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Postmodernism and Its Comparative Education Implications

Postmodernism and Its Comparative Education Implications

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Postmodernism and Its Comparative Education ImplicationsAuthor(s): Val D. RustReviewed work(s):Source:
Comparative Education Review,
Vol. 35, No. 4 (Nov., 1991), pp. 610-626Published by:
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PresidentialAddressPostmodernismandItsComparativeEducationImplications
VAL D. RUST
Postmodernism was one ofthe most debatedissuesin theacademicworldduringthe1980s.Yet,the discussion almostbypassedthecomparativeeducationcommunity.Iarguethatpostmodernismshould be acentralconceptinourcomparativeeducation discourse.Manypeopleseepostmodernismas apassingfad.However,thepost-modernist ideahas existedinsocial science and aesthetic literaturesincethe1950s.Inartisticcircles,particularlynarchitectureandliterarycriticism,thediscussion of ashift fromaesthetic modernismtopostmodernismhasbeen continuous andsustained,'whileinthe social sciencespostmodernismhasgone throughtwophases.The first was ratherdisparate,and,infact,variouslabels wereinvented todescribeit,such as"postindustrialism,"the "informationsociety,"orthe "technetronicsociety."2Inthe1970sthediscussion ofpostmodernismallbutdisappearedfromsocialscienceliterature;3 however,inthepastdecadesocial scientistsagaindiscussedit,andbythemid-1980spostmodernismhad lefttheghettoofesotericdebates and hadentered the mainstream ofintellectual andpublicdis-course.4The term"postmodernism"now refers to adiscussioninvolvingnotonlysocialscientistsbutalso three other strands ofinfluencemorecloselyconnected with artisticmodernism.
1For theinitial articles on aestheticpostmodernism,seeIrvingHowe,"MassSocietyandPostmodernFiction,"PartisanReview26(Summer1959):420-36;HarryLevin,"WhatWasModernism?"Mas-sachusettsReview1(August1960):606-30. For anaccount of thedevelopmentoftheconceptofpostmodernismmainlyinthearts,see IhabHassan,"Postface1982:Toward aConceptof Post-modernism,"inhisTheDismembermentof Orpheus(Madison:UniversityofWisconsinPress,1982),pp.259-71.
2
ArnoldToynbeefirstusedthe term"postmodern"inthe1950s;seehisAStudyofHistory(London:OxfordUniversityPress,1954),9:235.AmitaiEtzionialso uses theterm"postmodernera"inTheActiveSociety:ATheoryofSocietal andPolitical ProcessesNewYork:FreePress,1968).HermanKahncopiedDaniel Bell'snotion ofthe"postindustrialsociety";see Herman KahnandAnthonyJ.Wiener,TheYear 2000: AFrameworkforSpeculationonthe NextThirty-threeYears(NewYork:FreePress,1967);the fullestdevelopment byDanielBellisinTheComingPost-industrialSocietyNewYork:Basic,1973).See alsoZbigniewBrzezinski,BetweenTwoAges:America'sRolein theTechnetronicEra(NewYork:Viking,1970).'EventhoughBell'smajorcontributionscame atthistime;seeibid.;andDanielBell,TheCulturalContradictionsofCapitalism(London:Heineman,1976).4Animportantdistinction existsbetweentheterms"modernity"and"modernism."ModernitytypicallyreferstotheerausheredinbytheindustrialrevolutioninEngland,thepoliticalrevolutioninFrance,andparticularly bythesecularizinginfluenceofscientificrationalismemergingfromtheEnlightenment.Modernismisusuallytakenas aparadigmchangeinthe artstowardthe endofthenineteenthcentury.ComparativeEducationReview,vol.35,no.4.?1991bytheComparativeandInternationalEducationSociety.Allrightsreserved.0010-4086/91/3504-0001$01.00
610November1991
 
POSTMODERNISM
First,postmodernismhas becomeentwined withpoststructuralism,amovementthat has flourishedinFranceduringthepast2decades.Itsadvocates,suchasJacquesDerrida,MichelFoucault,andJean-FrancoisLyotard,challengethestructuralists'claimsthatdeepstructures oflanguagecan beidentified,which allow us to attach ultimatemeaningstowords.Instead,these French theoristsemphasizethecontingencyofmeaningandtheslipperinessoflanguage.5Second,postmodernismhas come under the influenceof anarchitecturalcontroversy.Modernarchitecture claimsauniversal,internationalstylethatstressespure geometricforms forfunctionalityandefficiencyanddisregardsdecorationandornamentationnotintegralto thematerialsused.Postmoderns,who claim modern architecture resultsinmonotony,dogmatism,and artisticpoverty,dismiss it.6Finally,postmodernismhasbecomeapartof theresurgenceofmodernphilosophersofpragmatism,whojointhe Frenchpoststructuralistsinchallengingthemajortenetsof modernscientific andsocialknowledge.However,pragmatistsare notquiteas distrustful of liberalism andbourgeoispoliticsasthe Frenchsooftenappearto be.7The currentpostmodernmovementappearsto havegelledintotwomajororientations.Some claim that the term"postmodernism"is ape-riodizationconceptinthat itrefers toanewera,quitedistinctfromthemodernage,possessingnew formalfeaturesinculture,anewtypeofsociallife,and aneweconomicorder.8Others claimpostmodernismdoesnotrepresentasharpbreakinWesternpoliticalandculturallifebut thatitrepresents yetanotherstyleof discourse and atheoreticalorientationforexplainingandinterpretingevents incompetitionwithothertheoreticalorientations thataboundinthemodern world.'Myown orientationis atemperedacceptanceof thenotionof anerashift.Ofcourse,the world issopluralisticthatavarietyofconditionsand
5
PeterScott,"Reaching beyondEnlightenment,"TimesHigherEducationSupplementAugust24,1990),p.28.
"6
or a briefbutdetaileddiscussion,see CharlesJencks,WhatIsPost-modernism?NewYork:St.Martin's,1987).
7
Themajorfigureinthismovement isRichardRorty,whose mostimportantbookisPhilosophyandtheMirrorofNature(Princeton,N.J.:PrincetonUniversityPress,1979).
8
See,e.g.,FredericJameson,"Postmodernism andConsumerSociety,"inTheAnti-aesthetic:Essayson PostmodernCulture,ed. HalFoster(Seattle:BayPress,1983),pp.111-25;Jean-FrancoisLyotard,The PostmodernCondition: AReportonKnowledge,firstpublishedinFrancein1979 andtranslated intoEnglishbyGeoffBenningtonandBrian Massumi(Minneapolis:UniversityofMinnesotaPress,1984).
9
Priorto hisdeathin1983,MichelFoucaultclaimednot to beentirelyclearabout themeaningofpostmodernismandattemptedtolodgehimself inthecontextofmodernity,atleastinsofar asKantand theEnlightenmentare apartofmodernity.SeeMichelFoucault,"What IsEnlightenment?"in theFoucaultReader,ed. PaulRabinow(NewYork:Pantheon,1984).Rortyalso sees "nosharpbreaks inWesternpoliticalorcultural lifesince the timeof theFrenchRevolution" anddoesnotfeel theterm"postmodern"adequatelyreflects his ownorientation. SeeRichardRorty,"TheDangersofOver-philosophication-Replyto ArcillaandNicholson,"EducationalTheory40(Winter1990):41-45.
ComparativeEducationReview611

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