Dean MacCannell on the modern v. the non-modern world

“No other major social structural distinction (certainly not that between the classes) has received such massive reinforcement as the ideological separation of the modern form of the non-modern world. International treaties and doctrines dividing the world into multinational blocs serve to dramatize the distinction between the developed nations and the lesser ones, which are not thought to be capable of independent self-defense. Modern nations train development specialists, organizing them into teams and sending them to the underdeveloped areas of the world, which are thereby identified as being incapable of solving their own problems. The giving of this and other forms of international aid is a sine qua non of full modern status, a dependence on it is a primary indicator of a society trying to modernize itself. The national practice of keeping exact demographic records of infant mortality and literary rates, per capita income, etc, functions in the same way to separate the modern from the non-modern world along a variety of dimensions. The domestic version of the distinction is couched in economic terms, the

Posted by | Comments (2)  | November 29, 2004
Category: General

2 Responses to “Dean MacCannell on the modern v. the non-modern world”

  1. Tom Says:

    Isn’t it more a matter of the world being in the age of economic and technological conquest, as opposed to earlier ages of military conquest (originally regional-level conquests, such as when the Sioux invaded the Dakotas and killed/ran out the indigenous tribe there; and then later globally, as with Spain or the British empire)? And now in this age, the conquerors define the conquered areas vs. those still being conquered in their own terms, i.e. ‘developed’ vs. ‘undeveloped.’

    Hence, this is merely the latest age of an ages old phenomenon of civilizations in conflict– with the difference being that this age is less malignant, and perhaps even benign is some respects. I believe this perspective or framework more accurately shows that the current process should be appreciated as an improvement, even though messy and maybe stil ‘bad’ in the abstract.

  2. Rolf Says:

    I think MacCannell was just making an observation about how the terms and categories we use to define ourselves in the world. Interestingly, he wrote that during the Cold War era, but his generalizations can easily apply to now, when non-superpower nations like Norway tout their status not with military might, but by sponsoring aid projects in developing nations.

    But I think you’re right, Tom, in saying that the current wave of globalization is more benign than the older forms of global rivalry. There is plenty to criticize about globalization, of course, but from a historical perspective, we live in pretty humane times.