state formation (an organized political community under one government and under one national identity), state consolidation (laying foundations for functioning institutions and building administrative capabilities) and state stabilization (attainment of maturity in governance and attainment of sovereignty). In natural course of evolution, institution of state is shaped in accordance with cultural hegemony and in accordance with prevailing socio-economic scenario. In the process an arrangement largely acceptable to all the stakeholders (in the state) usually comes into existence.
During pre-colonial period, the very concept of modern state (pluralist state system) evolved in Europe along with other developments in contemporary period like - development of social value system, cultural norms, economic models and developments in the area of science and technology. Moreover, rationality and jurisprudence of the modern society and modern state were based on core values of taken from European civilization. For most of the developing world, adopting pluralist state system (of Europe) as the framework of governance and developing supporting institutions was a very difficult proposition.
3. Social Scenario: By and large societies were following independent development path in isolation with each other. They were dealing in their own ways with slow pace of modernization and with very low level of interaction with the contemporary societies. When means of communications started to develop there was an unprecedented surge in inter-society interactions. Eventually this accelerated exchange of ideas across societies, which were developing in isolation to each other with different value system conforming to prevalent socio-economic conditions. These developments gave rise to an environment where association among societies for mutual benefits became important. It may be noted that during colonial era, European countries were termed successful and European social norms were looked upon with high regards by the rest of the world. Slowly, service industries started to develop in Europe in the area of Banking, Health Care, Post and Telegraph, Travels and Shipping. Maturing service sector and adoption of rights & duties based approach in public dealing in the back drop of capitalistic democratic set up led to shaping-up of egalitarian values and development of sense of individualism.   
4. Educational Scenario: The western education system was highly influenced by industrial revolution. Western education system became formal education system in the world and this system was in many ways quite different from the informal education gained by people through tacit learning in most of the societies across the globe. 
Thus, at the root of challenges of modernity has been 'Change'.  Most of the societies (in the developing world) lacked progressive social leadership to guide through the challenges of change management by putting the things in right perspective in front of masses (Top-Down Approach). These societies also did not have a sound mechanism to generate consensus among different sections of society on critical issues and therefore could not adequately address multi-dimensional apprehensions of up-coming social changes (Bottom-Up Approach - by involving masses in the processes of decision making). Therefore, coherent voice on change oriented approach to modernity could not get foot hold in these societies. Eventually these societies were driven to taking conservative route and they resorted to applying resistance to up-coming changes largely due to perceived apprehensions and perceived insecurities in the changed environment. Different forces within societies became proponent of different responses to challenges of modernity with varying degree of resistance. All this resulted in chaotic change management with different segments of society reacting to resist changes in different ways. This involved advocacy by institutions of different schools of thoughts for a world order favorable to their respective line of thinking. And in such situations political forces with diverse lineages tried to take advantage of conflicts in the society and tried to establish their legitimacy among masses.
Usually in social value systems, notion of rationality is related to notion of 'essence of life'. Therefore, those changes that challenge the deeply rooted sense of rationality (in the minds of people) are strongly resisted. In the similar lines, in almost all societies, religions play a key role in defining meaning of life and linking it to super natural powers. Therefore, religious institutions become a stakeholder in response of society to the challenges of modernity. However, it is widely believed, that it becomes much easier to generate support for implementation of change management in response to the challenge of modernity, when, it becomes possible to show that the outcome of the changes are helping public at large to get economic benefits.

- Santosh Behar

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