Postmodernism- Theory and Methods

Notes on Postmodernism

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Globalisation, Modernity and Postmodernity
`Society has now entered a new, postmodern age and we need new theories to understand it'.
Assess this view (33 marks)
We need to look at two main issues:
1. Some of the major changes that have occurred in society in recent decades.
2. Theories that have been put forward to explain these changes.
Society has been undergoing important changes in recent times e.g. growing impact of new technology and the
media, new social and political movements based on gender, environmental concerns etc.
Some sociologists see these changes to be major and represent a change from the modern era to a postmodern
Others however, acknowledge the changes but do not see them to be as significant. Thus, they argue we are still
living in a modern society.
As we move to different societies we also need to question the theories we use to understand this new society.
Some adopt postmodern theories whilst others simply adapt existing theories e.g. postmodern Feminism and
postmodern Marxism.
Modernity and Globalisation
Most of the theories we have looked at so far can be classified as modernist theories they believe that society
can progress through the use of human reason. Rationality and science will enable us to discover true
knowledge about society and the natural world. With this knowledge we can progress to a better future for freedom
and prosperity.
Characteristics of modern society (p253)
The Nation State...
They key political unit in modern society a bounded territory ruled by a powerful centralised state, whose population
usually shares the same language and culture. We tend to think of the modern world as made up of a series of
separate societies, each with its own state,
It is a focal point of modern society, organising social life on a national basis. Modern states have created large
administrative bureaucracies and educational, welfare and legal institutions to regulate their citizens' lives. The
nationstate is also an important source of identity for citizens, who identify with its symbols such as the flag.
The economy of modern societies is capitalist based on private ownership of the means of production and the use
of wage labourers. Capitalism brought about the industrialisation of modern society, with huge increases in wealth.
HOWEVER, wealth distribution is unequal, resulting in class conflict. The nation state becomes important in regulating
capitalism and maintaining the conditions under which it operates. LASH AND URRY describe this as `organised
In modern industry, production is organised on Fordist principles: the mass production of standardised products in
large factories, using low skilled labour. Cheap, mass produced consumer goods lead to a rising standard of living.
Rationality, Science and Technology...
Rational, secular, scientific ways of thinking dominate and the influence of magicoreligious explanations of the world
declines. Technically efficient forms of organisation, such as bureaucracies and factories, dominate social and
economic life. Science becomes increasingly important in industry, medicine and communications.

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Tradition, custom and ascribed status become less important as the basis for our actions. We experience greater
personal freedom and can increasingly choose our own course in life and define our own identity. HOWEVER,
structural inequalities such as class remain important in shaping peoples identify and restricting their choices.
Many Sociologists now believe that we are increasingly affected by globalisation ­ the increasing
interconnectedness of people across national boundaries.…read more

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Today we find ourselves in a global culture in which Westernowned media companies spread Western culture to the
rest of the world. Economic integration also encourages a global culture. E.g. TNCs such as Nike, selling the same
consumer goods in many countries, help to promote similar tastes across national borders. In addition, the
increased movement of people as tourists, economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers helps to create
globalised culture.
It also undermines traditional sources of identify such as class.…read more

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Baudrillard like lyotard, sees society as having entered postmodernity and he relates this change to
language and knowledge. However, unlike Lyotard, he is pessimistic about this change.
Baudrillard sees society as having moved away from buying and selling of good to the buying and selling of
signs and images. Baudrillard calls these signs simulacra ­ they are not signs of something real e.g. Tabloid
newspaper articles about fictitious soap opera characters are signs about signs rather than about an underlying
reality.…read more

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Theories of Late Modernity
Unlike postmodernism, theories of late modernity argue that the rapid changes we are witnessing are not the
dawn of a new era, postmodern era. Instead they are part of modernity.
They recognise something important is happening. In their view things have just become more intensified.
If this is true modern theories are still useful unlike postmodernists.
Giddens claims we are now at the stage of late or high modernity. We are experiencing rapid changes ­
often on a global scale.…read more

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Marxist Theories of Postmodernity (possible conclusion)
Believe in the Enlightenment project like Beck and Giddens of achieving objective knowledge and using it to
improve the world.
However, some Marxist such as Jameson and Harvey believe we have moved form a modern to a
postmodern era.
They differ from postmodernists in that they see postmodernism as a stage of capitalism rather than a break
with the past.…read more


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