Theory postmodernism

John Bradford
John BradfordAssistant Professor of Sociology en Mississippi Valley State University
Postmodernism,[object Object],(in a nutshell),[object Object]
Note on Terminology,[object Object],Very few of authors regarded as ‘Postmodern’ consider themselves postmodernists!,[object Object],Most intellectuals considered ‘Postmodern’ are French (or French Canadian),[object Object],‘Postmodern’ is often used as a term of derision (especially by neo-Marxists and conservatives)  ,[object Object],‘Post-modernism’ is often used interchangeably with ‘Post-structuralism’ although these mean different things in different fields.,[object Object]
Some (in)famous “post-structuralists”,[object Object],Jacques Derrida,[object Object],“Deconstruction”,[object Object],Michel Foucault,[object Object],Knowledge = power,[object Object],Edward Said,[object Object],“Orientalism”,[object Object],Jean Baudrillard,[object Object],“Hyper-reality and ,[object Object],Simulations”,[object Object],Jean-François Lyotard,[object Object],“End of Meta-narratives”,[object Object]
Postmodernism: within or beyond Modernity?,[object Object],Opponents of ‘postmodernism’:  We still live in the same old, modern society.  These people use the term “postmodernism” to refer to a cultural reaction within modern societies, e.g. a sense of disillusionment.  ,[object Object],‘Postmodernists’:  Even though they don’t call themselves ‘Postmodernists’, these authors argue (or are understood as arguing) that we have entered a new erabeyond modernity.  ,[object Object]
Some tenets of ‘Post-Modernism’,[object Object],Opposition to universals, ‘meta-narratives’, and generality; critical of the Enlightenment.,[object Object],History isn’t progress,[object Object],There is no ‘Truth’ (or Truth has no ‘foundations’),[object Object],People (‘subjects’ or ‘subjectivity’) are products of power, and power is everywhere [Foucault],[object Object]
Postmodern buzz-words and slogans,[object Object],Opposes essentialism, binaries and binary thinking, the ‘subject’, Western meta-narratives, ,[object Object],Supportssub-altern peoples, marginalized, identities, ‘the Other’.,[object Object]
“The Masters of Suspicion”,[object Object],Three intellectual figures can be regarded as the three most important progenitors (originators) of Postmodern thinking:,[object Object],Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud(although Marx is considered a modernist),[object Object]
C Wright Mills,[object Object],Postmodernism as “fourth Epoch”,[object Object],Our ways of thinking are inherited from a world that no longer exists.  ,[object Object],Rationality has not lead to increased freedom,[object Object],-The Idea of Reason and Freedom are of no practical significance anymore.,[object Object],	-Freedom cannot exist without reason,[object Object]
C Wright Mills,[object Object],Note:  Mills is generally not considered a ‘postmodernist’ despite the fact that he was the first sociologist to use the term!  He argued that we had entered a postmodern age.,[object Object],Foucault and Baudrillard, however, are regarded as ‘Postmodernist’ but didn’t use the term! ,[object Object]
Are we becoming “Cheerful Robots?”,[object Object]
Michel Foucault Power/Knowledge,[object Object]
Power/Knowledge,[object Object],1. Knowledge is always made possible by a “will to power” (Nietzsche’s term).  Knowledge is a form of power.  ,[object Object],Foucault adopts Nietzsche’s radical perspectivalism.  ,[object Object],2.  The individual is an effect of power.,[object Object],Focuses on how our bodies and emotions are shaped by power.  ,[object Object],The enlightenment was not emancipatory.,[object Object],Merely another apparatus of power/knowledge.  There was no “progress”.  ,[object Object]
Power/Knowledge,[object Object],Basic Idea: Truth is produced by power.,[object Object],What counts as knowledge differs across societies and across time.  Foucault argues that the idea of progress is illusory:  knowledge does not make one free.   ,[object Object],Each society has its own ‘truth discourse’ (e.g. religion, science, etc.) which presupposes some social power relationships.  What we think of as Western ‘progress’ is really just another form of domination and control.  We replace one experience of reality with another…,[object Object]
Power/Knowledge,[object Object],This is similar to the adage that “Knowledge is power”, but this usually just means that we can acquire personal power if we study a lot or if we are ‘in the know’.  For Foucault, the identity of power and knowledge also contains an epistemological (philosophical) meaning, in the sense that what counts as knowledge always depends on social relations.  ,[object Object],In other words, he brackets or suspends the question of the Truth of knowledge, and instead examines its pragmatic effects.  Because knowledge is always produced and communicated socially, he looks at the social correlates of knowledge, the social causes and consequences of different forms of knowledge, its social (i.e. institutional, organizational, relational) preconditions and effects.  In short, everything is (reduced to) power!  Unlike Habermas and Chomsky, Foucault does not believe in a universal Truth, Human Nature, or Justice.,[object Object]
Power/Knowledge,[object Object],Foucault is suggesting that power is not a tool that individuals or groups of people use; rather we are the tools of power.  In Foucault’s analysis, power becomes the subject or agent of history.  You may be not far off to say that he anthropomorphizes power.,[object Object],For Foucault, there is no outside to power.  We cannot escape it.  We are always embedded in the web of power relations.  ,[object Object]
Power/Knowledge,[object Object],How to Study Power:,[object Object],Focus on ‘capillaries’ of power; power at its end-points, rather than at its centers; less focus on legal power,[object Object],Power is not always conscious or intended; do not ask ‘why people want to dominate others’,[object Object],Power is not possessed, but rather circulates in a web or network,[object Object],“We all have a fascism in our heads”, or “We all have a power in our bodies”,[object Object],- “The Soul is the Prison of the Body”,[object Object]
Foucault on Sex and the ‘Repressive Hypothesis’,[object Object],Basic Argument:  power produces that which it represses.,[object Object],Power is productive; production Is primary,[object Object],17th Century entailed a “proliferation of discourses about sex”; people became obsessed with talking about sex!,[object Object],Example:  Confession,[object Object]
Foucault on Sex and the ‘Repressive Hypothesis’,[object Object],Foucault argues against the so-called “Repressive Hypothesis” held by Reich and Freud. The Repressive Hypothesis states that sex has historically been repressed in Western society.  Power is that which says ‘NO’ or ‘Thou Shalt Not.’ ,[object Object],Foucault argues that power has produced or “incited” numerous discourses on sex and sexuality.   Power is not only that which says “No”; rather, power affirms, incites, and generates.  Power “deploys” sexuality, and generates rules and etiquette for when to speak about sex and when to remain silent. Foucault counters that the cultural obsession with sex, and its constitution as an object of knowledge (religious, ethical, scientific, medical, etc.) is a consequence of power.,[object Object]
Criticisms of Foucault:  Giddens,[object Object],Giddens rejects idea of ‘subject-less history’ (i.e. that history is dominated by forces of which people are totally unaware.) ,[object Object],He develops his theory of structuration to counter this view. There is no transcendent subject, but there are definitely knowledgelable human subjects. Remember Marx: “men make history but under conditions of their own choosing.”,[object Object],Giddens rejects idea that Power is the real agent of history.  ,[object Object],But prisons were built by sate authorities with specific aims in mind.,[object Object]
Criticisms of Foucault:  Giddens,[object Object],Prison and factory are too closely related by Focuault. ,[object Object],Work-place is not a “total institution” to use Goffmans’ term. Workers are forced into the factory. Docile bodies are not so docile after-all!,[object Object],4.  Foucault underplays the real gains made by liberal freedoms. Liberalism is not despotism. ,[object Object],5.  Like Marx, Foucault over-generalizes “the state”- there is no ‘the’ state, only multiple nation-states,[object Object]
Habermas on Foucault,[object Object],No normative basis for criticizing power,[object Object],Nancy Fraser writes: Why fight at all? Foucault can’t provide normative reasons for resisting power. Hence his cryptonormativism. ,[object Object],Performative contradiction: Is Foucault is correct, his own discourse is without foundation, and only an effect of power. On the other hand, if his truth claims were merely illusory effects, then the undertaking has no point. ,[object Object]
Habermas on Foucault,[object Object],His philosophy is a monism of power. It is also ahistorical.,[object Object],Foucault’s theory lacks a mechanism of social integration, e.g. language. ,[object Object],Are we to explain the socialization of children, for example, as arising solely through a confrontation with power?,[object Object]
Other criticisms,[object Object],Foucault fails to recognize that different objects of knowledge are self-referential or self-generated to varying degrees. Foucault’s analysis of power, then, is more appropriate to the social sciences than to the natural sciences. By failing to recognize this, Foucault over-generalizes the scope of his analysis. ,[object Object],In addition, he fails to articulate criteria by which we can evaluate the relative importance of different forces in the construction of domains of knowledge.,[object Object]
Jean BaudrillardSimulations and Hyper-reality,[object Object]
Introducing Baudrillard,[object Object],The Gulf War did not take place!,[object Object],The World Trade Center bombing of Sept. 11th heralded the (fractal) Fourth World War!  ,[object Object],History has reached its end, the Crystal has taken revenge!  ,[object Object],There is no truth!  ,[object Object],Hyper-reality:  it’s more real than real, to the extreme! ,[object Object]
Baudrillard’s influences,[object Object],Marx ,[object Object],Now production is eclipsed by re-production.  ,[object Object],Guy Debord’sidea of “society of the spectacle”  We become passive spectators.  Images and symbols exchange like commodities.,[object Object],Nietzsche,[object Object],Perspectivalism.  Truth is a simulation.  ,[object Object],De Saussure and semiotics theory,[object Object],Sign and signifiers,[object Object],Baudrillard argues that signs only refer to other signs,[object Object],Marcel Mauss (anthropology) ,[object Object],The “gift” as opposed to exchange.  ,[object Object],The idea of the potlatch,[object Object]
Baudrillard’s influence on culture,[object Object],Jean Baudrillard’sSimulacra and Simulation appeared in the first Matrix movie.,[object Object],Baudrillard argues that there are only appearances!  There is nothing underneath illusion, just other illusions!,[object Object]
Signs deter the Real,[object Object],Signs deter reality; Just as the legal system functions by utilizing images of punishment in order to make unnecessary real punishment, so to signs anticipate and substitute for the real:  "simulations deter every real process via an operational double" (SS, 2). ,[object Object]
Simulations and Signs,[object Object],To simulate = “to feign to have something one does not have”,[object Object],{To dissimulate = “to feign not to have what one has”},[object Object],The term "simulacrum" goes all the way back to Plato, who used it to describe a false copy of something.,[object Object],Phases of the image/sign:,[object Object],The reflection of a profound reality;,[object Object],A mask of a profound reality;,[object Object],A mask of the absence of a profound reality;,[object Object],A simulacra bearing no relation to reality whatsoever,[object Object]
Simulations and Signs,[object Object],Phases of the image/sign:,[object Object],The reflection of a profound reality;,[object Object],The image of god is God (e.g. a God-king),[object Object],A mask of a profound reality;,[object Object],A name or image re-represents (symbolizes) God,[object Object],A mask of the absence of a profound reality;,[object Object],Talk of God conceals the fact that God doesn’t exist.,[object Object],A simulacra bearing no relation to reality whatsoever,[object Object],God is a simulation (??),[object Object]
Three Orders of Simulation,[object Object],The emergence of counterfeits (fakes) ,[object Object],The reduplication of signs in an infinite series during the Industrial Revolution ,[object Object],(what Walter Benjamin called the ''Age of Mechanical Reproduction" in which the singular aura of objects is lost).,[object Object],The legal system of right and wrong also corresponds to this order.  ,[object Object],The age of hyperreality and simulation.,[object Object],Can you ‘fake’ a bank robbery?,[object Object]
Simulations,[object Object],“All Western faith and good faith became engaged in this wager on representation:  that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could be exchanged for meaning and that something could guarantee this meaning exchange-  God of course.  But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to the signs that constitute faith?  Then the whole system becomes weightless, it no longer but a gigantic simulacrum- not unreal, but a simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without circuit or circumference.”  (SS, 6),[object Object]
Hyper-Reality of Disneyland,[object Object],"Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas Los Angeles [is] no longer real, but belongs to the hyperreal order and to the order of simulation."  ,[object Object]
Hyper-Reality,[object Object],Although the US lost the Vietnam war on the ground, they won it in the hyperreal realm through films like Apocalypse Now and Platoon, which fantastically replay the war not as the story of defeat by a determined enemy, but as that of internal division.,[object Object]
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Notas del editor

  1. This is in contrast to the theories we have examined so far: that power is possessed by one group or individual over another (including Lukes, but also Mills, Domhoff, and pluralists like Dahl); that power is the capacity of concrete individuals acting in concert to produce some result (Arendt); that power is the capacity of a system of roles rather than concrete individuals (Parsons); that Power is a ‘circulating medium’ (Habermas, Parsons), and so on.
  2. Foucault famously links the architecture of schools, prisons, and factories to a common design: that of the “Panopticon” of the utilitarian philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham. The Panopticon is a prison in which the cells circle around a central guard tower. The guards can see the prisoners, but the prisoners cannot see the guards or each other. The prisoners can only guess when they are being watched, and therefore internalize the sense of being watched (surveillance).