Social Acceleration

Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity

Hartmut Rosa
Translated by Jonathan Trejo-Mathys
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 512
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/rosa14834
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  • Book Info
    Social Acceleration
    Book Description:

    Hartmut Rosa advances an account of the temporal structure of society from the perspective of critical theory. He identifies three categories of change in the tempo of modern social life: technological acceleration, evident in transportation, communication, and production; the acceleration of social change, reflected in cultural knowledge, social institutions, and personal relationships; and acceleration in the pace of life, which happens despite the expectation that technological change should increase an individual's free time.

    According to Rosa, both the structural and cultural aspects of our institutions and practices are marked by the "shrinking of the present," a decreasing time period during which expectations based on past experience reliably match the future. When this phenomenon combines with technological acceleration and the increasing pace of life, time seems to flow ever faster, making our relationships to each other and the world fluid and problematic. It is as if we are standing on "slipping slopes," a steep social terrain that is itself in motion and in turn demands faster lives and technology. As Rosa deftly shows, this self-reinforcing feedback loop fundamentally determines the character of modern life.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51988-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. TRANSLATOR’S INTRODUCTION: MODERNITY AND TIME
    (pp. xi-xxxii)
  5. IN PLACE OF A PREFACE
    (pp. xxxiii-xlii)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-32)

    The belief that all events, objects, and states of affairs in the social world are dynamic processes and that time is therefore a key category for any appropriate analysis of society has become a commonplace in the social sciences. But it looks as if even disciplines that realize this have not known how to make much of it. Over and over one finds the astonished realization that almost all social phenomena can be “temporally reconstructed,” that is, redescribed in terms of their temporal aspects, whether it be techniques of domination, class distinctions, intercultural problems, socioeconomic underdevelopment, gender relations, welfare regimes,...

  7. PART 1 THE CATEGORIAL FRAMEWORK OF A SYSTEMATIC THEORY OF SOCIAL ACCELERATION
    • 1 FROM THE LOVE OF MOVEMENT TO THE LAW OF ACCELERATION: OBSERVATIONS OF MODERNITY
      (pp. 35-62)

      Since the Renaissance, which began a historically reconstructible debate concerning the “newtime” (neue Zeit), the defenders and the despisers of modernity have agreed on one point: its constitutive experience is that of a monstrous acceleration of the world, of life, and of each individual’s stream of experience. A series of recent historical works has made clear just how much the entire cultural history of modernity to the present day can be interpreted in light of this basic experience. Their common focus lies in the construal of the cultural self-understanding of modernity as a reaction to a changed experience of time...

    • 2 WHAT IS SOCIAL ACCELERATION?
      (pp. 63-94)

      In view of the notorious lack of clarity regarding the concept of acceleration in the contemporary social science literature, the introduction of an analytically adequate and empirically useful definition of acceleration stands first and foremost as a desideratum for any social theory.¹ Of course, one problem that immediately arises is that there are quite heterogeneous acceleration phenomena in different areas of society that are both difficult to bring together under a single concept and at first glance not clearly connected to one another. For instance, what do the following facts have to do with each other: that speed records in...

  8. PART 2 MECHANISMS AND MANIFESTATIONS:: A PHENOMENOLOGY OF SOCIAL ACCELERATION
    • 3 TECHNICAL ACCELERATION AND THE REVOLUTIONIZING OF THE SPACE-TIME REGIME
      (pp. 97-107)

      IT WOULD NEVER OCCUR TO anyone to doubt the everyday experience of and the well-documented empirical evidence for a massive acceleration of processes of transportation, communication, and production in the history of modernity, so there is no need to discuss this in a detailed fashion. However, the way human beings are “in the world,” that is, in space and time and in relation to each other, was fundamentally changed as a result of technical acceleration, which furthermore revolutionized the dominant ways that self and world were interpreted and thus heavily influenced the forms of subjectivity and society.¹ One does not...

    • 4 SLIPPING SLOPES: THE ACCELERATION OF SOCIAL CHANGE AND THE INCREASE OF CONTINGENCY
      (pp. 108-119)

      IN ELECTIVE AFFINITIES GOETHE HAS Eduard complain, “it is terrible that one can’t learn anything for life anymore. . . . Our ancestors held firm to what they had learned in their youth; but we have to learn everything over again every five years if we are not to be totally behind the times.” Reinhart Koselleck sees in this shortening of the temporal rhythms of relearning (or the half-life of knowledge), which is a correlate of the contraction of the present, the core of a perception of accelerated social change.¹ The parts of knowledge given up to accelerated obsolescence pertain...

    • 5 THE ACCELERATION OF THE “PACE OF LIFE” AND PARADOXES IN THE EXPERIENCE OF TIME
      (pp. 120-148)

      AS GEORG SIMMEL HAD ALREADY remarked in 1897, “one often hears about the ‘pace of life,’ that it varies in different historical epochs, in the regions of the contemporary world, even in the same country and among individuals of the same social circle.”¹ Just as little has changed in this respect, as in the related fact that this pace continually escalates in modern society, so that each of its periods can successively claim to live at a historically unprecedented record pace.² As we have seen in part 1 of this study, this realization has almost always been accompanied by the...

  9. PART 3 CAUSES
    • 6 THE SPEEDING UP OF SOCIETY AS A SELF-PROPELLING PROCESS: THE CIRCLE OF ACCELERATION
      (pp. 151-159)

      WHY DOES PRACTICALLY “EVERYTHING” IN modern society seem to go faster and faster? As the discussion in chapter 2 revealed, this question is, at the very least, misleading as the starting point for an analysis of the modern acceleration dynamic. In the first place, not everything is accelerating: many things simply cannot be accelerated, and a whole series of processes are even slowing down. In the second place, not all observable acceleration processes are of the same kind: rather the three forms of social acceleration worked out here—the technical acceleration of goal-directed processes, the acceleration of social change, and...

    • 7 ACCELERATION AND GROWTH: EXTERNAL DRIVING FORCES OF SOCIAL ACCELERATION
      (pp. 160-194)

      WHOEVER WANTS TO UNDERSTAND THE acceleration dynamic of modern society cannot avoid grappling with its growth dynamic, as the definition of the concept of acceleration in chapter 2.1 already shows. It is not a conceptual coincidence that a generalized concept of acceleration that covers all three of its dimensions can only be defined as quantitative growth per unit of time. In particular, it has been shown that, due to the relation between free time resources and bound ones, an acceleration of the pace of life is compatible with a simultaneously appearing technical acceleration of goal-directed processes only if there is...

    • 8 POWER, WAR, AND SPEED: THE STATE AND THE MILITARY AS KEY INSTITUTIONAL ACCELERATORS
      (pp. 195-208)

      ACCORDING TO THE CORE ARGUMENT worked out in the preceding chapters, the dynamic linkage and dialectical unfolding of growth and acceleration characterize the authentic nature of modernity and the logic of modernization. There is no doubt, however, that these occurred in the first instance in the shadows of the developing modern territorial state and the military apparatus that serves it. Many institutional boundary conditions of social acceleration and innumerable accelerative material innovations either would have been impossible without the modern institutions and initiatives of the national state and its military or must be in fact directly ascribed to them. Therefore,...

  10. PART 4 CONSEQUENCES
    • 9 ACCELERATION, GLOBALIZATION, POSTMODERNITY
      (pp. 211-223)

      IN MOST OF THE CURRENT diagnoses of the time the crisis of the ensemble of classical modern institutions exposed in the previous chapter appears to be the result of the developments that are commonly brought together under the catchphrase globalization. Thus Ulrich Beck, for example, interprets the globalization process not simply as a progressive denationalization (Entstaatlichung) but also explicitly as an “institution-softener” that has set in motion the rigid framework of the core elements of the welfare state, which were for a long time beyond the reach of the political process and, so to speak, “made them fluid”:

      Institutions of...

    • 10 SITUATIONAL IDENTITY: OF DRIFTERS AND PLAYERS
      (pp. 224-250)

      As I argued in the introduction to this work, time structures constitute the paradigmatic site for the linkage of culture and social structure. They are what primarily perform the necessary “translation” of systemic requirements into individual action orientations, because even in a posttraditional society they endow action with normatively binding force, largely stable expectations, and an orienting frame that is experienced as if it were a natural fact. This orienting frame is decisive for the time structure of identity patterns in which past, present, and future must necessarily be linked because the sense of who one is cannot be separated...

    • 11 SITUATIONAL POLITICS: PARADOXICAL TIME HORIZONS BETWEEN DESYNCHRONIZATION AND DISINTEGRATION
      (pp. 251-276)

      The political project of modernity and the underlying idea of a democratic organization of the lifeworld and our collective form of life rests on two fundamental assumptions about societal time structures that have rarely been the subject of explicit reflection. In the first place, there is the conviction that society is a project to be politically organized in time. The territorial, representative, and mass democracies of modernity developed against the background of a dynamic understanding of history according to which legislation in particular was not an act to be completed once and for all, not, as it were, an everlasting...

    • 12 Acceleration and Rigidity: An Attempt at a Redefinition of Modernity
      (pp. 277-298)

      IN A WRITTEN SURVEY IN North Thuringia, in 2002, a seventeen-year-old student answered the question “In your view, what are the main problems of youth today?” by checking off two bullet points: “no hope for the future” and “a rigid and at the same time hectic society in which everyone only thinks about themselves and it is difficult to find a place for oneself without help.”¹ In this succinct, everyday diagnosis of the problem, one sees the basic temporal-structural difficulties of late modernity worked out in the previous chapters bundled together with astonishing precision: on the one hand, the action-orienting...

  11. CONCLUSION: FRENETIC STANDSTILL? THE END OF HISTORY
    (pp. 299-322)

    IF ONE TAKES SERIOUSLY THE idea that the constitution of society and social processes is radically temporal in nature, then talk of the acceleration of society does indeed appear to be justified. The time structures of modernity change according to a unified pattern as it develops. The upshot of this investigation is, in brief, that this pattern can be grasped in an analytically informative and empirically fruitful way using the concept of social acceleration.

    From the beginning of modernity onward—one could say since Hamlet’s complaint that his time was “out of joint”—the perception of the progressive dynamization and...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 323-418)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 419-448)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 449-470)