Modernism sought the sacrifice of beauty for the pursuit of functionality, but under postmodernism, there is an understanding that aesthetics and functionality can coexist. IKEA furniture for example minimalist space saving functionality merged with aesthetics. Finally, another significant feature of postmodernism is the celebration of difference rather than good or bad. This concept rejects all moral principles. Writers like Kumar call it nihilism. Expansion of religious beliefs and local knowledge are some examples in the West. This has led to the emergence of political correctness and the acceptance of difference.
Disability groups prefer to view difference as desirable more than acceptable. There is evidence to suggest that difference can sometimes bring confusion due to its ambiguous nature and through the variations of choice. For instance workplace diversity has resulted in greater numbers of people with disabilities entering the labour force. In this case, diversity has been desirable and seen as ‘progressive’ in western societies. Alternatively, some differences such as religious practices can be seen as undesirable. One such example is the suspicion towards Islam in the Western world or some practices of female circumcision.
Here it demonstrates how confusion arises in postmodern condition as tolerance towards difference spreads in uneven directions across societies. Postmodernism and post modernization Despite having discussed above the key features of postmodernism, it remains difficult to provide a clear stand-alone description. David Lyon (1999) has provided the most palatable explanation of postmodernism, taking into account modernism. He describes postmodernism as an evolving process between modernity and postmodernity. The process could be the extension of modernity or the collapse of modernity.
Lyon suggests this process can incorporate this at the same time depending on the circumstance. Moreover, it means some elements of modernity can be abandoned while others are maintained. Lyon writes that postmodernism and post-modernity need to be viewed in terms of each other. Postmodernism refers to the cultural experience, while postmodernity he argues refers to the social experience. In the case of producing, consuming and distribution of symbolic goods, Lyon writes that this process merges the boundaries between hierarchies and systems of knowledge.
Lyon explains the social and the cultural cannot exist without each other. However, Lyon is one of the writers to raise the following theoretical arguments on postmodernism. Modernism : dead or alive? Some critics like Crook et al, Connor & Bertens and Natoli prefer to focus on how society is not modern to give an idea of what postmodernism is. Some critics like Baudrillard and Lyotard, argue that there is a clear end to modernism and beginning to postmodernism. These writers are vague about their description of postmodernism yet seem to debate the prevalence or death of modernity.
Lyotard for instance thought that modernity was dead by explaining that Truth as a condition of modernity was replaced by performativity, or usefulness, a condition of postmodernism (Connor, 1989). Connor critiqued Lyotard by arguing utility was another form of rationalisation. Beaudrillard, who focussed on symbolism and consumer culture, wrote that the end of economy symbolised the end of modernity and described that modernity is losing all its substance for the pursuit of the superficial aesthetic (Kumar, 1995).
Bertens and Natoli (2002) critiqued Baudrillard’s predominant concern with symbols over the real and referred to his exaggerated view of postmodernism as represented by symbolism as a hyper-reality. Postmodernism or late modernity? Some writers describe society and culture as late modernity while others prefer to describe it as postmodern. It is unclear that there is a difference between the two. Kumar describes postmodenism as the effect of key changes including sensitivity to difference in society and acceptance of ‘pathological’ arguments. For Kumar, the dismantling of society does not equal the end of modernity.
Deconstructionist writers like Derrida and De Sassure focus on theories that fragment metanarratives or truth. Their focus is on plurality of knowledge by way of multiple interpretations of signs like those in mass media and consumer culture (Beaudrillard, 1988). In this way, it is no longer possible to utilise one narrative, as signs in consumer culture are pastiched and can provide plural meanings rather than contradictory ones. While for Baudrillard and Lyotard, plurality is the demise of the authentic and therefore the end of modernity, Kumar, describes the extension of modernity in saying the “…
combination of many traditions to form a new, rather than rejection of the old tradition. ” (Kumar,1995,105) Kumar explains that it is not clear that postmodernity has begun, nor that modernity is clearly over. Rather than it being a clearly demarcated phase, it is described as unevenly loose process that is clearly happening where “There is simply a more or less random directionless flux across all sections of society. ” (Kumar, 1995, 103). He perceives these changes to be consistent with postmodernism but realizes there is no guiding principle for the change as for example in Marxist theory and capitalism.
Other key writers advocating for the relevance of modernism, are Smart, Lash & Ury, Crook and Habermas. Crook (1992) critiques Habermas by arguing that we are in an advanced state of modernism or known as late modernism rather than postmodernism. He argues that if capitalism is associated with modernism, then advanced rationalisation and comodification can only mean we are in a high level of modernism. Crook prefers to sit more on the fence and although advises against nostalgia for modernism he explains it is too early to predict the postmodern condition but also premature to say modernism is over (Crook et al, 1992).
Meta narratives like progress and rationality are still sought as the final end. To conclude this briefing, an understanding of postmodernism in the absence of a clearly guided definition has been provided. Potmodernism referred to the ‘breakdown’ of modernity or at least the transformation of modernity. This briefing discussed that where modernism meant the embracing of universal truths like progress, reason and rationality, postmodernism could be seen in two ways; abandonment of the modern for the pursuit of a different approach or the extension of modernity.
Under this scenario, I discussed the blurring of different knowledge. The question remains to be clarified as to whether western society is in a modern or postmodern reality. Given the Bush administration’s post September 11 warfare, the pursuit for ‘truth’ like freedom and liberty has widened the gap between modern and postmodern thinking at a global level and polarized those who believe in universal truths and those that do not.