Modernity and Social Relationships

Thanks to capitalism, urbanization and population growth, our relationships have changed markedly over the last few hundred years.   Formerly, our resources or consequences in life primarily or even exclusively came through our family and extended family.   Now the bulk of resources and consequences (in terms of frequency) come from people who are strangers, acquaintances in networks, and other non-kin.  This is not bad in itself but the properties for how this works are very different.  Here are some of the social properties of working and getting resources and consequences from strangers:

  •  Form of reciprocity: resource exchange within a society of strangers is primarily done via money and contract
  • What you can get done is typically by paying someone and this can be done at a distance–you do not even need to see them
  • In principle: no other social relationship needs to be involved; no other social obligations afterwards; does not usually impact on other areas of life so we can act as if we are independent because we are compartmentalized in life
  • Personal influence will depend upon having economic (resource) status, often contextualized as a show of commodities and a lot of attention paid to your reputation and image management with those who are important (allow access to resources)
  • Monitoring: You will often not see the different strangers in your life again; the different strangers in your life will not see each other or your family
  • Avoidance and escape of consequences is easy especially if wealthy, and people can easily withdraw from social relationships.  Secrecy and lying are also easy since you do not usually have to see the persons again.

As mentioned, when you think about these social properties in your own life you will see good and bad.  What is important is that the strategies and life paths we take on in modernity are spelled out in these social properties.  They also affect and undermine attempts to be closer to family members.  Also, whereas in kin-based families there is usually some education about how to behave with the different family members, few of us are ever given much training in how to work with these social properties in real life: “What do you do if a stranger sits next to you on a bus and then starts talking about their spouse in bad terms, and asks your advice?”

Importantly, a large number of our ‘psychological’ issues arise through these sociological properties that are driven by capitalism and urbanization.


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