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Postmodernism, Philosophical Aspects (International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Scien

Postmodernism, Philosophical Aspects (International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Scien

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Kumar K 1995
From Post-Industrial to Post-Modern Society:New Theories of the Contemporary World 
. Blackwell, Oxford,UKLatour B 1988
The Pasteurization of France
. Harvard UniversityPress, Cambridge, MALeonard P 1997
Postmodern Welfare
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L’inhumaine Causerie sur le Temps
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The Hermeneutics of Postmodernity: Figuresand Themes
. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, INMiller J H 1981 The disarticulation of the self in Nietzsche.
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: 247–61Newman F, Holzman L 1999 Beyond narrative to performedconversation.
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Deconstruction and the Interests of Theory
. Pinter,LondonRichardson L 1988 The collective story: Postmodernism and thewriting of sociology.
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Modernism and the Social Sciences
.Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJTodorov T 1984
Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle
.University of Minneapolis Press, Minneapolis, PATyler S 1986 Post-modern ethnography: from document of theoccult to occult document. In: Clifford J, Marcus G E (eds.)
Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography
.University of California Press, Berkeley, CAYoung T R 1992 Reinventing sociology. In:
Mission and Methods in Postmodern Phenomenology
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P. V. Rosenau
Postmodernism: Philosophical Aspects
‘Postmodernism’isatermthatdefiessimpledefinition.Although earlier uses are recorded, the term has beenwidely used since the 1960s to refer to a range of antimodernist attitudes and strategies in art criticism,architecture, and literary criticism. References topostmodernism in philosophy and social theory didnot become common before they appeared in thework of Lyotard and Rorty during the early 1980s.Philosophical postmodernism quickly became asso-ciated with the idea of a ‘crisis’ in representation,abandonment of the belief in a universal subjectof reason and value, and the rejection of uni-tary schemas of progress inherited from the En-lightenment. In place of these foundational motifs of modern thought, postmodernism emphasized dif-ference, diversity and irreducible conflict in humanaffairs rather than unity and the possibility of harmony.There are several reasons why postmodernismshould be ‘a particularly unstable concept’ (Bertens1995, p. 12). First, the concept of postmodernismstands in a variety of complex relations to otherconceptssuchasmodernism,poststructuralism,decon-structionism, modernity and postmodernity. Sincethe meaning of these concepts is equally uncertain, soour understanding of ‘postmodernism’ will be affectedby the particular meaning attached to these relatedconcepts. Second, to the extent that postmodernism isconsidered a cultural movement alongside others suchas romanticism, positivism, or structuralism, then ittoo will encompass a variety of distinct aesthetic andintellectual strategies. Bertens’
The Idea of Post
-
modernism: a History
begins with illustrations of thesometimes contradictory ways in which the term hasbeen employed. For example, by 1970 modern pain-ting had long abandoned the idea that representationor narrative were essential to its art. In explicitreaction against modernism understood as the self-reflexive exploration of the formal possibilities of painting, postmodern painting involved a repriseof representation and narrative. In a similarfashion, postmodern architecture rejected the for-malism of the postwar International style and re-embracedhistoricalandvernacularstyles.Bycontrast,at least in some of its manifestations, literary post-modernism involved a move in the opposite directionaway from narrative and representation towards aform of radical self-reflexivity. Bertens concludesthat, depending on the artistic discipline, ‘post-modernism is either a radicalization of the self-reflexive moment within modernism, a turning awayfrom narrative and representation, or an explicitreturntonarrativeandrepresentation.Andsometimesit is both’ (Bertens, 1995, p. 5). In view of the manydifferent phenomena to which it has been applied, itis common for discussions of postmodernism, tobegin, as this one has, with the claim that the termhas no clear meaning (Eco 1985, p. 65, Rorty 1999,p. 262).
1. Modernity
\
Modernism
Just as modernism is often regarded as a response tothe process of modernization which transformed thematerial conditions of European society during thenineteenth century, so postmodernism is often pres-ented as a consequence of the restructuring of capi-talism at the end of the twentieth century. Thehistorical period of modernity which extends from themiddle of the eighteenth through to the middle of thetwentieth century saw the development of industrialcapitalistinfrastructure and meansofproductionsuchasrailways,automobiles,airtransport,electricity,andtelegraphicandtelephoniccommunication.Italsosawthe growth and modernization of cities, the spread of public schools, hospitals, and prisons, and the deve-lopment of bureaucratic and rational procedures forthe government of social life. ‘Modernism’ is com-monly used to refer to an artistic sensibility whichembraced innovation and change. In its early stages,modernism involved a positive sense of living at thedawn of a new era. To be modern implied an heroiccommitment to action and to revolutionizing oneself 11872
Postmodernism: Methodology
 
as well as the means of artistic production, hence thedynamic of successive avant-gardes in the particulararts. During the latter part of the nineteenth and theearlyyearsofthetwentiethcentury,modernismmeantexperimentationwith thestyle and form of the variousarts.Theorists of postmodernity assert a parallel conn-ection between the changes associated with the rest-ructuring and globalization of late capitalism and theemergenceofapostmodernculture.Twooftheleadingtheorists, Fredric Jameson and David Harvey, arguethat changes in technology, urban space, and forms of consumption have created the conditions of a newmode of experience of self and others (Jameson 1991,Harvey 1989). In particular, they argue that the‘compression’ of social space and time which resultsfromnewelectronicandcommunicationstechnologiesis reflected ina new cultural sensibility. Moreover, justas the modernist commitment to the destruction of traditional ways of life and thought was often linkedto a tragic sense of loss, so some theorists of post-modernity argue that a similar kind of homelessness isgenerated by the late twentieth century mutations inour experience of space and time. Jameson is amongthose who take a negative view of the culturalexperience of postmodernity on the grounds that itdoes not sustain a sufficiently robust sense of self andhistory. He argues that the rapid evolution of post-modern urban space has overtaken ‘the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself, to organizeits immediate surroundings perceptually, and cog-nitively to map its position in a mappable externalworld’ (Jameson 1991, p. 83). On his account, post-modernity is experienced as incapacity in the face of complex and discontinuous social spaces and asdisorientation in the absence of a rich sense of the pastor future. The result is a widely documented frag-mentary and schizophrenic experience of subjectivity,along with a tendency towards affectless repetition or‘blank parody’ of past forms of artistic and culturalproduction.For others, modernist and postmodernist alike, theappropriate affective response to change is much lessone of nostalgia for older ways of being at home andmore a question of orientation towards the future.Nietzsche, who is in many respects the source of muchpostmodern philosophy, took the condition of ‘home-lessness’ as a metaphor for the condition of those, likehimself,wholookedforwardto‘thestrengtheningandenhancement of the human type’: ‘We children of thefuture, how
could 
we be at home in this today?(Nietzsche 1974, p. 338). In their efforts to makepositive sense of the experience of being estrangedfrom the social world in which they must live,postmodernists often have recourse to the concept of irony. Richard Rorty calls ironists those who areconscious of the contingency and mutability of the‘final vocabularies’ employed to make sense of theirlives, yet nonetheless committed to the values whichthose vocabularies embody (Rorty 1989, p. 73).Umberto Eco argues that the postmodern attitude isencapsulated in the irony which acts and speaks in fullawarenessofthedegreetowhichallourwaysofactingand speaking involve repetition of the past: ‘thepostmodern reply to the modern consists of recogniz-ing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed,because its destruction leads to silence, must berevisited, but with irony, not innocently’ (Eco 1985,p. 67).While postmodernism is supposed to involve rejec-tion of the presuppositions of modern art, philo-sophy, and social theory, commentators and users of the term hesitate over whether postmodernism isprimarily a temporal or a typological concept. Theprefix and the manner in which the term has beenemployed in the arts suggest a temporal reference,even though estimates of the beginning of the post-modern era range from the 1860s to the 1980s. Butsome theorists of postmodernism in the arts andculture treat it as simply the radicalization of ten-dencies already present in the modern. In philosophy,Rorty argues that, to the extent that postmodernismstands for anything distinctive, it refers to a pluralismshared by a range of modern thinkers such asNietzsche and William James (Rorty 1999). In similarfashion, Jean-Francois Lyotard argues that post-modernism in painting stands for an aesthetic of thesublime which embraces the ever-renewed attempt to‘present the unpresentable’ (Lyotard 1983). For thesereasons, Eco suggests that postmodernism should notbe chronologically defined but rather treated as ‘anideal category—or better still, a
Kuntswollen
, a way of operating. We could say that every period has its ownpostmodernism, just as every period would have itsown mannerism’ (Eco 1985, p. 66).
2. Unity and Plurality
A feature of many cultural responses to the transient,fleetingandephemeralcharacterofmodernlifeistheirattachment to ideas of unity, whether in the object tobe represented or the artefact to be produced. Thus,for example, modernists believed that a machine or acity could be a unified, smoothly functional object,and a novel or work of art could be a complete, self-contained meaningful entity. Where there is experi-mentation with diverse modes of representation, thisis undertaken in the attempt to convey a singlecomplex and multifaceted reality. And even wherethere is a dizzying succession of conceptions of thenature of a particular art such as painting, there isnevertheless a conviction at each stage that at last thetruth has been found.Even though ‘modernism’ does not have the samecurrency as a classificatory term in philosophy andsocial theory as it does in the arts, there are epistem-ological parallels to this modernist attitude towards11873
Postmodernism: Philosophical Aspects
 
unity. Modernist thought would be that whichtolerated perspectivism only on the assumption thatthere is a single, intelligible reality to be presented.Even when there is an acceptance of surface inco-herence, as in Marx’s account of the contradictions of capitalism or Freud’s account of conscious behavior,this is balanced by the discovery of an underlyingstructure which produces such contradictory effects.In this sense, Harvey argues that modernism ‘took onmultiple perspectivism and relativism as its epist-emology for revealing what it still took to be the truenature of a unified, though complex, underlyingreality’ (Harvey 1989, p. 30). By contrast, postmod-ernism is associated with the acceptance of pluralityin both ways of being and ways of knowing. Inoppositiontotheidealofunifiedobjectsofknowledge,whether texts or artefacts, postmodernism refers in-stead to networks, open systems, or the disseminationof meaning. In opposition to the modernist ideal of unified science, postmodernism upholds the idea of irreducible difference and even incommensurabilityamong the varieties of knowledge.
3. Poststructuralism and Postmodernism
Postmodernism coincides with the work of a numberof French thinkers who came into prominence at theend of the 1960s, notably Baudrillard, Deleuze, Der-rida, Foucault, and Lyotard. By different intellectualpaths,thesethinkersrejectedtheideathattheoriesandconcepts simply represent a pre-existing reality. Forsome, such as Derrida or Baudrillard, this conclusionwas reached via a radicalization of Saussurian thesesabout the arbitrariness of signs and the manner inwhich their sense is derived from differential relationsto other signs. For others, such as Foucault, similarconclusionswerereachedviaKantianviewsoftheroleplayed by language and thought in the construction of its own objects. A consequence of Foucault’s hist-oricization of the Kantian idea that objects of know-ledge are determined in part by the underlying rulesgoverning discourse is that ‘truth’ acquires a historyand can no longer be measured solely against anindependent reality.Whileit is true thatthework ofFoucaultand othersdoes imply a form of historical relativism with regardto truth, it is overstating the case to suggest that theresultant‘crisisinrepresentation’amountsto‘adeeplyfelt loss of faith in our ability to represent the real, inthe widest sense’ (Bertens 1995, p. 11). It is not ourability to represent reality but rather what Deleuzecalls the representational ‘image of thought’ that isimpugned by poststructuralist epistemology (Deleuze1994, pp. 129–67). Foremost among the influentialphilosophical assumptions which make up the repre-sentational image of thought is the idea that thoughtnaturally seeks truth. For Rorty, too, what lies at theheart of postmodernism in philosophy is the aban-donment of the correspondence theory of truth andthe ‘theologicometaphysical belief that Reality andTruth are One—that there is One True Account of How Things Really Are’ (Rorty 1999, p. 262). A lessnegative characterization might say that postmod-ernism does not so much reject the idea that thoughtrepresents reality as embrace more complex views of whatrepresentationentails.Inthismanner,Foucault’sgenealogies of punishment and sexuality drew atten-tion to the ways in which what passes for truth in thesocial sciences is bound up with the exercise of powerover individuals and populations. More generally,postmodernism has drawn attention to new aspects of social reality, such as the systems of thought andlanguage which condition public discourse. It has alsogiven rise to new kinds of analysis of cultural andsocial phenomena: genealogical, deconstructive, nar-ratological, and so on. In these ways, postmodernismhas given rise to new research methods and newobjects of analysis in anthropology, sociology, andother social sciences (Clifford and Marcus 1986,Dickens and Fontana 1994). In addition, post-modernism has been widely taken up in jurisprudenceand the philosophy of law, where it has been describedasthemost influentialtrend attheend ofthe twentiethcentury (Litowitz 1997, p. 1).
4. Un
ersalism and Freedom
One of the most influential formulations of post-modernism in philosophy was that provided in Lyot-ard’s
The Postmodern Condition
(Lyotard 1984), firstpublished in 1979. Here, Lyotard uses ‘modern’ torefer to any form of knowledge which seeks legi-timation by appeal to some ‘grand narrative, such asthe dialectics of the spirit, the hermeneutics of mean-ing, the emancipation of the rational or workingsubject, or the creation of wealth.’ He then defines thepostmodern attitude as one of ‘incredulity towardsmetanarratives’ (Lyotard 1984, pp. 23–4). Lyotard isnot concerned in this essay with postmodernity under-stood as an historical epoch, since his inquiry islimited to ‘the condition of knowledge in the mosthighly developed societies’ (Lyotard 1984, pp. 13).Rather, his aim is to show that the supposed trans-cendent status of scientific knowledge is an illusionsustained by a certain narrative language game. Hearguesthattheprivilegedstatusofscientificknowledgeis destined to disappear once it is accepted that thisstatus depends upon a narrative which privilegesscience over other kinds of language game. Thisnarrative of legitimation has either followed theFrench Enlightenment link between the pursuit of knowledge and human emancipation, or the GermanIdealist construal of history as the process of therealization of reason through the sciences. Lyotardasserts not only that these ‘metanarratives’ have losttheir appeal but that the very idea of transcendentlegitimation has given way to forms of legitimationwhich are local and immanent in particular social11874
Postmodernism: Philosophical Aspects

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