In a nutshell, postmodernism rose out of the perceived problems and dangers that were brought by the modern era of the world. With most parts of the world being under the influence of modern theoretical perspective like objectivity and scientific inclination, most of the theories that can be categorized under postmodernism can be defined as an attack and criticism to the perceived problems of philosophers, sociologist and even artists to the reality that was created by modernism (Kellner, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Under the banner of postmodernism, we can see numerous thinkers that had attempted to analyze the modern world using their postmodern spectacles. Among this thinker are French philosopher and sociologist jean Baudrillard and Zygmunt Bauman who manage to provide a rich and fertile discussion on the discourse of postmodernism and the cultural and sociological framework of the modern world. In this paper, two thinkers shall be put in focus. These two thinkers are so vital and important in the postmodern discourse that understanding their thoughts and ideas will enable us to understand more the context of postmodernism. Jean Baudrillard
Just like any postmodernist theorists, the ideas presented by Jean Baudrillard can be characterized to be an attempt to analyze the modern sociological and cultural framework. In many cases, he managed to provide a discourse through the comparison of modern practical and theoretical system and pre-modern practical and theoretical system (i. e. frameworks during the industrial revolution). A good example that is very notable is his conception of the value system. For Baudrillard, the modern world had managed to provide numerous ways of characterizing value. He named at least four value systems that can characterize something or someone.
The first one is the functional value which is in relation to the functionality and instrumental use of the object. The second one is the exchange value which is the value of the object in relation to the economic condition and economic sense of manufacturing it. The third one is the symbolic value which is in relation to the relationship of the object to some individual or group of individual (e. g. diamond ring for marriage proposal). Lastly is the sign value which is the value of an object in a given set or system of objects due to the idea or values that it may represent (Baudrillard & Levin 132-133).
According to Baudrillard, the modern world today with all the products and things that are being developed are enabling the construction of a new world system that is based on the third and fourth kind of value system. This means that most of the objects and products today base their values on a superficial value system. This is in contrast to the value system of eras like the industrial revolution wherein things and objects are manufactured and made out of functionality and essence.
This arrangement of the modern world that is based on superficiality of value is ought to be destructed soon due to the empty bubble that it creates that is not based on people’s needs but rather to people’s superficial beliefs and desires. An idea also related to the value system is Baudrillard’s idea on simulacra and simulation. For him, what we have in the modern world is a system wherein we perceive things that are not really real and necessary. We are now living in a world wherein we acknowledge things like holiness, titles, prestige and other categories which do not really exist.
It is comparable to a hyper-reality wherein we are living in a world where we acknowledge references without real referents. Much of our activities are contributing to the development of this ‘simulacra’. In many cases, we disregard what is real and just fit to live under the influence of this new and alternative reality. Baudrillard argues that this is indeed a dangerous system wherein we are living our lives in this new reality and we are living what is truly real to rot and be set aside (Baudrillard, 50-51). Indeed, much of Baudrillard’s philosophies and criticisms are ought to make us review and rethink the human condition.
With his ideas on superficial value system and simulacrum, we are being forced to open ourselves and think outside what the society taught us to be. We are being taught by Baudrillard to perceive and see things as it is for us learn more in the real world. Zygmunt Bauman Together with Baudrillard, Bauman, a Polish sociologist had also provided a fertile ground in the discourse in modernity, culture and consumerism. Just like other postmodernist thinkers, Bauman had offered a picture of the modern arrangement of the modern world.
He argued that what we have now is a society which preferred individual freedom rather than collective security. Prior to this system is an arrangement wherein individuals highly regards its power over nature, efficiency, hierarchy, rules and regulation. This is aimed to make our world safer and more secure. For Bauman, this is the characterization of the solid modernity. However, people had observed that despite these constructive efforts to bring peace, security and stability; there are groups that cannot just be really controlled.
This groups or individuals which cannot be controlled shall be referred as ‘strangers’. As a response, this solid form of modernity will later transform to a liquid form of modernity. In this new form of modernity, what are more important are the individual pursuit and the new level of freedom. However, this new sets of characteristics are made possible at the expense of concepts like security (Bauman, Postmodernity and its Discontents, 130). In this new type of modernity, numerous problems are arising. Primarily, the classic institutions like school, government and even laws are now losing its grip to the people.
The task of finding one’s individual path is left to the people. People are forced to decide for their own goals and actions which often bring confusion and disarray. The strangers mentioned earlier in the first part of the discussion are also experiencing problems. Bauman for example relates these theoretical strangers to the Jews in the time of the Holocaust. He argued that though societies are being enticed with the spontaneity and actions of the strangers, they are at the same time afraid of them because no one knows what they will do next. In this sense, the Jews are the strangers of Europe.
The Holocaust is the result of the fear to these Jews that is made possible with the fertile ground provided by this new kind of modernity (Bauman, Intimations of postmodernity, 94). Conclusion One cannot deny the historical pattern of societal system that exists in our world. As one societal arrangement managed to rise and exist, a new one will come to arise out of its shortcomings and mistakes. As the modern society managed to successfully challenged earlier system such as feudalism, postmodernism is also a response for the shortcomings of modernity.
Then again, we can always argue that postmodernism will improve the live that we have. Though we gain much from the modern system, we also lose much. The ideas of postmodernism are an attempt to repair our society and to reestablish or regain those functional characteristics that were dropped or erased because of our shift to modernism. Though some people can and may argue against this, one thing is for sure, the ideas of postmodernism are giving us a shot for a chance to improve our lives. Works Cited Aylesworth, Gary. Postmodernism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2005
Baudrillard, Jean & Levin, Charles. For a critique of the political economy of the sign. Telos Press, 1981 Baudrillard, Jean. Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: Sage, 1976/1993 Bauman, Zygmunt. Does Ethics have a Chance in a World of Consumes. Harvard University Press, 2009 Bauman, Zygmunt. Intimations of Postmodernity. London: Routledge, 1992 Bauman, Zygmunt. Post Modernity and its Discontents. New York University Press, 1997 Kellner, Douglas. Jean Baudrillard. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007 Klages, Mary. Postmodernism. University of Colorado, 2003
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