chapter
6 Pages

Introduction

WithJoyce Appleby, Elizabeth Covington, David Hoyt, Michael Latham, Allison Sneider

During the first half of the twentieth century many individuals began to question seriously the assumptions about human nature that had underlain the Enlightenment project and to explore the disjuncture between the modern faith in progress and the reality of modern life. The work of Ruth Benedict, Clifford Geertz, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Thomas Kuhn, among others, challenged the modern supposition that the accumulation of knowledge through scientific practice necessarily bettered the human condition. In contrast to the grand theorists of the nineteenth century like Alexis de Tocqueville and Karl Marx, twentieth-century social scientists tended to sound less confident about the future and less secure in the capacity of the West to bring “light” to the farthest reaches of the globe. The twentieth-century critique of modernity emerged as part of a general recognition of some of the contradictions and inconsistencies central to the modern impulse.