postmodernity and postmodernism

postmodernity and postmodernism

Interrelated terms referring to:
  1. postmodernity - the cultural and ideological configuration taken to have replaced or be replacing MODERNITY;
  2. postmodernism - theories (including theories and new movements in architecture and the arts as well as social theories, e.g. POSTSTRUCTURALISM) implicated in or accounting for the change from modernity (and MODERNISM) to postmodernity. Variously defined, with different aspects of the general phenomenon emphasized by different theorists, ‘postmodernity’ is seen as involving such features as a world of‘flux, flow and fragmentation’, without absolute values, an end of the dominance of an overarching belief in 'scientific’ rationality and a unitary theory of PROGRESS, the replacement of empiricist theories of representation and TRUTH, and an increased emphasis on the importance of the unconscious, on free-floating signs and images, and a plurality of viewpoints. Theories of postmodernism offer an analysis of this condition while also contributing to it.

Associated also with the idea of a ‘postindustrial age’ (compare POSTINDUSTRIAL SOCIETY) theorists such as BAUDRILLARD (1983) and LYOTARD (1984) make central to postmodernity a shift from a ‘productive’ to a ‘reproductive social order’ in which SIMULATIONS and models – and more generally, SIGNS – increasingly constitute the world, so that any distinction between the appearance and the ‘real’ is lost. Lyotard, for example, speaks especially of the replacement of any GRAND NARRATIVE by more local ‘accounts’ of reality as distinctive of postmodernism and postmodernity. Baudrillard talks of the ‘triumph of signifying culture’. Capturing the new orientation characteristic of postmodernism, compared with portrayals of modernity as an era or a definite period, the advent of postmodernity is often presented as a ‘mood’ or 'state of mind’ (see Featherstone, 1988). If modernism as a movement in literature and the arts can also be distinguished by its rejection of an emphasis on representation, postmodernism carries this movement a stage further. A further feature of postmodernism seen by some theorists is that the boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture tend to be broken down, e.g. cinema, jazz and rock music (see Lash, 1990). According to many theorists, post-modernist cultural movements, which often overlap with new political tendencies and social movements in contemporary society, are particularly associated with the increasing importance of new class fractions, e.g. ‘expressive professions’ within the SERVICE CLASS (see Lash and Urry, 1987).

Suggesting that a postmodern sociology – with its denial of ‘truth’ – is a contradiction in terms, BAUMAN, Intimations of Postmodernity (1992) has suggested that a sociology of postmodernism is the important task for sociology. Anthony GIDDENS (see also RADICALIZED MODERNITY) is another critic, who prefers the terms ‘high modernity’ or ‘late modernity. For him, ‘the issues raised by postmodernity are more interesting than those suggested by postmodernism’.

Nonetheless, postmodernist sociologies and philosophies raise important issues – which are open to discursive evaluation – even if their denials of ‘truth’ may appear paradoxical or self-contradictory (see Sarup, 1993). It can be suggested that there perhaps exist two sides to post-modernism which should be disentangled: a ‘hopeful’ side, compatible with a ‘continuation rationality’ and progress (albeit in radically changed forms) and a ‘less hopeful’ side with no hope of avoiding licence and disorder. The hopeful side opposes dogmatic versions of rationality and can bring respect for different traditions while increasing the scope for individual self-fulfilment and creativity. The less hopeful side might seem to support the potential for relativism and a resurgence of intolerance. See also FORMS OF LIFE, DECENTRED SELF (OR SUBJECT), INCOMMENSURABILITY, STRUCTURALISM, DECONSTRUCTION. DISORGANIZED CAPITALISM.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
The adjective "postmodernist" implies a considerable quantity of questions with regards to the murky relationship between postmodernity and postmodernism. Does postmodernist refer to the cultural paradigm of postmodernity?