What is modernism • The modern period is characterised as western society since the industrial revolution. • Modernity brought with it urbanisation, class stratification, ideology, growth of the nation state and bureaucracy. • It also saw the birth of sociology as an academic discipline with rational structural theories to explain how society works – positivism, functionalism, Marxism • Modernity saw attempts to explain society, human behaviour, politics and sexuality with all embracing theories – postmodernists call such theories “grand narratives” or master narratives. Post Modernism rejects ‘master narratives’.
What is Postmodernism • Postmodernists like Lyotard and Bauldrillard claim that society has moved on since the modern period. This movement has been caused by: • Globalisation reducing the power of the nation state. • Economic changes fragmenting social classes and diffusing their values. • Relativism – a way of looking at the world which rejects the so called objective truth of ‘grand narratives’ one man’s truth is seen as just as valid as another's! • The rise in importance of ‘identity’. Rather than identifying with particular social classes post modernists suggest people construct their own identities like consumers in a market place, ‘picking and mixing’ as they see fit.
Postmodernism and social class • Social class and its influence is seen to be in ‘terminal decline’ • Society is far more diverse than it was 50 years ago – class divisions are less distinct, and the impact of class on the individual felt less keenly. • Identity constructed by the individual is more important in understanding society.
Post Modernism and Politics • Pomos identify the decline of OSMs (modernist movements based on class and ideology) and celebrate the rise of NSMs based on diversity, identity and choice – environmentalism, gay rights, feminism, animal rights, civil rights • The post modernist Baudrilliard has spoken of the ‘death of politics’ – meaning the death of old politics
PoMo Theory of Politics • Identity politics more important than class and ideology • People have lost faith in old ‘met narratives’ – big modernist theories which seek to explain society or politics – Marxism, functionalism, socialism, Conservatism etc. • Politics and economics have become globalised – NSMs therefore tend to operate globally in response • Protest, demonstration and other forms of direct action are the preferred methods of NSMs and the ‘new politics’
Baudrillard (1984) • Old Politics dead • Politics has since become detached from reality – all about image rather than substance • All parties essentially the same – not a real choice just choice of ‘image’ • Politicians and the state have no real power but spend enormous amounts of time and effort trying persuade us that they do by rehashing and repeating old ‘dead’ ideas that no longer have relevance
Lyotard (1984) • Identifies ‘meta narratives’ or big stories from modern period e.g. Socialism. Capitalism, communism etc. No one believes in them, no longer relevant and none of them are true • Politics is therefore no longer about principles. Instead ‘issues’ that are local in origin are becoming more and more important • Power comes from knowledge NOT wealth, election or class
Nancy Fraser (1995) • The private sphere has become more important than the public sphere (state and economy) in politics today • Identify, sexuality, gender and ethnicity have become the drivers which form ‘issues’ in post modern politics • Previously powerless groups such as gay rights, ethnic minorities etc. Are becoming more and more important in creating the ‘issues’ debated in politics – politicians increasingly have to take note
Foucault (1970’s) • Power is not found in structures like the state or class – instead it is formed by language • Foucault identifies ‘discourses’ – ways people talk about things. Particular discourses become dominant and shape our understanding of morality – discourses therefore have power over us, and as we believe them we become self regulators • Post modern power is therefore SUBTLE rather than the coercive power of the modern age. • There is no fixed reality. We shape ‘discourses' and eventually become out own police force • Power is also everywhere (variable sum) eventually forming a net of embedded beliefs from which we find it impossible to break free. • Foucault in ‘Discipline and Power’ also identified the use of observation in schools, mental institution and society generally as a means of controlling peoples behaviour. When people believe they are always being watched they act as though they are always being watched and therefore conform
Critique • Structuralists (like Marxists) highlight the continued impact of class on life chances and social behaviour (think back to education and voting behaviour for 2 examples) • Relativism has been roundly criticised – relativism can lead to some disturbing outcomes – holocaust denial, conspiracy theorising. • Lots of empirical evidence can be cited for the continuing importance of wealth, class and gender in determining life chances and access to power • Learn More About Po-Mo! • http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/pomo.html