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Postmodern Society: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:01 Difficulty Defining…
  • 0:37 Modernism and…
  • 3:20 Postmodern Society Concept
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

This lesson describes postmodern society, as well as postmodernism in general. Some elements of modernism are discussed as well, as a frame of reference against which postmodernism is constructed.

Difficulty Defining Postmodernism

Postmodernism is occasionally cursed by pundits as an 'anything goes' approach to, well, everything. Postmodern society is said to be a society free of moral direction, but what is it, really? Postmodernism is an often-cited concept in a variety of fields. Part of the problem with defining postmodernism is its eclectic nature, which translates into a variety in the ways it may be encountered. This lesson will help eliminate some of the ambiguity inherent in dealing with the concept of society as postmodern.

Modernism and Postmodern Varieties

There are a variety of ways to define postmodernism. This is because the postmodern is a movement within a variety of disciplines. They can be as different from one another as architecture, sociology, and philosophy.

First, briefly, one most conceptualize the term modernism. Modernism was the belief that all systems were working toward a goal, with value judgments placed on societal systems through ranking their importance. The precise goal depended upon the system in question, but to the modernist, history was the story of things getting better and better, toward a brighter future and things could be measured and compared by objectively verifiable criteria.

Postmodernism was the response to these beliefs. This school of thought basically said that societal systems can't be ranked in such a way. Postmodernism includes criticism of supposedly superior modern ideas as well as the inclusion of earlier material and techniques. This is very abstract, but we're going to explore more concrete concepts momentarily. In short, postmodernism was a response to the value-laden judgments of modernism that turned a critical lens on concepts of best systems and structures.

Note that the definition above is a bit nebulous. It gets more confusing in a variety of ways, since there are multiple ways exist to define the term postmodern. Much in the same way that postmodern techniques eschew the purported unity of the modern, the definitions of postmodern vary by field and the intent of the user of the term. For instance, some people will define the post- prefix in postmodern as meaning 'after.'

However, this can have two different implications. Post- can refer to a new practice that replaces or reorganizes concepts dealt with by modernism. This is close to how we defined postmodern in the previous paragraph, and it's a commonly used way to define postmodernism in the social sciences. A second option, less commonly used by social scientists, is that the postmodern may be conceived of as an outgrowth of the modern. Essentially, this second school assumes that the postmodern is working with the same concepts as those of modernity, but with new, more valid techniques.

Further ways to define postmodern include the historical sense, in that the era of the postmodern proceeds from the modern. A historian will speak of eras in this way in order to more easily distinguish between different periods of time. There is also an economic sense in which postmodern refers to the age of capitalism as the foundation of a global marketplace.

Postmodern Society Concept

In the historical sense, postmodern society is simply a society that occurs after the modern society. A postmodern society engages several of the definitions of the postmodern we have discussed thus far. Many of the elements of a society like this are reactions to what the modern society stood for: industrialism, rapid urban expansion, and rejection of many past principles. As such, historically postmodern societies favor examination or rejection of these principles, such as an examination of the social characteristics of industrialism, urban expansionism, and principles of earlier eras.

In an economic sense, postmodern society is a society based upon the idea of the global marketplace. People buy and sell goods and services with the knowledge of the existence of a global network of trade. In affluent countries, consumers often purchase goods made outside of the country. The problems with this society are global, too. Wealthier countries and corporations can take advantage of cheaper labor provided in less developed countries. Larger, global businesses can out-compete smaller businesses that can't afford to lower prices as much. There are entire organizations developed to resist the abuses of global power and money in postmodern society.

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