SociologyExchange.co.uk Shared Resource

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SociologyExchange.co.uk Shared Resource

  1. 1. Postmodernism Some key IdeasAnti-foundationalism (drawn from the ideas of Michel Foucault):There are no sure foundations to knowledge – no objective criteria wecan use to prove whether a theory is true or false. Foucault sees adiscourse as a set of ideas that have become established as knowledgeor a way of thinking and speaking about the world. Foucault describesdiscourse as power knowledge.For example, today our view of madness is formed by the discourse ofpsychiatry, which describes it using terms such as “schizophrenia”. Bycontrast, in the past, when religious discourse was dominant, madnesswas seen as “possession of spirits”. One discourse is not truer thananother, they are simply different and we cannot judge between them:truth is relative – each discourse is true for those who believe it andfalse for those who don’t. All accounts of reality are equally valid, weshould therefore recognise and celebrate the diversity of views.Therefore all “Truths” or “Theories” are meta-narratives – or big stories.Just someone’s version of reality, not the truth. Postmodernists alsoreject meta-narratives such as Marxism on the grounds that they havehelped to create oppressive totalitarian states that impose their versionof the truth on people.
  2. 2. Jean-Francois Lyotard (1992) – “Language games”:Postmodern society began to develop at the end of the 1950’s andLyotard sees these developments as related to technology, science andsocial developments, but most importantly to changes in Language. Thekey concept he uses is that of “Language games”. Lyotard sees sociallife as being organised around these language games. Languagegames serve to justify or legitimate people’s behaviour in society. Theyare games in which participants try to assert certain things to be true orright.According to Lyotard, the post modern world is characterised by aspreading cynicism about metanarratives or general belief systems,including world religions, political ideologies such as Socialism orLiberalism, and even science and reason. We have becomedisillusioned and no longer expect the world to become a better place.However, in his view, postmodern society, with its many competingviews of the truth, is preferable to modern society, where meta-narratives claimed a monopoly of truth and sometimes sought to imposeit by force. Postmodernity allows groups who have marginalised bymodern society, such as ethnic minorities and women, to be heard.
  3. 3. Baudrillard – Simulacra (1983):Baudrillard argues that society is no longer based on the production ofmaterial goods, but rather on buying and selling knowledge in the formof images and signs. Baudrillard, like other post modernists, contendsthat everyday reality and media have become blurred. Individuals obtainwhat they experience as real knowledge about the real world from themedia, but this is actually reproduced knowledge about an entirelysimulated or reproduced world. This he calls the hyper real. Moreover,Baudrillard views consumption not only as merely economic and materialactivity but also a symbolic and meaningful and status differentiatingactivity. To give an example:Coke at a conscious level are recommending a drink, at a secondarylevel, they are recommending that the drink may be fun, acceptance,romance, or whatever, and at a more general level, reinforce the beliefthat such consumption is good. The whole package is the real thing. Infact, Coke is mainly coloured sweetened water and largely marketresearchers create the values associated with it.Umberto Eco (1987) an Italian post modernistphilosopher and literary figure, defines the hyperreal asthat which is more real than real.
  4. 4. An Emphasis On Style at the Expense of Substance (Harvey):A crucial implication is that in a post-modern culture, surfaces and stylesbecome more important, and evoke in turn a kind of designer ideology.Alternatively, as Harvey puts it...images dominate narrative. Theargument is that we increasingly consume images and signs for theirown sake rather than for their usefulness or for deeper values that theymight symbolise. We consume images and signs precisely because theyare images and signs, and disregard their questions of usefulness andvalue. Consequently, qualities like artistic merit, integrity, seriousnessand authenticity, realism, intellectual depth and strong narratives tend tobe undermined. Moreover, virtual reality computer graphics can allowpeople to experience various forms of reality second hand. Thesesurface simulations can therefore potentially replace their real lifecounterparts. (Virtual Churches for example).
  5. 5. Baudrillard – Destabilisation of Culture and Identity:Postmodernists argue that culture and identity in postmodern societydiffer fundamentally from modern society, especially because of the roleof the media in creating hyper-reality. The media are all pervading andthey produce an endless stream of ever changing images, values andversions of the truth. As a result culture becomes fragmented andunstable, so that there is no longer a fixed set of values shared bymembers of society.The bewildering array of different messages and ideas also underminespeople’s faith in meta-narratives. In postmodernity, Identity alsobecomes destabilised. For example, instead of a fixed identity ascribedby our class, we can now construct our own identity from the wide rangeof images and lifestyles on offer in the media. We can easily change ouridentity simply by changing our consumption patterns – picking andmixing cultural goods and media produced images to define ourselves.Media created hyper-reality leaves us unable to distinguish image fromreality. This means that we have lost the power to improve society: ifwe cannot even grasp reality, then we have no power to change it.
  6. 6. Giddens – Disembedding & ReflexivityAccording to Giddens we are now at a stage of late or high modernity.One feature of late modernity is disembedding which is the “lifting out ofsocial relations from local contexts or interaction”. In other words, todaywe no longer need face-to-face contact in order to interact –disembedding breaks down geographical barriers and makes interactionmore impersonal.Giddens argues that tradition and custom become much less importantand no longer serve as a guide to how we should act, and we becomemore individualistic. For example sons are no longer expected to followthe same occupation as their fathers but are free to pursue their ownindividual goals instead.Because tradition no longer tells us how to act, we are forced to becomereflexive. That is, we have to constantly monitor, reflect on and modifyour actions in the light of information about the possible risks andopportunities that they might involve. Consequently, reflexivity meansthat nothing is fixed or permanent, everything is up for a challenge.Together, disembedding and reflexivity account for the rapid andwidespread nature of social change in high modernity. In particular, byenabling social interaction to spread rapidly across the globe, they helpto drive the process of globalisation.
  7. 7. Beck – Risk SocietyBeck believes that todays late modern society – which he calls “risksociety” – faces new dangers. Today these dangers are manufacturedrisks result from human activities, such as global warming and pollution.Also like Giddens, Beck sees late modernity as a period of growingindivualisation, in which we become increasingly reflexive. Tradition nolonger governs how we act. As a result we have to think for ourselvesand reflect on the possible consequences of our actions. This meanswe must constantly take account of the risks attached to the differentcourses of action open to us.As a result. “risk consciousness” becomes increasingly central to ourculture – we become more aware of perceived risks and seek to avoid orminimise them. For example, we read of the dangers or benefits of thisor that food and change our eating habits accordingly. However a greatdeal of our knowledge about risks comes from the media, which oftengive a distorted view of the dangers we face.

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