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24/01/2017 - 26/01/2017
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FortyFourth Session

Working Paper

From modernity tomodernities

24-26 January 2017

Modernity, as a concept, is still being researched, in terms of its fundamentals and implications in the context of evolving human societies, as well as with respect to the dynamic intellectual, social and economic transformations occurring in the world due, precisely, to modernity.

Needless to say, various civilizations, including the Greek, ancient Chinese, Arab, European, American and others civilizations contributed, along with religions, in no small measure and over the long course of their existence, to the progress of mankind and to the emergence of new ideas at each time period. For this reason, and from time to time, there has been a debate about the new and the old. However, the concept of modernity is not limited to what is new. In fact, it refers to a full-fledged system that includes ideology, values, political and social organization and the perception of the world in general.  The latter changed with the «great transformation» which occurred in the era of European Renaissance, as the world moved from a farming, feudal system to an industrial capitalist society. A new intellectual system emerged and was reinforced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. This brought about a change in the way the individual and society were perceived. Thus, society came to be known as an entity built on individuals who are free and equal. The human mind became the absolute ‘master’ of the universe, capable of controlling the environment and of imposing the rule of law.

Without attempting to reconstruct the sum of theoretical and intellectual production on modernity, one may say that it can be considered as a phase in Europe’s modern history. It represents an abrupt social transformation which profoundly affected social, economic and cultural structures and lifestyles, not just the way Western societies were organized, but also in terms of their relations with other communities. Indeed, the knowledge and skills gained by Western societies, and the scientific discoveries they made, enabled the West to achieve industrial progress and to expand geographically, thus disseminating its civilization – albeit in differentiated ways – to reach other communities that were culturally, economically and socially different. For this reason, some thinkers have been questioning modernity, relying on a post-modernity ideology.

However, the link in modernity, between what is economic, political and social on the one hand, and what is legal and normative on the other – and which makes it a normative system – has not always been clearly established in all communities, including in Western societies themselves, given the gap in the representation of modernity and its interpretation. Moreover, modernity and modernism can overlap when one seeks to introduce elements and concepts which are new and modern into what is traditional.

It is a fact that in communities which face the dual pressure of their heritage and of modernity there have been cases where the argument over modernity affected their cultural and political elites. As a result, some members of the elite embraced modernity in the name of universalism, while others advocated a commitment to traditions in the name of cultural specificity, and still others sought to reconcile modernity and tradition. These representation patterns have given rise to flexible interpretations as much as to sharp controversy.

In many societies, embracing modernity was a selective exercise it concerned form rather than substance. This has led to some abnormal phenomena, such as embracing technology but not the rational thought that created it, as is the case with extremist religious movements which readily use information technology but do not endorse the modernity of the minds that developed that technology. Similarly, we notice that modern industrial products are readily used, but at the same time there is much conservatism about the heritage of the past or the authoritarian relationship between men and women, both of which are incompatible with the values underpinning modernity, development and progress.

Modernity can sometimes be criticized – even rejected – in some developing communities because it undermines the terms of reference of the individual regarding his or her heritage, his or her perceptions about such issues as the sense of belonging, identity, the place of religion and the values relating to the heritage. This gives rise to several questions in these communities. Can one talk about modernity without addressing the ability of the individual to benefit from it? Poverty, the unequal distribution of wealth, poor access to education and the vulnerability from which a large number of the world›s population is suffering in many developing societies prevent people from enjoying their right to freedom of choice. In fact, they have no other choice but to give in to a traditional mode of life, since modernity is not accessible to them given the material, social and cultural costs it involves.

Modernity impacts the entire universe. However, an excess of modernity has led to some paradoxical situations. Whereas modernity has contributed to the progress of mankind, there have also been risks and perils resulting from scientific and technological progress, as shown by genetic manipulation, environmental pollution, the unsustainable use of natural resources, the nuclear arms industry and other phenomena that have been haunting humanity as well as the moral conscience of mankind.

To examine and discuss the above issues, the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco will hold its forty-fourth session on the theme «From modernity tomodernities». The aim will be to highlight some of the paradoxical manifestations of modernity, discuss the issues arising from modernity as a normative system, and examine the phenomena arising from modernity due its excesses, to the confusion with renewal or to the clash with traditions and various forms of the heritage. In view of the above, scholars have asking questions about what optimal modernity should be like – a modernity which enables individuals and communities to achieve progress in a globalized world they have been wondering about its implications, which create a sense of confusion and highlight a growing need for security and certainty, in a world fraught with risks.

This session will revolve around the following themes:

  1. Modernity: the theoretical and intellectual frame of reference
  2. Representations of modernity and modernism
  3. Modernity and the heritage: a clash of interpretations
  4. Moroccan thought and modernity
  5. Modernity and religion
  6. Modernity, law and institutions
  7. Implications of modernity and social issues
  8. Modernity and the status of women
  9. Modernity and the issue of values
  10. Art, creativity and postmodernism.