Postmodernism is a sociological theory that developed in the mid-late 20th century. It is different from 'modern' sociological theories in its distrust for metanarratives ('big pictures') and fixed truths.

Key Ideas

- In general, postmodernism question the conception of objective truth, thereby standing in an opposition opposing to most "objective methodology" in sociology.

- Postmodernism focus more on how individuals shape their personal narratives in making sense of their lives rather than analyzing how meta-narratives controls individual's life. Postmodernism claims that meta-narratives do not have such influence on individuals in society.

Postmodernity and truth

Post-modernism is distinctive in its conception of truth. Rather than agreeing with the modern scientific understanding of truth as an approachable, objective notion, postmodernism argue that the truth is essentially an artifical conception, and therefore it cannot be objective. It is important, however, to separate the conception of "truth" and the conception of "objective world", for it is common for people to perceive them as the same. Objective world is the world out there, the reality that will not be affected by human's mental state. Truth, however, is the connection achieved by understanding between human and the objective world. Post-modernism does not questions the objective world, but it suggests that there is no such thing as "objective truth"; or in another way, it suggests that there is no connection that help human and the objective world come together. Post-modernism suggests that science works as a "predicting system" that help to construct a model to both explain and predict the outcome of the confrontation between human (consciousness) and the objective world. It is more useful to define scientific progress as an increase in the predictive and explanatory power of the model, rather than a step forward reaching the objective world.

The attempt to destroy the "absolute certainty of truth" developed by the modern scientific understanding is crucial for the development of other postmodern ideas. As the certainty embedded in the modern societies is revealed as mere contingency, postmodernism is thus able to carry out its attempt to destroy the universal, and some how a biased western understanding of the world.

Postmodernity and society

As indicated in the word itself, postmodernity, or the general attitude of postmodernism, sets its foundation on the idea of "modernity". Only on the ground of a developed modernity can post-modernity be possible. In general terms, postmodernism objects the modernity through an attempt to destroy modernity's certainty in its beliefs and ideas. Postmodernism suggests that the set of assumptions in modernity -- such as the belief in individualism, a view of society progressing toward perfection with the development of science -- are essentially historical and cultural construction. The modern society and individual's perception of it are not a product of a predetermined 'destiny', but mere contingency.

Basing on such understandings, Postmodernism rejects a modern, unified perspective of the world. Just as the western understanding of modernity is the result of its historical and cultural construction, other cultures, such as Asian and Islamic ones, can develop their own version of modernity -- probably vastly different from that in the western culture -- basing on their own traditions and histories.

Postmodernism's insights allow it to construct an, arguably, more complex model to explain the society. Added to the recognition that societies' values are historically and culturally constructed is an understanding that even individuals inside a culture under the same historical condition develop their individual world view and values. Because the development of the communication system and the vast increase in the volume of knowledge, individuals can never understand the "whole picture". As the internet allows the signs to detach from the signified and create their own meanings independent of the signified (hyper reality), individuals can employ those signs and fragments of the "whole picture" of society to develop their own, personal narratives.

Postmodernity, as claimed by postmodernists, is a state of society in which people do not use meta-narratives -- such as religion, political ideology -- to make sense of their lives; instead, they construct their personal narratives. It can be said that postmodernism take a different view comparing to the structural theories, since it place more importance on the meanings individuals create in their interaction within the society -- and therefore it is closer to Weber's perspective in symbolic interactionism.

Postmodernism in sociology is a large and messy field that, unlike other theories, does not have a unified idea embedded in the perspective. But generally, postmodernism emphasize the fact that people create meanings that both frame their understanding of the outside world and motivate them to act. As introduced in the earlier paragraph, postmodernism states that the in the postmodern society individuals no longer believe in a unified system of beliefs such as religion and political ideology; rather, they create meaning by using fragments of ideas they encountered to construct their own system of beliefs. They legitimate their personal choices and construct their own identities basing on their own system of beliefs, or in another word their personal narratives. A good example of this might be a shift in attitude in morality. In earlier times of a society the members believe in a shared system of moral beliefs -- and according to many meta-narratives those moral beliefs constitutes objective moral truth. But in the modern world the shared acknowledge of morality is broken down and "whether a choice is right or wrong" seems to be more of a personal preference rather than a judgement dictated by some objective or divine measurements.

Basing on the view listed above, postmodernism reject many other perspectives by suggesting that it is wrong to assume that individuals in a society act or construct their identity on a set school of meanings. The idea that individuals use fragmented ideas to construct their personal narrative will ultimately move postmodernism to suggests that individuals in society may have vastly different meaning assigned to the same action. And thus postmodernism generally promote qualitative methodology and accuse structuralists to be over-generalizing.


- First of all, postmodernism is not a unified school of thoughts. It will be over-simplifying in referring to postmodernism as a always self-consistent perspective.

- Many postmodernism write rationally in trying to argue against other theories, while in itself postmodernism does not believe in both objective understanding and the superiority of one way of understanding. It can be argued that this perspective is not being consistent.

-Noam Chomsky,"They are nice people but they are hard to understand."

How do I use this in an exam?

-Postmodernism suggests that meta-narratives no longer convince; this can be used to criticize any other theory.

-Postmodernism can be criticized by any other theory because it does not offer a coherent explanation of the society as a whole.

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