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AfricaSigns Of Modernity

The signs of modernity are considered here together, from the historical circumstances of European nations' global colonial expansion, and from the indigenous reading of the signs of this economic, political, and cultural hegemony that are expressed by the project of the civilizing mission. The civilizing mission rests on the promise of universal reason and emancipation that, prompted by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, is associated with modernity, progress, and the powerful capacity for destruction possessed by irrational and unreasonable practices, in the struggle between science and rationality on the one hand, and faith and religion on the other. According to P. Selinow, there are three pillars supporting this modernity: capitalism, analyzed by Karl Marx; bureaucracy, analyzed by Max Weber; and the norms, forms, and procedural regulations of modern society studied by Michel Foucault. In addition to this definition of modernity as a unique moment in the history of Western civilization, of which the principal signs are the scientific and technological progress of the industrial revolution and the economic and social transformations of capitalism, there is an approach that envisages modernity as an aesthetic concept. Though limited, this approach may help us trace the many changing ways in which non-Western societies have tried to understand, appropriate, resist, or define the efforts at modernization as they have been presented or understood. This is the case, for example, of Chinese literature, which was dominated in the first half of the twentieth century by an obsession with the notion that China was afflicted with a spiritual malady that created a break between tradition and modernity. Tradition was regarded as the source of the Chinese malady, and modernity was seen by intellectuals as a revolt against tradition and as a possible source of new solutions.

To this dichotomy of tradition/modernity one can add others, such as agrarian/industrial, authority/liberty, and prescientific thought/scientific thought. The case of China, as with Bengali intellectuals confronted with colonial domination by the British, illustrates the adoption and utilization of the language and categories available in (or proposed by) the "European canon" in order to assimilate, evaluate, select, and/or reject the new ideas from the West—that is, in establishing a correlation between the material gains and progress associated with the European presence and the moral decadence of indigenous sociability, civility, and religiosity.

Whereas Europeans view the history of modernity as a progressive triumph of Enlightenment ideas, in non-Western societies it is seen as beginning with colonial conquest, which is now regarded as being part of the same movement in enlightened places and in regions of total darkness.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Methane to Molecular clockModernity - Africa - Signs Of Modernity, Colonial Modernities, Bibliography