From the Past to the Future. Summary of the First Chapter of "The World - A Beginner's Guide“ from Göran Therborn

Term Paper, 2014

12 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Rock of Civilization and Family-Sex-Gender Systems

3. We are all modern

4. Change and Modernity

5. The Bottom-line: Positive or Negative?

6. Bibliography:

1. Introduction

In his book “The World – A Beginner´s Guide“, Göran Therborn, a Swedish Professor of Sociology at Cambridge University, gives an outline of today’s society. Through looking at the past, he tries to explain the sociocultural geology that forged the world into the vibrant, globalized interplay of politics, people and culture that we live in today. “The World” also gives a perspective of what may lay ahead of humankind’s everlasting journey to a better future.

This compass of the basic drives of human society, tries to paint a picture of our modern condition. From birth to after-life Therborn is set out to answer fundamental questions about mankind: Why we are who we are? Why we act the way we do?

This paper aims to summarize the most important aspects of Therborns first chapter “Why we are who we are: A sociocultural geology of today’s World.” The beginning of his book lays down the structure of mankind’s road to our present, modern society. Using Therborns architecture, this paper tries to convey critical ideas of his book and also seeks to find answers for the underlying question that arose while studying his guide to the world.

2. The Rock of Civilization and Family-Sex-Gender Systems

For Therborn the question why we are who we are is mainly defined by two things. On the one hand the civilization we were born into and on the other hand the family-sex-gender system we were brought up with. He identifies five major civilizations of enduring importance and significance.[1] The world’s family-sex-gender systems of descent, kinship, coupling, sexual practices and social gender relations, are closely linked and derive from these five civilizations. However the contemporary world also includes two more major systems, which will be discussed later on.

The first major civilization, the Sinic civilization with its heart in China, is also the largest. Its most distinctive feature is “a non-transcendental moral and social philosophy usually summarized as ‘Confucianism’, without God or gods” [2] , the exception being the emperor as the ‘Son of Heaven’. In pre-modern days self-isolation has caused nearly fatal stagnation of science, but secularism and meritocratic educational credentialims helped strengthen Sinic societies. Identities are not me-centered but sociocentric, governed by norms of obligation and harmony. People tend to see the world as a “web of relationships.” [3] Confucian society has a classical patriarchal society. Father-son relations are the most important and parental respect and obedience are central. Marriage is a contract between families and sex a predominantly male pleasure.[4]

The Indic civilization is the next cultural borderline with India having a similar relationship to Indic as China to Sinic. Contrary to the Sinic culture the Indic civilization is soaked in pluralistic religiosity. Its most distinctive feature is the notion of rebirth, which provides the foundation for hierarchical social division best known as the cast system.[5] Marriage is the central part of the Indic family-sex-gender system. It is a sacred obligation everyone has to fulfill. The bride, preferably a young virgin, is a gift of one patrilineal family to another and has to bring a dowry. This leads to neglect and maltreatment of young girls because of their economic impact on their family of origin. Even though misogyny and sexual prudery is very present in Indic society, female political leaders are more and more frequent due to their descent.[6]

The Arab peninsula is the core of W est Asian civilization but it includes also a much wider cultural area. It is defined by vast deserts and rivers that intersect them. Nomads and merchants connect the economic centers.[7] West Asian societies are defined by the Islam, in terms of culture, art and language and their family-sex-gender system. Marriage is a contract and as all sexual relations extensively regulated by holy law. On the one hand it fosters male superiority on the other hand it also includes rules of divorce due to male repudiation and male guardianship. Islamic law is also concerned with protection of women, their property and inheritance rights. Sexuality is seen as a serious threat to society and strictly regulated. Households are largely patriarchal and part of larger kinships and tribes.[8]

The European civilization is defined by its relation to its pagan polytheistic antiquity and shaped by its monotheistic, Christian religion. This Salvationist religion of universal vocation has been a powerful arm of conquest and expansion. In combination with ancient Roman law it gave rise to a unique political structure of heavenly and worldly power – the pope and the emperor. Europe developed a distinctive political culture, which included principles of election and popular representation as the basis of taxation and citizenship.[9] The notion of individual rights for all members of society, dates back to Greek antiquity, Plato’s Polis, and runs like a thread through European history and was not developed in other civilizations.[10] The Christian family has the unusual feature of bilateral decent, meaning that your mother’s family is almost as important as your fathers and the principle of free, individual choice of marriage, including the option not to marry at all. Nonetheless the European family was patriarchal and led by male fathers and husbands.[11]


[1] Cf. Therborn, Göran: The World a Beginners Guide, 2011. P. 7.

[2] Ib. P.8.

[3] Ib. P.11.

[4] Cf. Ib. P. 27 f.

[5] Cf. Ib. P. 12 ff.

[6] Cf. Ib. P. 28 f.

[7] Cf. Ib. P.17 ff.

[8] Cf. Ib. P. 30.

[9] Cf. Ib. P. 21 ff.

[10] Cf. Ib. P. 23.

[11] Cf. Ib. P. 31 f.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


From the Past to the Future. Summary of the First Chapter of "The World - A Beginner's Guide“ from Göran Therborn
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg  (Institut für Soziologie)
The World an Introduction
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Hausarbeit zum Ersten Kapitel von Göran Therborns Buch The World – A Beginner´s Guide.
Göran, Therborn, The World, Geschichte
Quote paper
Stefan Raß (Author), 2014, From the Past to the Future. Summary of the First Chapter of "The World - A Beginner's Guide“ from Göran Therborn, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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