Age of Fracture

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Daniel T. Rodgers, Age of Fracture Cambridge Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011. 352 pages. $29.95.


In his work Age of Fracture Daniel Rodgers focuses on the last quarter of the 20th century, bookended by the 1970s economic crisis and the attacks of September 11th. In this intellectual history Rodgers argues that the language and ideals of Cold War America of “consolidation” gave way to “disaggregation” as the period progressed. This new intellectual paradigm that focused on choice, agency and individuality replaced the post WWII conceptions of human nature that stressed society, history and power. Rodgers argues that the explosive 1960s served as a “break” after which the nation “regrouped around a different set of premises and themes.” (4). The core of this regrouping was the reformulation of ideas and concepts of “society” (4). The traditional conception of society and the importance of this idea to post WWII lives began to lose significance to ideas of individualism and choice. As a result, social structures were weakened and became less important in American life (fewer Americans joined voluntary associations and other community organizations).

Rodgers also examines the economic fracture that occurred as a result of the economic crisis of the 1970s (the end of the postwar long boom) from an era of powerful economic institutions to a free market economy driven by individuals.

Rodgers attempts to uncover and explain the issues that Americans were dealing with during this time that reshaped how they thought about themselves and their place in the world and therefore reshaped the nation. These issues include: “the economic crisis of the 1970s, the new shape of finance capitalism and global markets, the struggle to hold identities stable where race and gender proved unnervingly divisive, the linguistic turn in culture in an age of commercial and malleable signifiers, the nature of freedom and obligation in a multicultural and increasingly unequal society, and the collapse of Communism” (10). Each of these issues caused Americans to rethink what they had known and figure out a way to make sense of it all- ultimately reshaping themselves and the nation. Rodgers supports his argument by examining changes in language that seemed to correspond to the changes in the nation’s priorities and conceptions of the nation.


Rebecca Adams, Spring 2016

Age of Fracture by Daniel Rodgers examines the intellectual transformation that swept the nation between roughly 1975 and 2001. His analysis of this transformation in terms of economics provides a different way to think about the shift from breadwinner liberals to breadwinner conservatives discussed by Robert Self in All in the Family. Prior to the mid 1970s shift Self argues that liberals desired to protect the family from the free marketplace by strengthening businesses and providing social support from the government. This was replaced by conservatives who supported free market economics, as well as reduced government intervention in society. Rodgers examines this change through language instead of the family arguing that economic theories of mid-century were replaced by the “rational choice” paradigm in the form of a free market made up of individuals making rational choices unfettered by the government. Rodgers also notes, much like Self that welfare became demonized as a result of this shift. It is interesting to note that Self uses the shifting image of the traditional family to describe the exact same revolution examined by Rodgers by using shifts in intellectual ideas and language.

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