Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

How we sense other people and the world

Acceleration and resonance. Articles about life in late modernity Author Hartmut Rosa.
Forfatter: Harmut Rosa
Forlag: Etterord Anders Dunker. Utvalg av Odin Lysaker
Cappelen Damm Akademisk (Norge)
subjects / Hartmut Rosa points out that today's late modern people react to the flood of information without "developing a stable understanding of what is relevant, of direction and prioritization". But does the well-educated academic here become an ideologue with religion as a weapon against an increasingly purpose-rational world where the economy colonizes the social?


The German sociologist Harmut Rosa (b. 1965) is best known for his theory on the relationship between acceleration and modernity (acceleration, 2005) and his book Resonance from 2016. In German, the two editions add up to over 1300 pages. The philosopher Arne Johan Vetlesen already quoted Rosa in his book on virtue ethics from 1998. In recent years, Rosa has become more popular in this country. Cappelen's unpopular writings have now published a short version of Rosa's sociology in four essays with the title Acceleration and resonance.

A hectic and restless time

Everything goes faster: exchange of information, the trains (Norway lags behind here), and not least the general development. We move, change partners and work. This makes it difficult to plan for the future.

Access to films, books and information has risen with increasing speed. But there were also complaints in the 18th and 19th centuries that too many books were published. Therefore one must prioritize. Rosa points out that the late modern subject reacts to information floodbut without "developing a stable understanding of what is relevant, of direction and prioritization". Why not? It is impossible to catch everything, even if you zap frantically. Not all possibilities can be realised: Consequently, you have to choose. But Rosa believes that speed creates social psychological pathology:

"In a way, we moderns are like a painter who is constantly concerned with improving his materials – the colors and the brushes, the air conditions and the light, the canvas and the easel, and so on – but who never really gets down to painting" (p. 116 ).

While working hours have successively become shorter, we have had less time.

This claim hangs in the air because Rosa lacks a philosophical and psychological analysis of subject. The paradox is that while working hours have successively become shorter, we have had less time. We also save time on housework through various machines. When many things move faster, it could actually cause life to move slower.

But Rosa could also have given more examples of that much not goes faster. We die later: In 1765 the average life expectancy in England was under 40 years. A social anthropologist who returned to a tribe in New Guinea after being away for a few years was renamed "the one who speaks like the ancients". The linguistic changes in a tribal society without a written culture were faster then than today.

Hartmut Rose


Rosa believes that we are alienated, the speed means that one is unable to "develop a free autonomous relationship with oneself and the world". It is possible that this diagnosis is made too quickly, but this is how Rosa creates a job for herself: "Alienation expresses a pathological and pain-inducing disturbance in the relationship between subject and world, and where this disturbance has social causes, the social critic makes his entrance" (p .84). We don't get to realize freedom, because there are a number of things we mustn't do. We have a bad conscience because we don't get enough done.

It is strange that a sociologist who is presented as a representative of the 4th generation in the Frankfurt School does not write anything about self-realization through work in this context. If you sit on your ass and do nothing, it could be bra that one is tormented by a bad conscience! Instead, Rosa complains that there is no institution that provides relief for the feeling of guilt. Should those who 'swallow' in opportunities and can't get the finger out, here get forgiveness from the priest?

Resonance as salvation

Rosa complains that we are not subject to ethical norms, but to "dumb time norms". But being part of a culture means being socialized into a tangle of conventions, tacit assumptions and habitual patterns. Ethical principles are only a small part of this. Rosa claims that a good life in line with modernity's fundamental promise and normative project, namely the ideal of autonomy and self-determination, is no longer possible in the late modern the era. This diagnosis is probably hasty, but salvation from the evil Rosa has urged is even more problematic.

According to Rosa, alienation consists in us not getting "connection with the world". The 'resonance' should solve this problem. Either way, you are one stranger towards things, other people or the world as a whole, or 'resonance' occurs. Like all quasi-religious concepts, 'resonance' here becomes a mysterious joker that cannot be determined, calculated, predicted, but which nevertheless represents the solution to most things. There should be "a living exchange and connection" between the self and the world, where we feel "touched, moved or addressed". Resonance is affection from the outside that creates an emotional reaction. We stand e.g. "on the coast and feel a 'connection' with the sea, the waves rolling in, the water and the wind".

Classic stereotypes

The dualism between acceleration and resonance in Rosa's cultural sociology, however, reproduces classic stereotypes in the Western history of ideas: reflection versus immediacy, the innocence that is broken when man is thrown out of paradise through the fall, etc. But most of life consists of routines that it is perfectly fine not to be affected by, and Rosa doesn't say anything about that – it's tiring to be "touched" all the time.

Instead of 'resonance', he could use 'vibrations', 'radiation', 'chemistry' or many other metaphors – all equally unscientific – to capture the level of depth in how we sense other people and the world.

We have a bad conscience because we don't get enough done.

With resonance as a plaster on the wound, Rosa becomes an ideologue with religion as a weapon against an increasingly purpose-rational world where the economy colonizes the social. This leads sociology into theology, which when Rosa claims in a book from 2022 that democracy needs God.

Aurora Jakobsen Evenshaug has written an easy-to-read and informative foreword. It could just as well have been an afterword, in line with previous releases in the Upop series. Translated by Anders dunker has also done a decent job. However, the Germans' penchant for subordinate clauses, parentheses and inserted clarifications would have flowed more easily in Norwegian if he had split up the long passages and been more generous with punctuation.

Rosa has previously been translated into French, English and Danish. It is high time that he finally comes out in Norwegian. Regardless of the objections raised above, Rosa is a brilliant academic from whom you can learn a lot. This book provides a good basis for discussing central problems in late modernity.

Eivind Tjønneland
Eivind Tjønneland
Historian of ideas and author. Regular critic in MODERN TIMES. (Former professor of literature at the University of Bergen.)

You may also like