Contemporary history  

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"As this series has shown the idea of freedom that we live with today, is a narrow and limiting one, that was born out at a specific and dangerous time, the Cold War. It may have had meaning and purpose then, as an alternative to communist tyranny, but now it's become a dangerous trap." --closing remarks of the The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom (2007).

"Many dystopias already imagine a similar future: we stay at home, work on our computers, communicate through videoconferences, exercise on a machine in the corner of our home office, occasionally masturbate in front of a screen displaying hardcore sex, and get food by delivery, never seeing other human beings in person." --Pandemic! (2020) is a book by Slavoj Žižek

"If you took all the people in the world"--Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

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Contemporary history is a subset of modern history which describes the historical period from approximately 1945 to the present. The term "contemporary history" has been in use at least since the early 19th century.

Contemporary history is politically dominated by the Cold War (1945–91) between the United States and Soviet Union whose effects were felt across the world. The confrontation, which was mainly fought through proxy wars and through intervention in the internal politics of smaller nations, ultimately ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in 1991, following the Revolutions of 1989. The latter stages and aftermath of the Cold War enabled the democratisation of much of Europe, Africa, and Latin America. In the Middle East, the period after 1945 was dominated by conflict involving the new state of Israel and the rise of petroleum politics, as well as the growth of Islamism after the 1980s. The first supranational organisations of government, such as the United Nations and European Union, emerged during the period after 1945, while the European colonial empires in Africa and Asia collapsed, gone by 1975. Countercultures rose and the sexual revolution transformed social relations in western countries between the 1960s and 1980s, epitomised by the Protests of 1968. Living standards rose sharply across the developed world because of the post-war economic boom, whereby such major economies as Japan and West Germany emerged. The culture of the United States, especially consumerism, spread widely. By the 1960s, many western countries had begun deindustrializing; in their place, globalization led to the emergence of new industrial centres, such as Japan, Taiwan and later China, which exported consumer goods to developed countries.

Science began transforming after 1945: spaceflight, nuclear technology, laser and semiconductor technology were developed alongside molecular biology and genetics, particle physics, and the Standard Model of quantum field theory. Meanwhile the first computers were created, followed by the Internet, beginning the Information Age.

Music and arts
Popular culture, Contemporary art, Contemporary dance, Contemporary literature, Contemporary music, Contemporary hit radio, Adult contemporary music, Contemporary Christian music, Contemporary R&B, Urban contemporary


See also

Timelines of modern history, Present-day, Current affairs (news format), Contemporary society, Contemporary philosophy, International organization, International security, International trade, Global Environment Facility, International Energy Agency, Synchronicity, Hypertext, CD-ROM, Energy World, Biotechnology, Biodiversity, Alternate history, Future history, Popular culture, Very important persons, Gurus
Policy and bureaucracy
Public Policy, Energy Task Force, Environmental Policy
People's generation
Generation, List of generations, Baby Boom Generation, Generation X, MTV Generation, Generation Y, Generation Z
Music and arts
Contemporary art, Contemporary dance, Contemporary literature, Contemporary music, Contemporary hit radio, Adult contemporary music, Contemporary Christian music, Contemporary R&B, Urban contemporary, Video games
Agriculture and food
Green Revolution, Food security, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, Sustainable agriculture, Organic farming
Energy and power
Energy development, Wind power, Photovoltaic, Solar power, Wind turbines, Fossil fuels, Hydropower, Biomass
War and warfare
Laws of war, Principles of War, Command paper, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Military Academy, United States Army War College, Information warfare, Unity of command, National Military Strategy, Guerrilla warfare, Asymmetric warfare

Contemporary society

21st century culture

Contemporary society, according to social and political scientists, is characterised by at least three fundamental directions:

  • increasing human interconnection through a network of relationships that is progressively covering the whole planet;
  • the pace and depth of the evolution of human ways of life determined by technological innovation represent an absolute novelty in human history;
  • the scale of anthropological and ecological transformation due to the interaction between evolutionary factors (social, cultural, economic, and technological) has no historical precedent.

These are some examples, but they are many more.

These presentations are the result of a number of fundamental changes that are irreversibly transforming our daily lives, our way of thinking and perceiving the world and our way of living together. Among these fundamental changes are: improvements in life conditions, life expectancy, literacy and gender equality; changes in domestic and international political institutions; and the breakdown of natural equilibria.

Improvement of life conditions

The UN estimates that, at the beginning of the 20th century, about 60% of the world population lived in conditions of extreme poverty. In 1981, 40% of the world population lived extreme poverty. In 2001, the percentage had been halved to 20%. Several developing countries, in particular in Sub-Saharan Africa, still suffer from social and economic backwardness, but life conditions have significantly improved in most regions of the world, in particular in Asia.

The overall improvement in life conditions and the role of technologies now available have contributed to increase gross domestic product per capita by one and a half times in less than half a century (1960–2005), with peaks of over eight times in Eastern Asia. Only in a few countries, concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, growth of per capita income has been very slow.

Life expectancy

In 1960, the average life expectancy of the world population was 50 years. Forty-five years later, in 2004, life expectancy had improved by over 30% to 67 years. Improvements in health care and the reduction in child mortality have led to a jump forward in middle-income countries, where life expectancy is now over 70 years.

In high-income countries life expectancy is now over 80 years, extending well beyond the traditional length of working life, causing social and economic problems. It has led to people having an extra four hours of free-time during working days.

Literacy and gender equality

The ability to read and write is next to universal: in 2004, 80% of adult men and 73% of adult women had basic literacy skills. Of great social importance is the rapid growth of female school enrollment and the increasing presence of women in the labor market. These deep changes constitute a primary driver of economic growth in developing countries.

Female literacy has great consequences in terms of fertility. When female school enrollment and employment rates increase, fertility rates decline rapidly and tend to stabilize around the natural rate of reproduction of 2.1 children per women (see E. Todd, "After the Empire"). Several demographers believe that, as a consequence, world population will stabilize over the next few decades, at a level compatible with the resources of the planet [reference].

Spread of communication technologies

The world population has a number of "passive" (broadcasting) communication technologies (radio, television) that cover the whole globe. Moreover, a large portion of the population uses "active" communication technologies (telephone, internet). Internet connections are expanding rapidly: in 2004 there were 140 Internet users every 1000 inhabitants (according to data from the "International Communication Union"). The spread of information and communication technologies (ICT) is remodeling the material fundamentals of society. The sociologist Castells believes that these technologies have started a revolution of the productive structures of society and of daily life.

The new communication technologies represent a critical instrument to obtain consensus and as a result they are transforming the organisational models of the State and of politics. The power system becomes less visible but more pervasive in the way it can influence choices and ways of thinking M. Castells, "Galassia Internet", Feltrinelli, 2002).

Economic growth and evolution of political institutions

The economic success of authoritarian regimes, mainly in Asia, suggests that (at least in the short term) economic growth is independent from the democratisation of political institutions. However, economic development favours the development of democratic institutions—but only if economic growth leads to substantial changes in cultural and social structures. (R. Inglehart, "La società postmoderna"). The "World Values Survey", which captures political values in 43 countries, shows that no country with a per capita income below the poverty line has democratic or free institutions. Almost the totality of nations with high per capita income are classified as democratic.


Over the last fifty years, world gross domestic product has increased by about five times, while trade has increased tenfold over the same period. These data suggests that the intensity of the commercial exchange between countries has developed faster than the overall economy. However, globalization has gone beyond the exchange of physical commodities and it is progressively modelling also the lifestyles and consumption patterns of individuals and societies. The Swiss think-tank KOF has developed a number of globalization indicators that show the increasing development of global individual, social and commercial networks.

Social tension and opposition to change

New international flows have diminished the role of traditional political institutions—sometimes with negative consequences for social stability. In many societies, stability (or slow evolution) has been substituted by unstoppable and irreversible transformations. As a result, individuals and communities perceive a high degree of insecurity—insecurity that touches every aspect of their lives. Growing masses of people feel threatened by the changes that affect their material (work, income, house), psychological (personal relationships), and cultural life (with the need to continuously update knowledge and professional skills).

The social improvement of the masses—resulting from increasing literacy and income, universal means of communication and a new social role of women—has eroded the traditional role of the elites and have weakened the traditional regulatory role of the state. As the speed of social, spiritual and cultural evolution sweeps away old life habits, religious beliefs, ancestral moral convictions and radicated political opinions, the anxiety towards a future that is mutating and unknown causes a cultural opposition that is at the root of fundamentalism. Opposition against new life conditions is justified also by increasing economic inequality: "the gap between the wealth of the North and that of the South of the world has increased by a multiple of five since the beginning of the 20th century".

Breakdown of natural equilibria

When demographic growth is multiplied by the growth of per capita income and consumption, one can have a measure of the global impact on environmental sustainability. Demographic and economic development is endangering our current forms of civilization and social co-living and our future ability to inhabit our planet.

Alternative scenarios developed by international organizations suggest the possibility of a serious breakdown of natural equilibrium unless political, scientific and economic tools are directed to a correction towards an acceptable equilibrium between humankind and nature.

See also

Pages linking in as of 2021

Alan Bryman, crime, După blocuri, Enitan Bereola II, Foodgasm, Janet Afary, Laurent Jiménez-Balaguer, Marie Sester, Michelle Hamer, Oliver Malin, Pari Center for New Learning, Rarohenga, Sartre Studies International, Take Care (album), Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, Urban science, Ziyang Wu

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