Sociology Index


Postmodernism Abstracts, Books on Postmodernism, Bibliography, Journals

Postmodernism is hard to define, because it is a concept that appears in a wide variety of disciplines or areas of study, including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion culture, and technology.

It's hard to locate postmodernism temporally or historically, because it's not clear exactly when postmodernism begins. Theories both of postmodernism and modernity have been based almost exclusively on studying capitalist societies in the West.

Postmodernism is a complicated term, one that has only emerged as an area of academic study since the mid-1980s. The best way to start thinking about postmodernism is by first thinking about modernism, the movement from which postmodernism grew.

Postmodernism, like modernism, follows most of these same ideas, rejecting boundaries between high and low forms of art, rejecting rigid genre distinctions, emphasizing pastiche, parody, bricolage, irony, and playfulness.

Postmodern art and thought favors reflexivity and self-consciousness, fragmentation and discontinuity, especially in narrative structures, ambiguity, simultaneity, and an emphasis on the destructured, decentered, dehumanized subject.

But, while postmodernism seems very much like modernism in these ways, it differs from modernism in its attitude toward a lot of these trends. Modernism tends to present a fragmented view of human subjectivity and history, but presents that fragmentation as something tragic, something to be lamented and mourned as a loss. Many modernist works try to uphold the idea that works of art can provide the unity, coherence, and meaning which has been lost in most of modern life; art will do what other human institutions fail to do. Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn't lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence, but rather celebrates that. The world is meaningless? Let's not pretend that art can make meaning then, let's just play with nonsense.

Relation between modernism and postmodernism helps to clarify some of these distinctions. According to Frederic Jameson, modernism and postmodernism are cultural formations which accompany particular stages of capitalism.

The phase we're in now, is multinational or consumer capitalism, associated with nuclear and electronic technologies, and correlated with postmodernism.

Talking pomo: An analysis of the postmodern movement by Steve Mizrach
Postmodernism according to friends, foes, and spectators
"Critics of postmodernism come mainly from the Marxist camp. They feel that postmodernism is a diversionary tactic, the last ditch of a late capitalism in the process of dying. They dislike fervently the way that postmodern aesthetics rejects socialist realism - and, for that matter, epistemological realism. They often point out how semiotics and the postmodern idea that everything is image and nothing is substance are used cynically by advertising agencies - which, unable to sell us real goods of real production, can now only sell us images of satisfaction and packaged happiness. Marxists also dislike postmodernism's relativist treatment of science, since as they see 'criticism' and science as being identical. And they are not all too pleased by postmodernism's rejection of the proletariat and industrialism as liberators, nor its insistence that liberation of leisure may be more important than liberation of work... the way postmodernism intertwines with Nietzschean thought, deep ecology, mysticism, and libertarian individualism makes many Marxists view it as right-wing, reactionary, perhaps even fascist!"

Stephen Katz in humourous vein
by Stephen Katz, Associate Professor, Sociology Trent University, Peterborough, Canada
Postmodernism has been the buzzword in academia for the last decade. Books, journal articles, conference themes and university courses have resounded to the debates about postmodernism that focus on the uniqueness of our times, where computerization, the global economy and the media have irrevocably transformed all forms of social engagement. As a professor of sociology who teaches about culture, I include myself in this environment. Indeed, I have a great interest in postmodernism both as an intellectual movement and as a practical problem.