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The Condition of Postmodernity, David Harvey, 1989..

The Condition of Postmodernity, David Harvey, 1989..

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Published by Ahsanul Hoque Ragib

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Published by: Ahsanul Hoque Ragib on Apr 16, 2011
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The Condition of Postmodernity, David Harvey, 1989. London: Basil Blackwell. 378 pp.


Harvey relates postmodern developments to shifts in the organization of capitalism and new forms of time-space experience. Harvey's basic approach to postmodernism is sound. Rather than rejecting postmodern developments as superficial and merely transitory, he believes they represent a new paradigm of thought and cultural practice that requires serious attention. At the same time, he avoids exaggerating the novelty of postmodern developments and sees both continuities and discontinuiies t with modern practices. Postmodernism represents not a complete rupture from modernism, but a new "cultural dominant" where elements that could be found in modernism appear in postmodernism with added emphasis and intensity. As he puts it, where a modernist like Baudelaire tried to combine in a modern aesthetic both the eternal and the transitory, the whole and the fragmentary, postmodernism rejects all attempts to represent the immutable or ordered patterns and totalities, in order to revel in flux, fragments, difference, and chaos. Harvey is neither overly uncritical nor celebratory toward postmodernism. He criticizes postmodernism for being too nihilistic and for embracing aesthetics over ethics. Postmodernism avoids the realities of political economy and global capitalism and precludes the possibility of a positive politics informed by normative principles. Moreover, Harvey finds that postmodernists provide a caricatured account of modern cultural and theoretical practices. Harvey objects to the assimilation of a wide variety of modern architectural forms to the debacle of housing projects such as Pruitt-Igoe, and he claims modernists found ways to contain explosive and anarchic forms of capitalist development. Also, he believes that the "meta-narratives that the post-modernists decry (Marx, Freud, and even later figures like Althusser) were much more open, nuanced, and sophisticated than the critics admit" (115). Yet, unlike most other Marxist readings of postmodernism, Harvey also sees positive aspects to postmodernism, such as its concern for complexity, difference, otherness, and plurality which are neglected in many modern practices. The most interesting and important aspect of Harvey's book is his attempt to situate postmodernism within the logic of advanced capitalism. Unlike Baudrillard and other radical postmodernists, Harvey does not see postmodernism as some radically new postindustrial or even postcapitalist development. Rather, postmodernism results from new organization and technological forms developed by capitalism in the second half of this century. Specifically, Harvey directly relates postmodern developments to the shift from Fordism to a "more flexible mode of accumulation" (he deliberately avoids the term "post-Fordism" to avoid suggesting there are not some fundamental continuities in the two modes of capitalist organization). "The relatively stable aesthetic of Fordist modernism has given way to all the ferment, instability, and fleeting qualities of a postmodernist aesthetic that celebrates difference, ephemerality, spectacle, fashion, and the commodifications of cultural forms" (156). Postmodern developments are therefore directly related to "the more flexible motion of capital [which] emphasizes the new, the fleeting, the ephemeral, the fugitive, and the contingent in modern life, rather than the more solid values implanted under Fordism" (171). An important part of Harvey's book is devoted to analysis of historically changing forms of space-time experience. He holds that "neither time nor space can be assigned objective meanings independently of material processes" and that "conceptions of time and space are necessarily created through material practices which serve to reproduce social life" (204). It follows that the recently created "more flexible mode of accumulation" would produce a different form of time-space experience. Harvey characterizes this in terms of an ever greater "time-space compression" where long durations of time required for travel and communication are reduced to almost nothing and the vast, disparate spaces of the planet are absorbed into a homogenized, global village. Harvey believes this time-space compression that begins with capitalism has greatly intensified in the last two decades, and that postmodernism emerges as a cultural response to its disorienting and disruptive effects.

there are many genealogies. The postmodern turn. we seek to present new insights into both postmodern theory and contemporary society and culture. theories. whether tacit or explicit. beliefs. but rather have a complex history of anticipations in modern theories and developments. dogmatic. the arts. and therefore is hotly contested. Thus. each with its own designated precursors. not yet dominant. politics. path of development. conceptual revolutions that threw the dominant approach into crisis. and point of view. and methodological assumptions. Kuhn argued. the humanities. moves through many different fields and crosses a varied terrain of theory. and responses range from positive and celebratory discourses of those affirming the postmodern like Hassan to the critical ones of Habermas and others deploring it. No genealogy of the postmodern is neutral and unmotivated. as well as in response to developments in society. At any one time. if successful. as we shall see. or oppressive. demonstrating our claim that postmodern discourses do not emerge in vacuo. and show how these theorists anticipate contemporary forms of the postmodern turn. Providing conceptual content and articulation to this vastly overused and abused concept is one of the goals of the following studies. many narratives. and many ways of presenting the turn to the postmodern. a discontinuous change provoked by altogether new assumptions. erroneous.THE POSTMODERN TURN: PARADIGM SHIFTS IN THEORY. postmodern paradigm shifts arise in different fields as critical responses to ideas and methods perceived to be staid. Our goal throughout is to delineate the postmodern turn in a variety of fields and to show how the disparate trajectories of the postmodern. technology. itself ready to be deposed by another powerful challenger as the constellation of ideas continues to change and shift. the next paradigm. As Kuhn defined it (1970). . science. in our view. privileged disciplinary focus. economics. certain assumptions and methods prevail in any given discipline until they are challenged and overthrown by a new approach that emerges through posing a decisive challenge to the status quo and. inscribed in a larger worldview. and research programs. By now. Marx. Building on recent work in Kellner's Media Culture (1995) and Best's The Politics of Historical Vision (1995). and Nietzsche. a "paradigm" is a "constellation" of values. and politics. despite their differences. seemingly having a greater explanatory power. CULTURE. are coalescing into a new paradigm that we see as emergent. in other words. AND SCIENCE BY STEVE BEST AND DOUGLAS KELLNER We explore some important sources of postmodern theory in 19th century thinkers such as Kierkegaard. and eventually dissolution. In science. and diverse areas of social reali ty. a given paradigm survives until another one supersedes it. becomes dominant. which we argue is a borderland between the modern and something new for which the term "postmodern" has been coined. Kuhn observed that throughout the history of science there were paradigm shifts. The text reflects our position that social reality can be analyzed most adequately through multiple methodological and theoretical perspectives.

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