The terms post-modernity, post-modernism and post-modern have been extremely well documented in the fields of sociology and philosophy. My main aim in this essay is to assess whether or not these concepts are useful in sociological analysis. I also wish to give examples of them and show whether or not there has been any real historical change between the periods of modernity and post-modernity. In order to do this, I will draw upon the works of sociologists such as Stuart Hall, Anthony Giddens, Jean Braudillard and Jean-Francois Lyotard.
The period of time known as modernism has some distinct features.
Historically, it is associated with the age of Enlightenment, which began towards the end of the eighteenth century. The Enlightenment is said to have three predominant features; intellectually there was the power of reason over ignorance, there was the power of order over disorder and there was the power of science over superstition. The emphasis in the work place soon became based on levels of production and efficiency.
This remarkable shift in beliefs and values made way for capitalism, which was seen as the groundwork for which the human race could achieve progress.
This progress took the form of industrial capitalism. Fordism for example, became one of the most efficient methods of production and was soon adopted in many different industries. It was not until the late 1970’s that French intellectuals such as Foucault, Leyotard and Braudillard began to question this idea of continual progress. To them, society had changed its momentum.
This new movement in sociological thought rejected the idea that we were still in the period known as modernity. They believed that modernity had created an era of industrial capitalism and that now we were clearly beyond that.
This new period soon became know as post-modernism and/or post-modernity. It should be addressed however, that there are no clear-cut definitions of these terms. Post modernism and post modernity usually refer to different areas within this historical movement. For example, modernism and post-modernism are usually associated with movements in art, literature, philosophy and architecture, whereas modernity and post-modernity usually refer to social and economic changes (Giddens. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity).
Jean-Francois Lyotard would agree with the above definitions, but developed them further in ‘Libidinal Economy’ (1974). He argues that a key feature of post-modern society was secular representation and the ‘pleasure principle’ as opposed to scientific rationality and the ‘reality principle’. He also stated that post-modern philosophy has two main roles. Firstly, to undermine universality and stress ambiguity, and secondly to demonstrate the role of arts and emotions in production and reception of knowledge.
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