The central concern of this ambitious study is to understand the impact of social change on people's lives - in the vital areas of economy, politics and civil society. The method of the social sciences favours analysis of structural conditions: thus social change occurs as a result of economic innovation, war or internal unrest. But these traumatic (or inspirational) events create strong emotional reactions, with potentially momentous consequences, which the abstract character of 'rational' inquiry cannot adequately express - for it lacks a way of understanding the intensity of feeling experienced by people at times of critical change. This 'gap' in understanding requires a different method of investigation. One approach is the empathy of the historian or anthropologist. A related choice, adopted here, flows from the vicarious experience revealed by works of imagination, notably fiction - that is, knowledge through feeling. The aim of this book, accordingly, is to bring together the 'imaginative truths' of fiction and the 'rational truths' of sociological analysis so as to provide new critical insights into such major world-problems as modernisation, global capitalism, nationalism and neo-imperialism, political consensus or violence, environmental degradation, the situation of women and the use and abuse of science.

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