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Distant Strangers

Distant Strangers: How Britain Became Modern

James Vernon
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Distant Strangers
    Book Description:

    What does it mean to live in the modern world? How different is that world from those that preceded it, and when did we become modern?InDistant Strangers, James Vernon argues that the world was made modern not by revolution, industrialization, or the Enlightenment. Instead, he shows how in Britain, a place long held to be the crucible of modernity, a new and distinctly modern social condition emerged by the middle of the nineteenth century. Rapid and sustained population growth, combined with increasing mobility of people over greater distances and concentrations of people in cities, created a society of strangers.Vernon explores how individuals in modern societies adapted to live among strangers by forging more abstract and anonymous economic, social, and political relations, as well as by reanimating the local and the personal.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95778-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE What Is Modernity?
    (pp. 1-17)

    Wherever they live and in whatever condition, most people across the world consider themselves modern, even though they have very different understandings of what that means. It is easier to say what modernity is not than what it is. It is not a place or territory; you don’t know you have arrived by a stamp in your passport. It is not a date or moment that when it arrives transports you into the modern world. It is neither an attitude nor the product of a modernist aesthetic. So what is modernity? How do we know who is modern and when...

  6. CHAPTER TWO A Society of Strangers
    (pp. 18-50)

    In 1759 Adam Smith’sTheory of Moral Sentimentssuggested that because the emerging commercial society had generated an increasing number of transactions between strangers it would improve the morality of the population. Because we are more likely to behave badly in front of family and friends than we are with people we do not know, Smith argued that the old world structured around intimate local and personal relations could not provide the same discipline, restraint, and moral propriety that would be created by interactions with strangers. Acknowledging that the increasing mobility and complexity of commercial society would erode the affective...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Governing Strangers
    (pp. 51-76)

    Historians of Britain have now discovered so-called revolutions in government in every century since the Tudors.¹ Yet they all pale in comparison to that which had produced the modern state by the middle of the nineteenth century. As Weber recognized, this process depended upon the abstraction of the state’s authority away from the figure of the monarch and his or her court, or the claims of particular politicians and local office holders, into faceless, bureaucratic systems. Gradually authority was relocated in new forms of disinterested expertise and administrative systems capable of addressing all subjects over distance in anonymous and uniform...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Associating with Strangers
    (pp. 77-99)

    A founding conceit of British history is the claim that Britain made the modern world by being the first to develop a system of representative politics and a civil society whose culture of public debate ensured that the Leviathan of the state remained tethered. It was a story told by Thomas Macaulay’s last volume ofThe History of Englandin 1848 as revolutions wracked continental Europe, and still rehearsed (albeit less triumphantly) by Jürgen Habermas in the late twentieth century.¹ And it goes something like this: The stormy conflicts of the seventeenth century were followed by an Enlightened eighteenth-century dawn...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE An Economy of Strangers
    (pp. 100-126)

    Britain’s modernity has often been tied to a single event: the Industrial Revolution. Eric Hobsbawm described it as no less than “the most fundamental transformation of human life in the history of the world recorded in written documents.”¹ And few doubted that this world historical event happened first in Britain. This was not solely a national conceit. Overseas observers like Jean-Baptiste Say and Jerome Blanqui created the termindustrial revolutionto capture the economic transformations in Britain during the 1820s and 1830s, while Marx also highlighted the unique historical form of industrial capitalism there.² Yet it was not until the...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 127-134)

    Nearly everyone can agree that over the past three centuries the world has been made modern. The speed and scale of that great transformation was unprecedented in the history of the human race. Indeed, one frequently noted characteristic of we moderns is our consciousness that the world around us is always changing, that we face an open-ended future to be thought and made anew. Perhaps this is one reason why it has become almost impossible to find agreement about what it is that characterizes modern life, or where and when those characteristics were first apparent. There are many reasons for...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 135-160)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 161-166)