Modernity as a topic in the humanities and social sciences is both a historical period (the
modern era), as well as the ensemble of particular socio-cultural
norms, attitudes and practices that arose in post-
medieval Europe and have developed since, in various ways and at various times, around the world. While it includes a wide range of interrelated historical processes and cultural phenomena (from
modern warfare), it can also refer to the subjective or existential experience of the conditions they produce, and their ongoing impact on human culture, institutions, and politics (
Berman 2010, 15–36).
As a historical category, modernity refers to a period marked by a questioning or rejection of
tradition; the prioritization of
formal equality; faith in inevitable social, scientific and technological
progress and human perfectibility;
professionalization; a movement from
capitalism and the market economy;
secularization; the development of the
nation-state and its constituent institutions (e.g.
public education, modern
bureaucracy) and forms of
Foucault 1995, 170–77). Some writers have suggested there is more than one possible modernity, given the unsettled nature of the term and of history itself.
Charles Baudelaire is credited with coining the term "modernity" (modernité) in his 1864 essay "The Painter of Modern Life", to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility art has to capture that experience. In this sense, it refers to a particular relationship to time, one characterized by intense historical discontinuity or rupture, openness to the novelty of the future, and a heightened sensitivity to what is unique about the present (
Kompridis 2006, 32–59).
As an analytical concept and
normative ideal, modernity is closely linked to the
ethos of philosophical and aesthetic
modernism; political and intellectual currents that intersect with the
Enlightenment; and subsequent developments as diverse as
modern art and the formal establishment of
social science. It also encompasses the social relations associated with the rise of capitalism, and shifts in attitudes associated with secularisation and post-industrial
Berman 2010, 15–36).