Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tradition vs. Modernity

           One of the sticking pieces for me from the Kandiyoti reading is the opjection between tradition and modernity. Kandiyoti looks at this not head on, particularly, but more in their context and role within in the pre and post existence of post-colonialism. The desire for modern to exist and triumph everything else brings several different discussions to my mind. For one, position of oppressed and oppressor within the context of tradition—who loses it and who maintains it relative to power—; two, our class discussion of the first day of Islam Modernity and Globalization where we defined, or attempted, to define modern; three, our discussion of the dystopian world put forth to us by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in “The Culture Industry.”
            When it comes to thinking about the “Culture Industry” text with the Kandiyoti text, I’m struck, not the first time, by the allure of “modern.” Modern being a term and state of being that I can never expect anyone to be at—unless you hold the power of definition and then the power-holder can define the definition of modern to evolve along with the power-holder’s present status. Of course, this is what has happened with the West. Because the West created the structures that the world is forced to measure/compare itself against, the West holds definitional power, which results in the definition of modern to change and evolve/progress with the West’s farthest status.
            Linking back to our class discussion that first night to Kandiyoti—what is modern? In particular, I want to ask the question: why must modern be oppositional to tradition? Why can a nation not be both modern and traditional? What about these terms, with the appearance of being an inherent oppositional difference that I feel forced to question, puts them on opposite teams in a face off? For instance, many of the words in that list we made had to do with material items and their ‘modern’ appearance (including “shiny”), but if modern is the present in the West, with an ear in the material goods, and in the market the popularity of dark stained wood is making a ‘comeback’ something “traditional” is becoming popular in the modern era—does this mean that traditional can become modern? Democracy is often linked with the modern era, but democracy is found in ancient Greece, which is far from present.
            In the Kondiyoti reading, it appears that traditional is oppositional to modern because of a need to distinguish and create the slated power relationship between West and Non-West. Makes ‘sense’ right? What do we, all people not just the ‘West’, lose by this definition? Here’s where I’ll link this to a discussion I’ve had a couple times in race discussions. In American racism, there’s this expectation to adopt the oppressor’s style of thinking/communicating/living leaving behind all that makes you who you are and who you family is. White students in the discussions often seem to arrive to the conclusion that they have no traditions that go back any more than a few decades; unlike their minority counterparts who cling to their traditions in order to distinguish themselves from the oppressors. But what if the white students/West’s tradition is modernity? The definition of tradition is “the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc.” What if modernity is the shaping of a power-holder’s tradition? We, the ‘West’, call it modernity in order to more easily encourage other countries to change to our way of doing things under the guise of ‘modernity’ when in fact modernity is simply another tradition—another method of handing down our customs?
            According to Kondiyoti, the ‘West’ “vilifying tradition as a source of stasis and oppression” which, I’d argue is incredibly true. I just wonder if modernity and tradition are necessarily as oppositional as we are taught to think.

Then again, maybe I’m overlooking something really important…


1 comment: