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Flashcards in Modernity and postmodernism Deck (24)
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The Enlightenment Project

Modernist theories, e.g. Marxism, are part of the Enlightenment project- the idea that through reason and science, we can discover true knowledge and progress to a better society.


The characteristics of a modern society

Modern society emerged from the late 18th century. Its characteristics include the nation state, capitalism, science and technology and individualism.


The Nation State

is the focal point of modern society, organising social life on a national basis. The nation state is also an important source of identity for citizens, who identify with its symbols, such as the flag.



The economy of modern society is capitalist- based on private ownership of the means of production and the use of wage labourers. Capitalism brought about industrialisation, with huge increases in wealth.


Rationality, Science and technology

Rational, scientific ways of thinking dominate and the influence of religious explanations of the world declines.



Tradition, custom and ascribed status is replaced with achieved status and personal freedom. We can increasingly choose our own course in life and define our own identity.



Until recently, the nation state provided the basic framework for most people's lives. However, many sociologists argue that we are now affected by globalisation- the increasing interconnectedness of people across national boundaries. We live in one 'global village' and our lives are shaped by a global framework. The four changes which have helped bring this about include: technological changes, economic changes, political changes and changes in culture and identity.


Technological changes

e.g. the internet and air travel create time-space compression. We can now cross entire continents in a matter of hours, or exchange information across the globe with the click of a mouse.


Economic changes

Global networks dominate economic activity. Instead of producing physical goods, the global economy now involves the production of information. These commodities are distributed through global networks. Global 24 hour transactions permit the instantaneous transfer of goods around the world, in pursuit of profit


Political changes

The fall of communism and the growth in transnational bodies have created opportunities for global capitalism


Changes in culture and identity

Westernised global culture makes it harder for cultures to exist in isolation due to the role of information and communication technology, especially the mass media. Globalisation undermines traditional sources of identity.


Postmodernism- NEW ERA

Postmodernism is a major intellectual movement that has emerged since the 1970s. Postmodernists argue that we are now living in a new era of postmodernity. Postmodernity is an unstable, fragmented, media saturated global village, where image and reality are indistinguishable. In postmodern society, we define ourselves by what we consume. It is not a continuation with modernity, but a fundamental break with it. For postmodernists, this new kind of society requires a new kind of theory-modernist theories no longer apply.



Postmodernists reject meta narratives-as they believe it is just one version of reality, or the truth. They are critical of meta narratives, such as Marxism, that claim the absolute truth of society, as it can create oppressive states that impose their version of the truth on people.



Rejecting meta narratives that claim the absolute truth , postmodernists take a relativist position. They argue that no one has special access for the truth, all views are true for those who hold them. All accounts of reality are equally valid and we should therefore recognise and celebrate the diversity of views in society rather than seek to impose one version of the truth on everyone


Jean Francis Lyotard

Lyotard claimed that knowledge is just series of competing ideas for the truth. However, this postmodern approach is preferable to modern society, where meta narratives claimed a monopoly of the truth and sometimes sought to enforce it


Jean Baudrillard- HYPER REALITY

He claims that postmodern society is a hyper reality where what is real and what is fiction is so seamless it is unclear where one ends and the other begins. He identifies television and the mass media as the main contributor to this



Baudrillard believes that in post modern society, we deal in signs or symbols of reality, instead of the reality itself. He calls these symbols 'Simularca': symbols of some other real thing. This marks a difference to modern society that was based on the production of material goods.



Culture and identity in postmodern society differ drastically from modern society, especially because of the role of the media in creating hyper-reality. The media produce an endless stream of ever changing images and versions of the truth. Because of this, culture becomes fragmented and unstable, so that there is no longer a fixed set of values shared by the members of society.



For example, instead of a fixed identity ascribed by our class, we can construct our own identity from the wide range of images and lifestyles on offer in the media. We can easily change our identity by changing our consumption patterns- picking and mixing cultural goods and media-produced images to define ourselves.



Media created hyper-reality leaves us unable to distinguish image from reality. This means that we have lost the power to improve society: if we have lost the power to grasp society, then we have no power to change it. It seems that, while we can change our identity by going shopping, we cannot change society.


Evaluation of Postmodernism
-Is postmodernism a theory at all?

While postmodernism has identified some important features of today's society, does it actually provide an explanation or just a description? Critics say it fails to explain why important features of society today, such as consumption and the media, have come about.


-Postmodernism is very pessimistic

Baudrillard suggests that members of society today have become incapable of instigating change in society. Modern sociology emerged in the 19th century in the rapidly developing modern industrial societies of Europe in keeping with the Enlightenment project. Sociologists sought to develop theories that they could use to improve society, or perhaps even to create the perfect society. If postmodern society argues that we have lost the capacity to change society for the better, it could be said the point or goal of sociology altogether has been lost.


Criticisms from modern theories

Postmodernism doesn't provide a theory at all- doesn't commit to a meta narrative



Postmodernism raises the question of whether we have entered a new era of society. Although there is evidence of this new era, a new theory of society may be unnecessary since feminists, Marxists and functionalists still believe their theories explain society today.