The American Historical Review, 2011
Let me confess my biases at the start: In my view, modernity is not a trope, theory, project, or destination, or if it sometimes seems to be all these things, it is never these things alone. It is instead a condition, historically produced over three centuries around the globe in processes of change that have not ended yet. Modernity is not optional in history, in that societies could not simply “choose” another regime of historicity for themselves, for such is the tyranny of modern times. Nor is modernity dispensable in history-writing, especially for those who work on the recent past in what some still call “the rest of the world,” which many now would emend to “the world,” period. While not unitary or universal, the modern possesses commonalities across time and space, however differently it is experienced in different places. These commonalities are substantial enough to render impossible any truly “alternative” modernities, as attractive as such an idea may be to critics of Eurocentric models masquerading as universal norms, of whom I am one. The notion of “multiple modernities,” too, only helps to shift our attention away from singularity to the plural inflections of the modern experience, which is importantly diverse but not endlessly multiple: it is sad but true that not every country gets the modernity it wants or deserves.
View the article here: The End of Elsewhere: Writing Modernity Now