Lecture 6: Postmodernism “All that is solid melts into air”MS 2900 Exploring Media TheoryUniversity of WinchesterDr Marcus Leaning
• This week we are commence with the third of our „big three‟ theoretical positions on the media - postmodernism.• As with Marxism and Feminism, postmodernism is an approach that has affected many different fields of study.• As we will see it is also a direct challenge to Marxist and Feminist analyses.• It is a very significant approach in media theory.• This week we will introduce some of the basic ideas of postmodernism, then in the two following lectures we will look at specific media theorists whose work is associated with postmodernism.
• Before we go any further we need to look at the word „post-modernism‟.• Does it imply we are living beyond a certain period or is it something else?• Also is there a difference between postmodernism and postmodernity?• „Post‟ usually means after so what is the „modernism‟ that postmodernism is after?
• Modernity is often used to refer to a particular historical period that occurred from about 1750 through to about the 1970s(ish).• Exact dates are debatable as – ◦ Modernity refers to a particular historical stage in world history (and the emergence of global powers and conflicts) ◦ But these global changes relate to developments in countries as they went through the transition from pre- modern to modern states. ◦ So in the UK Modernity took place from 1750(ish) onwards while in other parts of Europe it started slightly later, in Japan it really got going with the Meiji Restoration (1868) and some countries got much going later.
• A shift from the old „pre-modern‟ to a new type of society.• Partly technologically driven but changes in society as well. Pre modernity Modernity Mode of production Agriculture based Industry based Mode of distribution Feudalism Capitalism Governance Hereditary Democracy / empire Relations of Serfdom Wage labour production Belief Pre-science Scientific rationality Association Tribes Nations Communication Orality Literacy
• The new modern world generated new types of culture that were different from the culture of the previous era. ◦ (see the similarity / contrast to politic economic Marxist ideas on cultural change here).• Hence we get Modern Art (1860- 1950)- art that reflects the preoccupation and concerns of those living in Modernity• We term such cultural manifestations “Modernism” it is the culture of modernity.• Appears in different cultural forms.
• Since the 1970s there has been a further change or shift in certain societies and new systems have emerged. Modernity Post Modernity Mode of production Industry based Information based Mode of distribution Capitalism Finance capitalism Governance Democracy / empire Post colonial, UN, post cold war, Hegemon Relations of Wage labour Flexible, share Production holders Belief Science Fractured systems Association Nations Networks, anti- systemic movements Communication Literacy Multi-modality
• Postmodern culture is a reflection of this new world.• BUT maybe the new world has also changed the direction of the relationship! Maybe it now works in both directions with culture changing material life…• Perhaps the relationship of base to superstructure was actually a consequence of modernity and not a universal feature!• Before: After: Culture Culture Social form Social form
• One key aspect of all this is the decline in certainty and progress that underpinned much of modernity. • Science has lost ground to alternative systems. • Our belief in progress has been challenged – • Neither socialism or capitalism seem to actually work that well.• In fact the only thing we now seem to be certain of is that there is not a single answer…• This has been termed an “incredulity towards metanarratives” (Lyotard, 1979).• Have we advanced at all in 400 years since Descartes?
• We can detect 3 key trends in postmodern culture: 1. Identity and difference 2. Fluidity of signs, meanings and markers 3. Development and power of ICTs
• Web live in a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan environment.• Music and culture from all over the world.• International travel normal - gap years, migration, working abroad.• Social mobility - class, geography, lifestyle is „normal‟.• All these mean that the certainties we used to live with that made us what we were are gone, fractured.• The fixed categories we used to placed ourselves are now more fluid and are no longer immutable.
• In modern times categories of how we defined ourselves and defined by others were far more fixed.• You WERE working class or middle class and everyone knew the codes.• You stayed that your whole life and did not move.• Now, movement is possible but also the actual categories themselves are constantly challenged, questioned, broken down and redefined.• For example, „being‟ a man is constantly changing and moving, masculinity is not static.
• The certainties of the modern world no longer hold true.• We are no longer made by the world, rather in PM (or Late modernity) our identity and lifestyle becomes a „project‟ (Giddens, 2002).• We live „reflexively‟ – choosing and making decisions about who we are, how others see us and where we are.• We are changed from just one person to many roles - the fixed, centred „self‟ of the modern world is damaged.
• Signs lose their fixity; they become unmoored and are used in new, dynamic ways.• The system of semiotics the way signs obtain their meaning has been transformed or accelerated - signs now shift in a complex web of borrowing, montage, and ironic play.• In this postmodern world, “image” can no longer be contrasted with “reality”; image is reality.
• In Modernism signs were fluid to a degree- new signs emerged from old - however the process of semiosis has become faster and faster in postmodernism.• But this process increased in speed and scale.• There is a constant reuse of signs, knowingly reusing our knowledge of existing signs to create distance.• In PM the signifer is detached and freed from the signified much quicker and constantly gets reused in ever more complex ways.
• Since 1970s incredible proliferation of computers and technology throughout many societies.• Media culture becoming more integrated into people‟s lives –mediatization of culture.• New media have resulted in a drastic transformation of culture.• We live in an information age.
• Here, it is argued that the underlying economic mode has shifted toward one in which information becomes the primary commodity, and its production, manipulation, and usage becomes the focus of labour.• Such a transformation in particular economies contributes to increased “time-space compression” - the way in which old notions of distance and the problems they pose to communication vanish.
• It now takes far less time to travel around the world.• Moreover, we can communicate far quicker than before.• We now think in a far more global sense aware of problems and threats in a way we simply were not before.• Additionally because of the same process new threats emerge – economic.
• Also challenge the hierarchical structure of communications in Modernity.• Modernity used mass media - those in power „broadcast‟ a single message for many.• With new media people engage in consume broadcasting but also engage in narrow casting, peer-to-peer communication, social media communication between groups of people and use networks that while small span the globe.• Indeed some argue we live in a network society…
• All these factors mean our culture and experience of culture is quite different from that of our ancestors.• Not only is the actual culture different, far more multicultural, far more fluid and changing, but the way we experience it is different.• This applies not just to the media used but the mechanics of how it interacts with us.
• Culture in the postmodern world is different: • more prolific, • narrow band, • less binary, • faster.• Also how we engage with culture has also changed: • New modes of consumption, • New technologies of consumption, • New activities of engagement with culture.
• Postmodernism is the culture of postmodernity.• Key feature is a rejection of old certainties and even relativism.• Three key aspects worth thinking about: • Identity is different in the PM world, • Signs are unfixed more than before, • ICTs mean we live in an information age.• Next week we look at the wacky words of Marshal McLuhan.