What Is Postmodernism? Definition, Assumptions, Contributors, and Limitations

What is Postmodernism?

Postmodernism, a movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s in the field of arts, architecture, music, technology, criticism, etc. was a departure from modernism. Although the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotardfirst used the term ‘postmodern’, the founders of postmodernism (theory) are Jacques Derrida and Friedrich Nietzsche. Others such as Fredric Jameson, Jean Baudrillard also contributed to postmodernism.

It is one of the must-reading theories or perspectives in sociology. The term ‘Postmodernism’ means ‘after the modern’ which implies that post-modernism grew from modernism. Modernism refers to neo-classical, enlightenment assumptions highlighting the role of scientific reasoning, objectivity, and universal truth. But postmodernism basically challenges (rejects) all these assumptions of modernism. Post-modernism is a cultural and aesthetic phenomenon that mainly rejects order and progress, objective and universal truth, and supports the need for recognizing and tolerating different forms of reality.

Modernism assumed that human welfare can be created through science, rationality, and objectivity but after the tragic consequences of World War II, this assumption of modernism was viewed as doubtful/skeptic by the new school of thought who called themselves ‘postmodernist. Modernism, which argued science as the boon to the human race proved to be destructive. Hence, Postmodernism (postmodernist):

  • Criticizes modernism for their love towards science, rationality, and objectivity.
  • Rejects the contemporary sociological and anthropological methodology and theories as incomplete, biased, and inappropriate to understand society and culture.
  • Denies grand theory and argues that no sociological knowledge is valid.
  • Argues that there is no “universal reality or absolute truth” but instead focuses on the relative truths of each person i.e. focus on individual truths/reality which is constructed in one’s mind. It means that interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Hence, postmodernism advocates that reality is subjective and not objective, contextual, multivocal and therefore, reality cannot be explained and understood through scientific, objective effort.


Or, Basic Tenets or Premises or Propositions or Bases or Notion or Key Aspects of Postmodernism Theory

Social Constructivism: Meaning, morality, and truth/reality do not exist objectively. They are constructed by society. So, it assumes that everything is subjective and relative to individual views, perception, and values which varies from one person to another person.

Cultural Determinism: Individuals are shaped by cultural forces such as language in particular. It assumes that there is no knowledge apart from language i.e. human beings construct meaning through language and may differ from one person to another.

No absolute Truth: Postmodernists believe that the notion of truth is a contrived illusion, misused by people and special interest groups to gain power over others.

Self-Conceptualization and Rationalization: Postmodernists reject the concept of science and rationalism as leading to ‘truth’ about the social world and they rather prefer to rely on opinions rather than embrace facts.

Internationalism (Globalization): Many postmodernists claim that national boundaries are a hindrance to human communication. They believe nationalism causes wars. Therefore, postmodernists often propose internationalism and uniting different countries.

All religions are valid: Valuing inclusive faiths, postmodernists criticize the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ as being the only way to God.

Liberal ethics: Postmodernists support feminists and homosexuals. It assumes that unlike modernism it is open, unbounded, and concerned with process and becoming.

Pro-environmentalism: Postmodernists blame Western society for destruction of Mother Earth.

Anti-positivistic: Postmodernists reject the methodology and evaluation process are misleading and no social dynamics can be understood through so-called scientific methodology.

Rejection of ‘grand (meta) narratives: They reject any grand/ meta-theory as post-modernism does not believe that there is a theory that can explain everything for every human being.

Critique of Western institutions and knowledge: Postmodernist rejects the concept of western history as ‘progress’.


  • The paradox of the postmodern position is that it is skeptical (doubtful) of all the principles and assumptions made by other theories while it must realize that even its own principles/ assumptions are not beyond questioning/ doubt. For e.g. postmodernism rejects absolute truth, scientific and objective knowledge arguing that there is no absolute/ universal truth stating that truth is socially constructed and varies at time.
  • The main problem with postmodernism is that it can be seen as unrealistic, idealistic and overly sentimental, and romantic. Others feel that postmodernism is actually dangerous because it will create a place where there cannot be any growth or progress.

Contributors of Postmodernism

Postmodernism of Fredric Jameson (1934 – Present)

  • He is an American literary critic and Marxist political theorist.
  • Jameson’s is best known for his analysis of contemporary cultural trends, particularly his analysis of post-modernity and capitalism.
  • Jameson attempts to characterize the nature of cultural production in the second half of the 20th century.
  • A substantial part of Jameson’s “postmodernism” is dedicated to differential analysis of works of art and architecture from what Jameson terms “high modernism” and postmodern work.
  • According to Jameson, postmodernism is a cultural form that has developed in the wake of the socio-economical order of present-day capitalism.

Postmodernism of Jean Baudrillard (1929- 2007)

  • He was a French sociologist and philosopher.
  • His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and specifically post-structuralism.
  • He has become the exemplar of postmodernism, beginning his analysis with Marxism and modernity, and developing what he considered a more radical approach to a society of simulations, implosions, and hyper-reality.
  • For Jean Baudrillard, the post-modern age is a world where people respond to media images rather than to real persons or places.

What is hyper-reality?

The idealistic representation of reality that outperforms actual reality is called hyper-reality. In other words, hyper-reality means more real than real. In hyper-reality, the original version of the object has no real significance.

In post-modernism, hyper-reality is an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically advances postmodern societies. In other words, one cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is a simulation of real.

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