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Rationalisation, as an idea and as a process, is at the heart of modernism, the values and assumptions that characterise life in an advanced, industrial (or post-industrial) and technologically sophisticated society. ‘Rational’ means literally ‘based on reason’, as opposed to untestable or ‘faith-based’ explanations of the world. Rationalisation is therefore the process which is said to have steadily transformed the societies of northern Europe and North America (‘the West’) after, and as a result of, the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

In this process – in effect, the transition from tradition to modernity – there are a number of important elements:

  • Scientific thinking supplants religion as the principal source of explanations of the world and what happens in it. People die, for instance, ...

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