I recently heard a talk from historian Heath Carter regarding his new book Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago where he drew connections between the Gilded Age and our own current times of inequality. In thinking further about the topic, I was struck by the number of issues that were pertinent then and are still present today. While it is difficult to know exactly when social processes begin and end, here is an incomplete list of concerns from the 1800s that we are still trying to figure out:
-How do we cope with all the people moving from small towns/agricultural areas to big cities?
-How can we have fulfilling lives in an industrialized, mechanized, global, capitalistic economic system? How do we deal with influential corporations as well as the ultra-rich?
-How can welfare states operate effectively with numerous interest groups and big money involved?
-Can science and religion coexist?
-On the whole, does mass culture (through mass media whether newspapers, telegraph, radio, TV, or Internet) help or hinder society?
-Can technological progress solve many of our problems?
-How can society – particularly, nation states – be cohesive and unified given increased levels of heterogeneity and specialization?
-What is the role of the self compared to the shaping and undeniable influence of growing (and often necessary) social institutions?
-What kind of relationship should we have with nature given industrialization and modifications to the environment?
-Under what pretenses and at what costs should major wars and social conflicts be waged?
Put another way, it is little surprise to me that the discipline of sociology emerged when it did: as these large-scale social changes were getting underway, numerous people were interested in explaining the effects. But, these are long-term social processes that may take decades or centuries to play out across a variety of contexts and as they interact with each other.