Interviewed by: Labinot Kunushevci
Lord Giddens, I would like to thank you for giving me the honor to conduct this interview, which is going to be special since we are going to discuss your well-known views, that have a great impact in the world. This interview will be conducted within a scientific project, which we are conducting through interviews with renowned theorists and researchers from the academic world, and it is expect to be finalized with the publication of a book. Your answers and views will enrich further our project. You were first presented to the Albanian public with your book Sociology, translated in Albanian in 1997, that serves as the groundwork for the studies in the Department of Sociology of the University of Prishtina. The recently translated The Consequences of Modernity has opened a new dimension of the public debate in our country. However, translated books are not the only means of contact with your views, since English is the second language in our country, and most people get to read your books in the original format in English. In this aspect, your views expressed in the theory of structuration, social theories, modernity, globalism, the Third Way Politics etc. are not only famous, but they have a huge impact among Kosovar sociologists. One lecturer in the Department of Sociology is doing his PhD with your theory of structuration, comparing it with the theory of Bourdieu on overcoming dualism “agency – structure”. For this and more, you would honor us a lot if you would visit the Republic of Kosovo after the visit you had in the Republic of Albania!
Kunushevci: Could you explain, what is the importance of Sociology, and what is the role of the sociologists in the social emancipation, especially in the ‘century of change’ in which we are living? Do you think Sociology should function as part of the scientific-positivist paradigm, or should it be more reflexive in relation to history and social reality?
Lord Giddens: The prime task of sociology is to reflect upon the origins and consequences of the rise of modern industrial civilisation and its spread across the world. As such its main focus is upon the past two or three centuries, but of course there has to be a comparative perspective: hence the overlap of sociology with anthropology is quite strong. Positivism is a non-starter so far as sociology is concerned, since its relationship with its subject matter – human behaviour – is inherently reflexive. Sociological ideas, if they are at all interesting, become incorporated into the world they seek to describe and to some extent restructure that world.
Kunushevci: Since you are one of the leading theoreticians of globalism, what are the structural and cultural changes brought by globalism in the modern era, especially in the transitional societies like our country, or our region for instance? You have said that the transformations are happening in two poles: the transformation of the personal life even personal identity, and the transformation of the global institutions. What are those forces that bring such transformations, and what do these transformations mean? I am especially interested in the human values, and I’d like to know where they are in the today’s globalized world? Are some cultures and identities being marginalized? What is your explanation in the above mentioned phenomena?
Lord Giddens: The result is a world in flux, without parallels in previous ages. Digital communication is often empowering and emancipatory – it is likely to transform medicine, for example. However it has also helped to produce a volatile and uncertain future, and has helped accentuate existing ideological divisions rather than dissolve them. It is difficult to live in a world of intense, everyday cosmopolitanism. We are suffering from ‘cosmopolitan overload’ – there are powerful counter-trends, a return to sectional ideologies and divisions at the same time as the world becomes more intrinsically cosmopolitan. Thus we see a return of nationalism in many places and a questioning of cosmopolitan values, including the emergence of religious fundamentalism. These forces can be combined in seemingly bizarre ways. Islamic state, for example, is a sort of mediaeval theocracy, but makes use of cutting-edge digital technology to promote its aims. It is hostile to modernity, but deeply embedded in it.
Kunushevci: Talking of globalisation, what can you say about the media, the development and sophistication of technology in general? Since globalisation is increasing the interdependence of the society through communication, do you think the intimacy is decreasing, and the real is being replaced by the virtual? What is the role of media as the main form of communication? Is globalisation bringing us more opportunities or more risks, and what is the type of society we are going to create in the future in an already globalised world?
Lord Giddens: Globalisation – the interdependence of societies across the world – is a key feature of Modernity. Over the past three hundred years, globalisation has been driven by two main influences – the economic (and military) expansion of the West; and the intensifying of communication. The two processes are closely related. The rise of printing from the eighteenth century onwards made possible the emergence of the modern state, and facilitated the development of far flung-empires. The rise of electronic communication massively accelerated these processes, but eventually meant they became more genuinely global – not so centred in the West. The coming of the digital age has intensified processes of globalisation and driven them deeply into our personal lives too.
Kunushevci: The world we are living in is facing many challenges. One of them is the global migration of population from east to west and from south to north. The recent migration trend has also touched our country, Kosovo. Besides the suffering, migrations are causing human tragedy as well. How would you explain migrations, the main challenges faced by countries affected by it, and what are the challenges of migrants themselves? What should we do in order to have a more equal distribution of wealth between nations, in order for every country to offer the comfort and well-being to its citizens?
Lord Giddens: Hence there is a sense in which we are all migrants now, whether or not we move physically from one part of the world to another. Via digital technology, most of us are in touch on an everyday basis with a diversity of cultures and opinions. Distance is no longer any barrier to instantaneous communication, driven by a vast expansion in computer power. The first smart phone was only marketed about ten years ago. Today there are 2.5 billion smart phones in the world and double that number of mobile phones as a whole. The smart phone in your pocket has more computing power than even a super-computer of fifteen years ago. Physical migration takes many different forms, but normally has a global component. To take an example, about 2 million Philippinos are living and working in other countries around the world. The large majority are women and children. They use digital means to support global families – networks of spouses and other relatives stretching around the world. Of course, many migrants from poorer countries are not so sophisticated and are fleeing oppression, such as the many thousands now trying to cross from Latin America into the US, or those fleeing the conflicts in the Middle East. Real tragedies are unfolding here on an everyday basis.
Kunushevci: Knowing the global security challenges: the risk from the nuclear weapons, intercultural, interethnic and interreligious conflicts, the ever increasing extremism, the global warming impact etc. which one, in your opinion, is threatening the global peace the most? Is there any balance between the opportunities offered by the Modernity in one side and the real threats on the other side?
Lord Giddens: We live in a world that has moved ‘off the edge of history’ at the same time as it remains deeply embedded in it. By this I mean that today we face risks that no other civilisation has to deal with – such as climate change, the massive growth in world population, or the existence of nuclear weapons. Some of these risks are existential: they are threats to the very continuity of the industrial order as it spreads across the face of the earth. We cannot say which are the ‘most threatening’, since the true level of risk is by definition unknown. There is no past time series to go on as there are with more traditional risks. At the same time we have opportunities, as collective humanity, that go massively beyond what was available in previous ages, not just for material advancement but for the spiritual enrichment of our lives. I call this a ‘high opportunity, high risk society’ – in which it is almost impossible in advance to know what the relation between these two factors will turn out to be. This problematic relationship is today an elemental part of the human condition. This is not a post-modern world in the sense in which that term is usually used – to refer to the dissolution of reason and of potentially universal values. Rather, a battle is being fought almost everywhere between such values and sectional divisions of various sorts.
Kunushevci: What does it mean to trust in the expert and the expertise, and what changes has Modernity brought with the development of expertise and the stimulation to trust on them? How much does this contribute in creating a ‘technocracy’, which ‘devours’ the spontaneity, freedom, equality etc., which in the same time serve as fundamentals of modernity? How possible is it to think in a reflexive and critical waywithin these complex systems that are a product of Modernity?
Lord Giddens: ‘Technocracy’ does not seem to me the main barrier to our chances of successfully mastering the bundle of opportunities and risks we have created in modern civilisation. Rather, the influences I have described still operate in a world driven in some large part by the exigencies of market capitalism, now itself radically globalised and penetrated by the digital revolution. Almost all money has now become electronic, for example, and can be transmitted instantaneously across the world in a way that was never possible before. The world economic order is driven in fundamental ways by the actions of consumers on the one hand and the global companies – including financial ones – on the other. Most of these processes do not pass through the democratic systems of states, even the most powerful. This is one reason for the stresses and strains of politics today. Everyone can see that national politicians lack the power to significantly influence some of the major forces influencing our lives. To get elected, they must make promises that they simply cannot deliver upon. Huge inequalities, especially at the very top, have arisen, but it is very hard to contest them, given that capital can be moved around the world so fluidly. Much of the revenue that lies in tax havens has no productive role. Only if they can learn to co-operate collectively will states be able effectively to master these forces. It is an open question how far such collaboration is possible.
Kunushevci: It is obvious that you and the renowned German philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, are the greatest supporters of Modernity and the belief of ‘enlightened reason’. What makes you think that we are not living in the post-modern era, but we are still living the high Modernity?
Lord Giddens: Our personal and even intimate lives are being transformed by the changes running through world society. Here I would stick with the main themes of my book Modernity and Self-Identity, although some of the processes I described there have become further radicalised. In a world of almost infinite sources of possible information the self becomes a reflexive project. All of us have to develop a narrative of self – a story line that holds our lives together, against the backdrop of a world in flux. Tradition and custom are no longer there to do the job: they themselves are invented and reinvented. As Modernity advances not just identity but the body becomes shaped by these forces, in complicated and contradictory ways. Thus obesity today is becoming a global phenomenon, with massive implications for health. About a billion people across the world today are radically overweight, not only in the prosperous countries, but in many developing economies too. At the same time roughly the same number are undernourished, suffering from malnutrition or even at risk of starvation. And among the most affluent, the cultivation of the body takes a completely opposite form – people devote many hours to fitness and exercise training, often to the point of obsession.
Kunushevci: What is your view on gender equality? I’m specifically interested to know the discourses, challenges and transformations of marriage, intimacy and the romance in the modern era?
Lord Giddens: The struggle for gender equality remains a pivotal feature of politics on local, national and global levels. Even in those countries that have mad most progress, such as Norway, there is a long way to go before anything like complete equality is achieved (whatever that would look like). The forces at work here are deeply embedded. It is significant that the repression of women forms a key part of some of the counter-influences now at work in the face of the cosmopolitan world order. Islamic state is again an example.
Kunushevci: Do you continue to embrace the “Third Way Politics”, and is it still current to this day? In this context, how would you explain the world economic crisis? On what premises should we have mechanisms and systems that would help to overcome the challenges of the generation of economic growth? Especially, what can you tell us of the idea of a new industrial revolution, and what is the best model that would be environmental friendly, sustainable that would be possible to be implemented in the European countries, including Kosovo?
Lord Giddens: The global financial crisis – still far from having been fully resolved – reflects many of the features of world society discussed above, even including the gender dimension, given the role that ‘charged masculinity’ played in the aggressive behaviour of those playing the world money markets. However, there is a further key factor: the role of neoclassical economic theory. No other academic discipline has ever had such a world historical role before. It has driven the world economy and its radical subjection to unfettered market mechanisms. This observation brings us to general issues of a political nature. There is still a key role for the ‘third way’, understood as an overall political orientation and applied beyond the limits of nation-states. A huge task lies before us – to create a form of responsible capitalism, in which wealth creation is reconciled with social needs, including environmental ones.
Kunushevci: Since we are a small country that has just recently become independent, we are still facing many challenges, especially in the process of visa liberalization and EU integration. This isolation is causing us inability of free movement, contact with other European countries and cultures, integration in the European job and knowledge market, while 60% of our population is under 25 years of age! We feel the need of integrating and belonging in the European Union! What would you suggest our society to do in order for Kosovo to integrate into Europe?
Lord Giddens: In conjunction with other world powers, the European Union can play a key role in this respect, although only if a certain level of integrated decision-making is achieved. The EU, as we all know, is passing through a particularly troubled phase of its evolution. Only about a decade ago, the EU – and its currency, the euro – were widely seen as success stories. Today it floats in a sea of troubles. The euro has not been properly stabilised and its very continuity remains at risk. Trust in the EU among its citizens has fallen, precipitously in some member-states. Populist parties are on the rise almost everywhere. To the east the situation in the Ukraine poses huge risks, at the outer edge even the risk of nuclear conflict. Chaos in Libya and some other states in the Middle East and North Africa poses major risks on the EU’s southern flank. Migrants are flooding across the Mediterranean desperate to find a new life. In spite – and partly because – of these problems, the EU remains an essential to the stability and further development of the European sub-continent. In my book Turbulent and Mighty Continent: What Future for Europe? I try to show why this is so. Only with the further progress of the EU can the problems of the Balkan countries potentially be resolved. A key element is that Serbia should follow Croatia as a member-state of the Union. It is my fervent hope that such a process will smooth the way for Kosovo’s eventual membership too.
Kunushevci: Lord Giddens, thank you very much for your time.