Prof. Dr. Rosa: Social Acceleration in Germany and China

Event: Society and Politics

In China, this phenomenon has an extremely strong presence. Due to the implementation of the reform- and open-door policy in 1978, the country was shaped by continuous double-digit growth-rates. All different spheres of life have been caught up by this growth imperative. But the negative consequences of this “turbo-capitalism” are becoming more and more visible. Even though efforts on a higher degree of sustainability and balance increase, the impact on the social life is not negligible anymore. This affects especially the urban population of Shanghai and other big cities. Perplexity and fast pace as well as permanent reactions and adaptions to the new circumstances shape the daily life. Professor Hartmut Rosa sees his theory confirmed in China – in an unknown dimension. He found support by a Chinese professor during an event at the Shanghai Academy for Social Science (SASS):

“Being the port to the world, Shanghai was always one of the most dynamic cities of China. But especially since the 1990ies the pace of life accelerated by a multiple due to Shanghai`s rise to one of the most significant financial and business metropolis in Asia.”

But how can the individual face this acceleration and perplexity within in daily life? According to Professor Rosa, one runs into danger to be carried away by this acceleration. This would lead to an increasing alienation with the own environment. Consequently, the time would be missing to get into contact with and to build up close relationships:

“I named my first computer Aristoteles as I thought it would assist me as a partner for a long time. Nowadays, you change your computer every few years. You don´t get the possibility to build up a kind of relationship to it.”

To simply decelerate is not considered to be an adequate solution since it is not possible to regard time as an isolated factor. It would also not be desirable if e.g. the metro would move slower. Rosa´s key to the solution is called “resonance”. We as human beings are inherently focusing on relationships and wish to engage in an exchange with the world and to be connected with the places, persons and objects around us. Resonances therefore lay the foundation for a lucky and satisfactory life, especially in times of social acceleration. During a workshop at Tongji University, scholars of China’s philosophy pointed out, that resonance relationships used to play an important role in the Chinese cultural history. According Rosa, China’s philosophy might be a source for approaches that help to handle social acceleration and to counteract the alienation with the environment nowadays.

At the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), Rosa discussed together with over 150 students the implications of these accelerations on the economy. Students asked if developed countries shall wait for catching-up countries in order to counteract one of the acceleration`s root cause: competition. In this regard, the question was raised if a post-growth society, in which growth is possible but not necessary, might be a possible alternative.   

The actuality and the relevance of this topic could not only be seen in the huge number of visitors and the lively discussions throughout the lectures, but also by the diversity of areas discussed within Rosa’s theoretical framework of “Social Acceleration”.

Everything around us is picking up speed. We travel more quickly, we communicate more quickly and we produce goods more quickly than ever before. There is a myriad of technologies at our disposal, which allow us to organize our daily life with a few clicks. But despite of these technological advances an increasing number of people suffer from stress and a chronic lack of time. In China as well as in Germany the challenges faced due to this acceleration are similar: the present-day society is shaped by a huge diversity of options and by a logic of growth. Living environments and lifestyles are changing too quickly and cause a permanent adjustment pressure.

The leading German sociologist Professor Hartmut Rosa (Friedrich-Schiller University Jena) conceptualized this phenomenon and made it scientifically tangible with his theory of “Social Acceleration”. In a jointly organized lecture series by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Shanghai and Tongji University, Professor Rosa introduced his theory and exchanged his views on the challenges of an increasingly accelerating society. The lecturers and discussions examined the effects of acceleration on the individual, the economy and city planning. During a professional workshop, parallels have been drawn between the concept of acceleration and Chinese philosophy.

Rosa models social acceleration as a circle. Technical progress leads to an acceleration of the social transformation, from which an acceleration of the pace of life follows. In order to face this acceleration, the society counts on technical innovation which consequently pushes again the technical acceleration. Thereby, the circle is being closed and a dynamic of an ongoing acceleration is being powered.

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