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Global Challenges

Free market ideology has lost its gloss. The financial crisis showed to the entire world what was already known to some: much more attention is needed for a sustainable approach to development. Global issues call into question the legitimacy of current governance systems. Ecological collapse, global warming, social dislocation, effects of pollution on health, economic system collapse: the technocratic approach to development – the modernisation project of the last decades (if not centuries) – is turning back on itself. We are now facing these shadows of modernity, and only just beginning to understand how to deal with them.

In early modernity, all that was required of government was overseeing technological and industrial progress.  The direction and goals of this progress had been set by the Enlightenment and were largely accepted. Over time the techno-economic decisions that really impact on society have come to rest predominantly with scientists, bankers and corporate managers - and not with elected governments. The driving motor is instrumental reason applied to the transformation of nature and traditional society for the creation of material and economic wealth.  The major concerns for society are on how this wealth is to be distributed, and how to avoid exploitation of less fortunate people in its production. This technocratic approach, however, cannot provide us with the solutions to the problems it created. ‘Development’ can be seen as being dominated by a globalised capitalist economic system that is largely disconnected from democratic control and has no heart, soul or ethical concern for the direction it takes.

However, as the risks mount, a dialectic of control comes into play, questions begin to be asked, assumptions are challenged and alternatives are sought.  Nevertheless, uncertainty abounds, science is no longer seen as having all the answers for modern society, and religious beliefs have become pluralistic and unacceptable as a basis for political decisions. The structures and processes of democracy, and their capacity to cope with the risks of late modernity, emerge as a central concern. The necessity of a collective response prompts a surge of interest in democratisation and concepts such as societal learning. This challenges us to find more effective ways of governance, in which all those affected by the issues we face have their voice heard.