Defining Post-Modernism

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Defining Post-Modernism

In trying to define exactly what post-modernism is I shall firstly briefly consider some of the events and thinking that led up to the development of this particular school of social theory. I shall then consider some of the common strands of thinking in postmodernism concentrating mainly on the writings of Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard. I shall then consider the view of David Harvey, a Marxist many consider to be writing in the postmodern tradition, who argues that post-modernism is just another form of capitalism. Having analysed his argument I shall conclude by giving my own personal view of post-modernism and by showing that by its very nature it is virtually impossible to come up with one single all encompassing definition.

The term postmodernism was first used in relation to architecture. Modern architecture, namely the high rise tower blocks of the sixties, were becoming more and more unpopular. Charles Jencks (1977) traces the death of modernist architecture to the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, and other writers (Lemert (1990)) have seen this as a symbol of the end of modernity. Society was reacting against modern architectural ideas having lost faith in the modern ideals. Although modern architecture might have been scientifically advanced using the latest and cheapest materials, people rejected it, preferring to return to a variety of styles from the past. Examples of this can be seen in the rejuvenation of the Albert Dock in Liverpool, and 'mock'; medieval squares.

Similarly in Sociology postmodernism rejects the theories of the past, and represents a break from the 'modern'; way of thinking. For example, Marx envisaged society evolving through social change into the 'perfect'; communist society, where there are no issues of class or general inequality. Postmodernists would refer to his theory, and those of other sociologists, as a metanarrative and writers such as Lyotard (1984) have seen the rejection of such theories as central to postmodernism:

'Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodernism as incredulity to metanarratives';

People have lost faith in the metanarratives of the past and Lyotard sees social life being organised around 'language games', which serve to justify people's behaviour in society. In these games a person endeavours to persuade others t...

... middle of paper ... impossible to apply one all encompassing theory. A range of theories must be considered and all viewpoints listened to. Only by adopting such an approach and by welcoming different points of view can we further understand the world in which we live.


Harvey, D. (1990) 'The Condition Of Postmodernity'; Oxford:Blackwell

Kellner, D. (1990) 'Postmodernism: Jameson: Critique'; cited in Ritzer, G. (1992) 'Sociological Theory'; (third edition) New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Lyotard, J.F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press

Ritzer, G. (1992) 'Sociological Theory'; (third edition) New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.


Adams, D.J. Toward a Theological Understanding of Postmodernism

Cuff, E.C., Sharrock, W.W., and Francis, D.W. (1998) 'Perspectives in Sociology'; (fourth edition) London: Routledge.

Mizrach, S. Talking pomo: An analysis of the postmodern movement

Ritzer, G. (1992) 'Sociological Theory'; (third edition) New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Ritzer, G. (1996) 'Classical Social Theory'; (second edition) New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
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