Modernity is a term used to explain the historic period known as the modern age. In human history, this period involved innovations in scientific thought, increased individualism, and rapid industrialization as opposed to relying on supernatural and metaphysical beliefs. There is no official consensus on the precise moment when modernity commenced. Most history accounts from Western Europe suggest that the modern age arrived in the 18th century as most colonial invasions ceased. For this analysis, three revolutions will undergo scrutiny to unearth whether they were influential in the shift towards the modern age and their role in enacting social change and inequality.
The three are the scientific, political, and industrial-capitalist revolutions. It is a hard task to determine which one of these specific instances was more significant in shaping the modern age and creating social change, although the industrialist-capitalist revolution most likely had a more significant effect on social formations in modernity. Undoubtedly, the class concept is vital in facilitating the industrial revolution’s period of modernity and certainly a reason for economic equality, but other factors such as biological and cultural identity played a role (Van Krieken, 2017). As the types of work and activities within society became diverse, the theory of anomie and division by French sociologist Emile Durkheim underpinned the key social observations of the time. Durkheim expressed that despite significant differences between social groups, for the first time, a bond manifested through interdependence and reliance on specialization within chosen occupations instead of belief systems or value systems (Van Krieken, 2017).
The industrial-capitalist revolution resulted from multiple interconnected developments that helped transform Western society from an agricultural system to an industrial system. Large sections of the population shifted from the rural areas to take up occupations offered within the growing number of factories (Kerbo 2017). However, the system was very skewed, leading to a few securing hefty profits while the majority toiled for long hours only to receive paltry wages. Modernity largely features a loss of certainty that leads to a historical age and societal movements that help to facilitate the emergence of new processes of thought and consciousness. The distinctive features of modernity emerge within society through a process of modernization and the resultant abandonment of previous modes of productions, thought processes, belief, and moral systems to embrace modern ones (Kerbo 2017). Within this context, modernity tends to emerge through technological and economic changes that portray alterations to a social structure through related changes in cultural values and political systems that indicate technological progress. Economic production is fundamental to all forms of human activity, meaning that any resultant changes in production techniques constitute fundamental alterations to other spheres of social life (Elger 2017). Consequently, modernity emerges through a process of shifting production technology that instigates an economic shift from the pre-industrial to an industrial society.
The whole process commences with innovations that lead to labor savings in a production technology that results in increased productivity in a specific sphere of human activity (Delanty 2015). The process first occurred within the agricultural sector, thus freeing people to take up work in industrial production leading to a new age of modernity. The emergence of modernity relies on a set of distinctive features that differentiate the modern age from previous forms of society. Some of these features are an expansion of human resources, diversified occupations, collective political involvement, and organizational differentiation (Delanty 2015). The expansion of human resources occurs because humans exercise greater control in technology, which improves their productivity leading to improved living standards (Delanty 2015).
Technological advancement adds new economic activities, thereby diversifying the scope of human activities that facilitates specialization, division of labor, and increased social complexity (Delanty 2015). The increasing complexity of social structures helps to establish diverse economic, social, cultural, and political frameworks (Delanty 2015). Within this context, state activities increase tremendously, meaning that the government can have a direct influence over each individual’s life through their policies and decisions. The only way for state activities to become legitimate is through seeking mass approval, which eventually necessitates mass suffrage and other concepts of public participation (Delanty 2015). However, the most fundamental aspect that differentiates the modern age from earlier forms of society is a transition from religious values of spirituality to secular values of rationality. According to Durkheim, the division of labor was mutually beneficial for the entire society because it helps to optimize the productivity of a process and the skills possessed by individuals within a society (Elger 2017).
Such stratification of labor extends beyond economic terms and greatly facilitates the process of establishing order within a society, thus orienting it on a path towards attaining positive social change. The division of labor manifests in a society with high population density and efficient communication networks, thereby necessitating the division of tasks and specialization (Strauss 2018). Within this context, tasks become increasingly complex and achieving a means of survival requires a strenuous effort. The changes experienced in the division of labor has significant consequences for social structure. Through his theory on this topic, Durkheim resolved the paradox that regardless of how much individuals strive for autonomy, maintaining social ties was unavoidable (Tiryakian 2016). The structure within modern society thereby forces interaction and maintenance of social relationships between individuals. Two types of solidarity are important in determining an individual’s relationship to the immediate society: mechanical and organic solidarity (Herzog 2018). Mechanical solidarity organizes society collectively, such that there is a convergence of beliefs and tasks in the form of collective consciousness (Strauss 2018).
Durkheim used the term mechanical because the people function together similarly to a simple machine. This form of solidarity established a union on generalists who bond among people because of their engagement in similar activities and responsibilities (Elger 2017). Conversely, organic solidarity suggests that society is complex and comprises multiple divergent functions that rely on concrete relationships. Every individual performs a distinct that closely resembles his or her personality (Herzog 2018). The inherent differences between individuals create a bond amongst them by their execution of different tasks and responsibilities (Kerbo 2017). Nevertheless, organic societies feature a form of collective consciousness, although their weakness supports the expression of individual disparities. Durkheim suggested that the changeover from mechanical to organic solidarity occurred because of dynamic density. Dynamic density is a concept that analyses population with society and the extent of interaction that emerges among them. Areas that feature a high degree of population concentration experience increased competition for the scarce resources available (Tiryakian 2016). Moreover, the interaction between these people produces an intense struggle for survival. Societal change emerges as a group of people attempt to counteract dynamic density and its associated problems, thereby leading to differentiation and a change in social organization (Tiryakian 2016). Labour division allows people to avoid conflict by complementing each other’s efforts. The division of labor facilitates an environment of great efficiency, thus resulting in a proliferation of resources and an amicable competition for these resources (Elger 2017). Societies that feature organic solidarity have reduced competition, increased differentiation, more cooperation, and support because all people rely on a common resource base.
Modernity emerges in a society that features organic solidarity as it advances and becomes more civilized, while mechanical solidarity is synonymous with primitive societies of high resemblance with similar beliefs and morals. Simple societies feature people sharing a common economic activity, like farming, thus sharing common experiences and values. Modern societies feature different jobs for individuals, which facilitates specialization because experiences are no longer common within a society (Kerbo 2017). Durkheim postulates that modern society does not emerge from similar people performing similar tasks; rather, labor division becomes an invisible force that draws people together, thus fostering a greater degree of interdependence (Strauss 2018). A primitive family is relatively self-sustaining because the father performs the role of a hunter while the mother takes the responsibility of food gathering. Conversely, a modern family relies on the services offered by a teacher, chef, police officer, grocer, and butcher because they facilitate the process of living in modern society (Herzog 2018). The bond established within modern society specialization and interdependence on the goods and services provided by other members of the society. Social changes rely on accompanying law reform to conform to the newfound reality.
Durkheim’s sociological theory argues that repressive law dominates within a society that has mechanical solidarity. This law permeates such a society because of the inherent similarities among the individuals that result in common morality. In this context, an offense against the common virtue system constitutes a matter of utmost significance to the entire society (Alvesalo-Kuusi and Tombs 2015). Offending the common moral system likely results in very severe punishment. Conversely, as society embraces modernity through organic solidarity, the dominant configuration of regulation is restitutive law, which necessitates restitution from offenders for crimes committed. Such communities perceive offenses for their impact on an individual or faction of the society rather than against the common moral system (Herzog 2018). People do not have emotional responses to breaches of the law in the manner experienced within a society dominated by mechanical solidarity. In this context, punishments for offenses are not as severe because offenders need to compensate the direct victims of their crimes (Alvesalo-Kuusi and Tombs 2015). Durkheim’s argument suggests that moral systems do not disappear within modern society; instead, they change to conform to the newfound solidarity and interdependence. The industrial-capitalist revolution was vital in facilitating the social changes that paved the way for the new age of modernity.
As post-modernist society grapples with the looming challenge of climate change and growing unemployment, the relevance of sociological research becomes increasingly important. Durkheim’s sociological theory examines the role of labor division in enacting the social changes that led to the modern age. The theory regarding the division of labor is instrumental in understanding the underlying forces that supported the emergence of the industrial-capitalist revolution. Through organic solidarity, people become increasingly reliant on another as occupations became specialized. The division of labor led to greater efficiency and productivity in production activities, thereby leading to increased resources for the entire society. The industrial-capitalist revolution was thus the most significant revolution that led to the social changes that underpinned the new age of modernity.