Winner of the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Book Award in 2012, Chandra Mukerji offers with this remarkable new book an explanation of the birth and subsequent proliferation of the many strands in the braid of modernity. The journey she takes us on is dedicated to teasing those strands apart, using forms of cultural analysis from the social sciences to approach history with fresh eyes. Faced with the problem of trying to understand what is hardest to see: the familiar, she gains analytic distance and clarity by juxtaposing cultural analysis with history, asking how modernity began and how people conjured into existence the world we now recognize as modern.
Part I describes the genesis of key modern social forms: the modern self, communities of strangers, the modern state, and the industrial world economy. Part II focuses on modern social types: races, genders, and childhood. Part III focuses on some of the cultural artifacts and activities of the contemporary world that people have invented and used to cope with the burdens of self-making and to react against the broken promises of modern discourse and the silent injuries of material modernism.
Beautifully illustrated with over 100 color photographs in its 10 chapters, MODERNITY REIMAGINED is not just an explanation, an analysis of how modern life came to be, it is also a model for how to do cultural thinking about today’s world.
“This is a thoughtful, ambitious and encompassing exploration of what has made us modern. Going back to the 14th century and the collective trauma of the black plague as our starting point, Mukerji offers a counterpoint reading of modernity, emphasizing the role dreams, social forms and objects have had in conjuring humans anew. This is a tale told by a crafts-woman and a scholar full of nuance and detail, revealing in her attention to minutiae an immense topic. This book will force us to rethink what we know about modernity and culture.”
– Claudio E. Benzecry, Northwestern University
“Chandra Mukerji’s take on modernity is wide-ranging, original, learned and alive with sights, sounds, and meaning. From fashion to philosophy to religious wars to the Parisian water supply, the book makes modernity poignantly real in its details and its broad sweep. A tour de force!”
– Robin Wagner-Pacifici, New School for Social Research
“Perhaps only Chandra Mukerji could write a book that glides to effortlessly across centuries, tackling selfhood and state-making, high fashion and digital games, imagination and despair. This reader-friendly volume is a stunning synthesis by a preeminent analyst of the cultures of modernity.”
– Steven Epstein, Northwestern University
“This is a remarkable book. Outstanding in its scope and ambition, outstanding too in the brevity and focus with which this ambition is realised. On the one hand it covers centuries of time, and does so with aplomb, guided by its main insight that cultural imaginaries and materiality have to be understood if modernity is to be understood. On the other hand, the narrative is constructed through the means of a myriad of brilliant cameos, ranging from its reconstruction of a world broken by the Black Death to contemporary film and video games. It is a very fine achievement.”
– Patrick Joyce, University of Manchester