The Postmodern World
Historically, this is the period since the Middle Ages in Europe. 'Modern' society replaced traditional, feudal society and was based on rationalism and science.
The postmodern world is characterised by diversity, flux and fragmentation.These seem to be present in all aspects of social life including the family, the search for identity, conflicts etc. Many of the old 'certainties' have disappeared and we live in a new state of reality, even one of 'hyper-reality'.
The Deconstruction of Sociology
Sociology, particularly structuralist sociology is based on the notion that there are 'societies'. Postmodernism challenges this assumption.
Baudrillard, for example, argues that culture, the 'zeitgiest', or state of mind in a society, are what now constitutes 'reality' for more people in postmodern society. This examination of culture rather than structure should be the focus of sociology.
The Rejection of 'Meta-Narratives'
Since the 18th century, like the natural sciences, sociology has attempted to uncover 'the truth' about society. Early sociological theories in particular, set out to establish grand theories of social behaviour and the social structure which are called 'meta-narratives'.
Functionalism, Marxism, even some feminist thought have all tried to establish 'meta-narratives', societal-wide explanations of behaviour and social processes.
The Truth as Relative.
Postmodernism has replaced this search for meta-narratives with a perspective that sees the truth as relative. There is no inherently superior claim on the truth, only a variety of ways looking at the world.
The Pluralistic Nature of Knowledge.
Postmodern society has become a more 'pick and mix' culture, people are much more eclectic in the way in which they, for example, create their identity or carry out political actions.
Academic life reflects this, the old division into different disciplines is no longer appropriate and what is needed are approaches that draw on a number of disciplines.
Thompson has argued that postmodernism has been very helpful in terms of identifying areas where existing sociological research and theory seems to be lacking. It has challenged conceptions and assumptions that there has been a general societal trend towards rationalisation and secularisation.
By highlighting the existence of examples of social activity that seems to contradict that claim - of religious revivals and new modes of identity for example - Postmodernism has corrected some taken-for-granted assumptions made by sociologists.
Westergaard has postmodernism a sign of 'intellectual bankruptcy'. Just because there are flaws in the 'grand theories' of sociology, doesn't justify outright rejection of them. Just because it appears more difficult than ever before to establish causal relationships doesn't mean that sociology should cease from trying to identify causation.
Do social class, gender, ethnicity, etc no longer have any real significance? Simply because there are weaknesses within existing sociological theory and that social class, gender etc. may not have quite the power that existing theories suggest, doesn't mean that they are of no social significance. Even in postmodern society, class, gender, age etc. play a prominent role in determining people's experiences.
Westergaard also questions the 'evidence' of postmondernism. He suggests that they don't produce any direct evidence in support of their claims and rely on assertions, assumptions and speculation rather than any direct research.
Postmodernism is not a coherent theory. This is in line with their rejection of meta-narratives, but can still be seen as a weakness as it opens up the charge of just what exactly IS Postmodernism? There are some similar features between different Postmodern writers but this lack of coherence means that although it may have opened up some useful critical angles on the 'the Enlightenment project', Postmodernism has failed to establish itself as a dominant force within sociology.
Is there a 'postmodern society'? Some have argued that the flux and open-endedness in what is deemed 'postmodern society', is nothing new and is really typical of modern society. What is so different in terms of what may be happening now and what happened for example in various stages of the industrial revolution. Throughout 'modernity' there has been change and disruption with identities and social processes going through intense changes.