Li Youmei: China’s Transformation Sociology Needs to Construct a New Knowledge System That Can Address “the Changing Contemporary”
Created On : 2018-06-19    Views : 45

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The sociology of transition is facing important issues raised by social transformation. The emergence of social transformation means that the systematic characteristics of society have changed; such as changes in the pattern of social division of labor, the system of social value norms, and changes in social organization. Early studies on social transformation in the West, in summary, provide important results in three dimensions: one is the study of the transformation of civilizations by classical sociologists such as Tönnies, Durkheim’s study on social division of labor and social solidarity, and Weber’s study on rationalization. The second is that with the rapid development of Western societies from industrial society to post-industrial society, the emergence of such theories as the “post-industrial society” proposed by Bell, “reflective modernization” proposed by Beck and Giddens, as well as practices rooted in developing countries, “dependency theory” formed on the basis of critique of Western modernization theory and derived from the development of Latin America, and the “developmental state theory” derived from the study of social transformation in East Asia. The third was the study on the transformation of communist civilization carried out by the Budapest School in the face of the practice of social transformation brought about by the transformation of the Soviet Union and of socialist countries in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, with the intensified development of informatization and globalization, global transformation theories, such as Wallerstein’s world system theory, the “global transformation theory” of Held, and Arrighi's theory of the global capitalist system, have been put forward successively. The core perspective of these three theories is changes in “state-society relations”, namely, changes in structural forces, social inequality and the transformation of social structure, as well as changes in the civilization forms of the transitional society. It can be said that Western theoretical discourse is a manifestation of Western local knowledge.

The connotation of China’s current social transformation includes similar processes such as the rapid industrialization, marketization and urbanization in the West, as well as unique modern cores which are based on its own cultural traditions. It’s worth reminding that in reviewing domestic research in academia, our discussion on China’s social transformation has not yet formed a clear and effective accumulation of knowledge. The academic context on many core issues is still not clearly visible. Some scholars use the structural analysis of "state-market-society relations" proposed in the study of social transformation in the West, to observe and decipher the characteristics of social transformation in China, and this has led to the question of how people think about the construction of society. Although we have more or less seen how many countries’ social transformation has its own local practical experience, when we do not have a comparative analysis of the different paths of academic knowledge accumulation and the foundations of their social and cultural soil, the continuation of others' discussion is less sensitive to the methodology contained in these paths and to the deep structures unique to these foundations. Meanwhile, what “space-time dislocation” should we put in reflections on the modernization and modernity of Chinese society? There is a lot of debate around this issue, yet there is less consensus. Under the new condition of complicated interconnection between the world and China, how should we identify the interaction between China's social transformation and the regional and global society? We are often “absent” in advancing China’s understanding and world recognition at a higher level. When we discuss the unique course of modernization in China, first, we must establish basic problem areas that can effectively advance the accumulation of academic knowledge, and the basic academic framework to focus on the basic problem domain, from experience to local cognition, to the construction of theoretical discourse systems; second, we should think about the basis for determining the logic of change in China’s social structure and social operations, and the cultural core it relies on; third, we also have to consider what changes have taken place in the core of Chinese culture to this day. Along with the complex effects of global indigenization, China's social transformation has reflected new features that have not been experienced in existing social transformation practices such as comprehensiveness, hierarchy, and uncertainty. In short, we urgently need to form an academic community with lofty realm and centripetal force. One of the current tasks of this academic community is to assume the burden of an enterprise-oriented academic community, in order to construct academic theoretical tools that closely reflect the practical mechanisms of social transformation in contemporary China. 

The social transformation that China is undergoing is unprecedented. It is an overall phenomenon and is closely related to the global crisis of modernity and the diversity of values. What we need is not just local knowledge that can reflect the social transformation of China. When many elements of China and the world are constantly involved in the process of adapting, influencing and changing each other, it is urgent for China's transformation sociology to construct a new knowledge system that can face “the changing contemporary”. The timeliness of this work will depend first and foremost on whether our academic community can jump out of the existing traditional thinking frameworks and methodologies, whether it can have a systematic imagination to social transformation, and whether it can accelerate the enhancement of comprehensive ability for new knowledge production and find the problem domain that understands our own social & cultural changes and modern transformation. 

The contemporary construction of the discourse system of China's transformation sociology faces not a specific phenomenon in a certain field, but an overall phenomenon. This overall phenomenon is different from the overall society in the era of planned economy. Instead, it is within the basic context of social transformation that China is undergoing. However, many of us not only lack systematization and holistic awareness of this basic background framework and social transformation, but also have the problem of “destructuring” as a result of lacking historical consciousness or era consciousness. When thinking is difficult to return to the theoretical academic context of effective knowledge accumulation, it is easy to lead the problem of research out of focus or out of touch with society.

At present, the main social conflicts in Chinese society have been transformed. The 19th CPC National Congress pointed out that this transformation is a historical transformation related to the overall situation. This shows that social governance has more overall significance. More importantly, social governance has been written into the Constitution of the Party and has become an important task of the whole Party. This means that the Party should lead social governance to carry out holistic and systematic innovation practice through the guidance of Party building at the grass-roots level, and while strengthening the reform and innovation of the social governance system, upgrade the capability to modernize the social system, so that both the social governance system and the social system can provide a wide range of social support, and a foundation for consensus, for resolving the major social conflicts in the new society. 

The historical transformation of the major social conflicts in China does not change the basic situation of our country. That is, it will still be in the primary stage of socialism for a long time. Therefore, the relationship between “the solution to our major social conflicts in the new era” and “the primary stage of socialism” will become a major new subject in the study of transformational society. 

The current problems facing China are “complex”. On the one hand, we have to continue to solve the most basic and oldest problems in human society, such as poverty and employment; on the other hand, we must solve the most "modern" propositions, such as quality of life, participation in governance and sustainable development. China's social transformation and development has produced a series of new characteristics, and the direction of our social transformation is also facing more and more uncertainty. In the face of these new trends and challenges, we urgently need a new set of knowledge. This new set of knowledge is not just a matter of transcending past discipline-based knowledge systems, but also involves profound questions about how this new set of knowledge should be constructed. To respond effectively to the rapid and dramatic changes in Chinese society, we should take era awareness or historical awareness contained in the historical context as an important starting point, and better position the new phenomenon of contemporary society and culture. In the historical context and academic context, we should find the problem domain of goals, horizons, methods and ideas, to understand our own social and cultural changes and modern transformation.

The fundamental Challenge to the Theory of Modernity

The social transformation that China is going through is closely related to the global crisis of modernity and the diversification of values, which raises unprecedented and important issues for the study of transformation sociology in contemporary China. We not only have to answer the question of how to achieve social consensus that enables diverse members of society to live together in the same social system and to play their proper role, shoulder their responsibilities, complement each other and achieve co-existence and common prosperity, but which must also clearly identify the law of the operation of this social system. We should also be able to explain to the world how the rationality of socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics persists and develops in the complex relationship between China and the world. Therefore, it becomes particularly important today to create our research theories and methodologies that reflect such complexity. However, our previous judgments on the changing logic of China’s social structure and social operation have encountered important challenges to varying degrees. Our research and thinking on the core of our own civilization and the rules and mechanisms of social operation, is often restricted by the concept of modernity under the existing Western capitalist civilization.

In the process of globalization of modernity, modernity is also discussed under the dual premise of "regionalization of knowledge" and in the "context of specific history". China's transformation sociology is seen as a relatively independent field of knowledge accumulation. Its reality is based on the history of building a modern socialist country in the context of its own civilization. At present, the changing logic of globalization is becoming more and more ambiguous, and human activities are more global than ever before. We are not only deeply embedded in the process of deep globalization, but also involved in the anxiety of global "thinking failure". In both international and domestic academic circles, researchers are mostly full of anxiety and uneasiness, because the efforts of international academic circles in recent decades have not made much more significant progress in understanding and responding to global problems. In this context, China’s modernity is regarded as a kind of "alternative modernity" and has attracted the attention of international academic circles. In fact, China’s modernity has dispelled the myth of so-called "single modernity" in the sense of Western centralism, and become a part of pluralistic modernity in the world. (Wang Ning, 2011)

As early as the 1920s, Mr. Fei Xiaotong talked about social experiments made by his sister Fei Dasheng in Peasant Life in China, in which, the “modernization road of non-Westernization” that the Chinese have practiced has been observed. However, there is no ready-made model to choose as for how China’s modernity maintains its own cultural subjectivity while not losing its cosmopolitan nature. The road to change, first of all, cannot be separated from the deepest social and cultural soil of Chinese society. For a century, the Chinese ideological circle has never ceased resisting the modernity of Western centralism. Such resistance is embedded in different and even opposite contexts of modern Chinese thinking, and constitutes one of the characteristics of China’s modernity. (Wang Hui, 1997)

A century has passed by quickly, and now, as we reflect on the experience and lessons learned from China’s social transformation and its theoretical construction by standing at a new historical starting point of mutual transformation and adaptation between China and the world, how can we describe the journey of modernity that China has gone through and judge its gains and losses? How should we maintain the uniqueness of our own civilization in the crisis of modernity sweeping the whole world, while at the same time contributing to the Chinese wisdom, on which the path of China depends, in the course of the development of modernity in today's world? It is necessary to have a clear understanding of the origin of our modernity problem and its historical development track. What’s more urgent is, we should speed up to improve our ability to renew our way of thinking. We must also recognize that the rapid development of China poses a more fundamental challenge to the theoretical study of modernity. When we discuss the social transformation and modernity of contemporary China, we should examine and understand, as a basic proposition, what kind of "space-time dislocation" must be analyzed.

To discover the interaction and dependency mechanisms among social transformations

When many elements of China and the world are constantly involved in the process of adapting, influencing, and changing each other, it is urgent for China's transformation sociology to construct a new knowledge system that can face “the changing contemporary”. This new knowledge system can not only make the world see what is Chinese understanding of "China in the World", but also make an effective Chinese cognition of the holistic problem contained in "the changing contemporary". However, many of us not only lack the overall care and deep insight into the process of social transformation in China, but also are often limited by existing concepts and understandings, or fall into the trap of "alternative modernity" unconsciously or consciously, thus hindering the innovation of thinking and the production of new knowledge in dealing with the new subject of "changing contemporary" effectively.

As for the so-called "alternative modernity", from the initial meaning of its concept, "alternative" shows the perspective of Western centralism, which is essentially a set of "classification" standards, intended to emphasize the deviation from certain standardization. If we still persist with the existing understanding of classification concept of modernity, we just cannot understand the widespread global cross-border phenomena of the time. Since the late 1970s, with the global development of neo-liberalism, the social problems and the crisis of social governance brought about by it have become more and more serious. Global issues are not just the negative consequences of the globalization process. The prominence of global issues makes us realize that globalization has profoundly changed economies, societies, the natural environment, and the relations between each other, and makes the whole world more interconnected than ever before. However, the benefits of globalization have not benefited every country, which has had a major impact on the sustainable development of societies and communities around the world. At present, the characteristics of globalization include not only “re-globalization” of “reverse globalization”, but also the globalization of “countries for themselves” outside of the pattern of “traditional alliance”. In such a context of globalization, in which new and old mechanisms are superimposed and intertwined and complex restructuring takes place, all regions and countries in the world are facing new challenges of social transformation to varying degrees, while the mechanisms for generating these new challenges have some common causes and similar manifestations, just as globalization has never been confined to the economic sphere in terms of way of thinking, strategy, and tactics. Responding to these new challenges requires not only a deeper insight into the trends of globalization that will affect the future, but also depends first and foremost on whether our academic community can leapfrog the traditional thinking frameworks and methodologies, and whether it can systematically imagine social transformation and can accelerate the upgrading of new knowledge production capabilities.

We are entering a new era of global affairs, in which the changes in production and labor markets, the rapid development of technologies, and the further strengthening of trade, investment,and global production networks will change and shape our future. If people cannot understand and grasp their own contemporary opportunities and historical destinies, then it will be hard for them to avoid the profound crisis hidden in modernity, globalization, and global problems and their internal relations. We urgently need to build a discourse system of China’s transformation sociology in order to transcend existing thinking inertia and the "dualistic" thinking logic of the West and the East. In communication and dialogue with leading foreign scholars, we have realized that they would like to see how China will interpret its new role to the world, and how China will explain to the world the global outlook and world view that it advocates. It is hoped that this interpretation will help people understand more clearly how China practices its “five-in-one” balanced development at home, and how it establishes multi-dimensional and multi-level connection with countries, regions and the whole world. Especially at the value level of the concept of modernity, perhaps it is even more necessary for us, on the basis of the understanding of "pluralistic world outlook", to seek to share and build a Community of Human Destiny beyond "all countries for themselves". This challenge requires that Chinese social scientists provide a Chinese understanding of “I’m in the world” for the emerging world of “multi-center” and “pluralistic modernity” with a more innovative imagination and comprehensive transcendence.

In our view, globalization, both past and present, is a process in which social transformations that take place almost simultaneously are mutually reinforced, interacted, and interdependent. An important task in the contemporary construction of the discourse system of China’s transformation sociology, is to discover the interaction and dependency mechanisms among various social transformations in this process. In reality, these mechanisms are often difficult to "understand by insight", and we deeply feel that the construction of this discipline’s discourse system has a long way to go.