2.1. Pre-modernity v’s Modernity 

16 June 2021

One central characteristic of modernity — and this is implied by the individualism that lies at its core — is that you have no identity-constituting obligations to people or things outside of you. But this is very different from the pre-modern perspective. Here, the character of your existence was determined or fixed by your place in the great chain of being.

(Rowlands, 2010, p. 33)

Author and philosopher Mark Rowlands’ comparison of the individual in pre-modern and modern eras describes a change in the social perspective of the role of the self in society. Rowland points to France in the eighteenth century as the origin of the term ‘modern’, where many people started to call themselves ‘modern’ to indicate their worldview. Indeed, Rowlands posits: “Modernity isn’t a time. It is an idea. Or, rather, it is a whole cluster of them” (2010, p. 2). Modernity is an ideology made up of a collection of ideas about who and what we are and how we act in the world; thus, it can be considered a timeless ideology. 

The main underpinning of modernity is individualism, which is a morel idea of the best life to live. To be the best requires self-development, self-realisation and self-fulfilment. As modernity can be deemed the best way to live, the individual has an overriding moral responsibility or obligation to realise their own life. Although, it is hard to imagine that people did not want to self-develop in times before modernity. That meant one would have put themselves before the other, which was not deemed socially acceptable, slowed the possibility of self-development down. The difference between the pre-modern and modern eras is that in modernity, one can prioritise one’s own self without any feelings of guilt or moral compromise. Rowlands proposes that: “Self-fulfilment is not what people actually do but rather what they should do” (2010, p. 6).

To look at modernity then concerning subcultures, what can be derived is that cities are built-up of modern people who want to self-fulfil. A city is a place that inspires individualism, and within these cities, people go about creating or doing whatever it is that brings them the feeling of self-fulfilment. The process of self-fulfilment is the creation of the modern world. However, subcultures are inclusive of people that are in some way resistant to the cultural, political or social hegemonic vector of thought, which would mean they are resistant to the direction that the majority of people are self-fulfilling. However, subculutrists may also be perceived as modern, and in this case, they also want to self-develop and self-fulfil and find ways to do so, which would lead them to join or form a subculture. The social theory put forth by the Chicago School theory states that criminal behaviours are a product of the environment. As such, then the youth of a subculture who committed crimes resulted from an environment that offered them no other possible way to self-develop and self-fulfil in a way that was beneficial to society. Even though their actions were a social problem, they were also modern people without the protection of a pre-modern culture to guide them, such as family or an existing community. Therefore, they only realised their modern ideological nature in an environment that did not offer them any other guidance. If the cultural, political and social hegemony cannot establish an environment that can encompass all types of people, then those excluded will inevitably be the first to question the tightness of the normative structural systems upheld by the cultural-political social hegemony. To question the structural systems and mechanisms that define what a well self-developed person is is a question that will be looked at through a postmodernist perception later. Modernity is responsible for the need for the advancement of the individual. For that reason, it is the main driving force in industrialisation and urbanisation, as the political freedom that comes with capitalism facilitates the freedom for individuals to self-develop in less socially equitable ways that generate more capital for themselves. The difference between then pre-modernity and modernity can also be related to location. Pre-modern ideologies grew in small rural communities in which its population was part of cultural heritage. Self-development happened with the cultural values of the community. To go against the normative behaviour of small rural communities was to disrespect oneself and one's family in the community's eyes. The social and cultural chains of pre-modern life become liberated in city life; individuals could go and ‘be themselves’ as cities were modern places, melting pots of different people from different cultures. Cites offered a new start to people who had been made unwelcome in the communities of their past. Cities also offered work in a modern, industrialised world, where the more one works, the more money one could earn. Therefore, materiality became a sign of the wealth divide in the city between those who had a lot and those who did not, which created a more social problem. Moreover, without the pre-modern support of an insular community, individuals living in cities became anonymous and estranged. As alluring as it sounds, the capitalist notion of modernity comes with its problems just as pre-modern life does. However, the major problem of modernity is it creates and manipulates objective truths for purposes of power and dominion. This fact resulted in postmodernism.