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Individuals and Modernity

Individuals and Modernity

Author: Paul Hannan

Examine the role of theĀ individual in modern society.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Buldings; Public Domain Female; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on individuals and modernity. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So to help us give us some context of what exactly we're looking at, let's define mass society first here, as mass society really ties into what we think of as the modern world or modernity. So mass society is really is modern society. What's happening in this modern society is that society is being organized in a way that bureaucracy and the need or want for material success have really changed the way society is.

And it's changed it so that we've really weakened a lot of our traditional kind of social bonds that we used to have. And so, it's taking on this new role, really, with bureaucracy and material wealth being at the center of society. And today, specifically, we're looking at how society has changed for an individual living within this modern society.

So one way to look at this is to look at the term social character. So social character is this idea that people within a society take on general things about their personality and their behaviors within a society. And these things that you can find that are pretty typical across people within this same society. And what we're going to look at is how they've really changed, according to Riesman, as society has progressed.

And he really divided up social character into two different general ways. We have traditional-directedness and other-directedness. So according to Riesman, traditional-directedness, people's social character in general, there is this really strong connection to conforming and really following your traditions, these cultural traditions, and staying within this structure that already exists. So you have traditions that are passed on within your family, within your community, from generation to generation, and what's expected of people, this social character within this time, is that everyone follows along and does what they're supposed to do, and they just keep doing it. And so you're really-- the individual is focused on following these traditions.

Now, Riesman said what happened, though, in modern society is that we changed the way we think about ourselves. And we became what he called other-directedness. Now, other-directedness is when individuals, they're not looking towards tradition on how to act. Instead, they're looking at ways to make a good impression on others. So they're looking outwards. They're looking at others for direction.

And on the screen there, I have being popular and fitting in as two examples of that. Historically, I think a good way to think about this is to look at post World War II in the United States of America. That's when you had people who were making a lot of decisions, specifically, to impress others. You know, someone who sees a nice new car and they don't buy the new car because their family necessary needs it, but because they're trying to impress other people. They're trying to fit in, and they're trying to be popular.

Now, just to be clear, both traditional-directedness and inner-directedness are really referring to the same conceptual ideas. Now, there has been some backlash to this idea of other-directedness. And so as we think about-- we have the modern society, modernity.

Well, then we have the postmodern society, postmodernity. And this is really-- I think I like to think of it as a backlash to the ideas of before. So it's kind of rejecting some of these relative terms of everyone trying to fit in and that being really what we're directed at. And along with that rejection, there's also a rejection of the idea of that there's this general progress and this common story.

So individuals in modernity are acting as individuals, but they buy into this idea that we're always progressing and there's some commonalities among stuff, amongst us. Well, postmodernity is saying, "Nah, that stuff's not really true." Everything is relative. Everything is diverse. So people aren't trying to fit in for themselves. They're really seeing every little aspect independently.

So today's take away message. We learned a couple different things. First, was mass society, and that's the modern society where you have bureaucracy and material success really taking hold of society and weakening traditional aspects of society. And we have social character, and again, those are patterns of personalities and behavior common to people within a society.

And we broke that up into two different parts. We have traditional-directedness and other-directedness. Traditional-directedness looks towards culture-- sorry-- looks towards traditional cultural norms for direction. And other-directedness looks to other people to fitting in for their directions. Lastly, we talked briefly about postmodernity, and that is-- that's the stage after the modern stage. And it's really a backlash to many aspects of the modern society.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And hopefully, you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon.

Terms to Know

A social character in which people are grounded in tradition and steadfastly conform to time-honored ways of doing things.


A society where bureaucracy and the quest for material success have weakened traditional forms of social solidarity.


A social character in which people have an outward focus on making good impressions and being well-liked.


A stage society enters after modernity in which we move beyond modern social institutions.

Social Character

The typical patterns of personalities and behaviors in society at a particular historical point in time.