This chapter establishes the broad context for my argument by examining the structural underpinnings of the relationship between the individual and society in late modernity. I argue that what underpins the relationship between the individual and society is a proliferation of functional and normative ambiguities. In order to demonstrate this, I will concentrate on three main points:

First, structural differentiation did not come to a halt with the rise of modernity. Indeed, I contend that with ongoing processes of structural differentiation late modern societies can no longer be described as simply functionally differentiated; increasingly these societies are hyper-differentiated. Secondly, the origins of both functional and normative forms of differentiation are concrete social relationships. These relationships rest on communicative action that in late modernity goes beyond the uncoupling of systems and lifeworld, thus leading not only to systemic hyper-differentiation but also to hypertrophied lifeworlds1, that is, a normative overload that does not or has not yet translated into stable communicative structures. In this a fundamental ambiguity emerges as individuals gain more autonomy, while also becoming subject to a greater risk of instrumentalisation. Thirdly, under these circumstances, the ties between individuals and society increasingly come to manifest themselves as a web of systemic imperatives that can no longer be described as ‘institutionalised individualism’ or as individual responses to systemic dependencies. Individualisation becomes an ambiguous process. While it is structurally enabled, it is also more and more systemically organised. This puts individuals increasingly at risk of becoming active hubs not only for systemic coordination, but also for the reproduction of their own systemic dependence.