In sociology there have been two main critical responses to the classical vision of social change. The first is to accept the broad story, but to emphasize the persistence in large and complex social systems of what might seem like earlier forms of normative enforcement. So instead of a wholesale transformation, the new society gets layered on top of the old one, with pockets of the simpler local order persisting, just as local communities and cultures reconstitute themselves in cities. This is consistent with Hardin’s remarks that normative systems may overlap, even as the modern, legal-rational system is ultimately more powerful than more local alternatives.

A second response questions an implicit premise of the story. It is tempting to think that the structural changes that come with role differentiation in modern society amount to an escape from moral order as an encompassing cultural system. Although we may leave behind the communally enforced—and as Hardin notes, often quite vicious—norms of a small-scale society, the more general moral principles and legal constraints of a complicated, differentiated society do not mean actors are disembedded from culture. Modern society may be increasingly rationalized, but it remains intensely ritualized