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How Unique is East Asian Modernity?1

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The article examines Shmuel Eisenstadt’s claim that Japan constitutes a unique modernity, one that differs fundamentally from Western modernity. Since this claim, like the multiple modernities approach founded by Eisenstadt, is directed against the convergence thesis of classical modernisation theory, that thesis’ meaning is first briefly reconstructed. Moreover, to stand Eisenstadt’s case on a broader basis, the four tiger states (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) are added to the sample, thus extending Japanese modernity to a larger East Asian modernity. These five countries are then compared with the five largest Western countries along several dimensions that seem to be particularly salient for probing modernisation theory. Surprisingly, the comparison fully confirms the theory. The article then moves on to assess Eisenstadt’s claim in light of his own conceptualisation of modernity. This conceptualisation renders his proposal more plausible, but at considerable cost. The conclusion is devoted to asking how Eisenstadt’s substantive concerns could be met without reading too much into his empirical findings.

Affiliations: 1: National University of Singapore


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