Defining the contemporary period is an inexact project at best, and what counts as contemporary shifts between disciplines. Historians and philosophers tend to conceive of the period in larger terms: most world histories date the contemporary period as beginning with WWII. Philosophers are even further removed from our present moment and many date contemporary philosophy as beginning in the latter half of the 19th century. These periodizations are further complicated by dictionary definitions of “contemporary”: the OED defines “contemporary” as “Belonging to the same time, age, or period; living, existing, or occurring together in time.” In this sense of the word, contemporary has more to do with the condition of being contemporaneous. All of us are contemporaries, as are the texts we’ll examine in this course.
My argument for periodizing the contemporary from the 1970s to the present is based on changes that have occurred in economic, social and cultural life. Some of these transformations are difficult to explain as they entail major shifts in production and consumption. The Fordist model of production, for instance, which was predicated on the existence of major industrial centers and full employment has given way to new methods generally grouped under the rubric of “postFordism” (Harvey).
Key dates of the pre-history of the contemporary period:
Credit card revolution.
World-wide insurgencies, protests and rebellions.
SFSC student strike.
Key dates of the contemporary period
Shift from Fordism to “flexible accumulation”.
Energy crisis in Western nations creates “stagflation”
9-11-73 Military coup in Chile overthrows first democratically elected Marxist administration. Chile becomes the first neo-liberal nation-state.
Fall/liberation of Saigon
Islamic Revolution in Iran
Deng Xiaoping initiates liberalization of Chinese economy.
Total eradication of small pox worldwide.
Identification of the AIDS virus.
Berlin Wall comes down
Human Genome Project announces its mapping of the human genome.
Feb. 15-16, 2003
Up to 30 million people around the world protest the imminent invasion of Iraq.
March 19, 2003
US invades Iraq.
Dec. 5, 2006
World Institute for Development Economics completes its study on global economic disparities and states in its press release that
“The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth…. The most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken also reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. In contrast, the bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.”
Features of the Contemporary Period:
growth of megacities (megacities are usually identified as urban centers of 10 million or more inhabitants as distinct from megalopoli, which are extended corridors as in Houston to Lake Charles or Southern California)
Seoul, South Korea (23,100,000)
* Mexico City, Mexico (22,000,000)
* New York City, USA (21,800,000)
* Mumbai (Bombay), India (21,100,000)
* Delhi, India (20,800,000)
* São Paulo, Brazil (20,300,000)
* Shanghai, China (18,600,000)
* Los Angeles, USA (17,900,000)
globalization (of financial markets, culture, labor, etc.)
rise of new communication technologies that have transformed the place of culture in social life and impacted concepts of identity
rise of fundamentalisms
fragmentation of social life
massive migratory flows
shift from fordism to postfordism
the rise of the security industry