Postmodern Culture - Cultural Sociology - iResearchNet (2023)

Postmodern culture is a broad term describing a range of activities, events, and perspectives related to art, architecture, humanities, and social sciences beginning in the second half of the 20th century. In contrast to modern culture, with its emphasis on social progress, coherence, and universality, postmodern culture represents examples of dramatic historical and ideological shifts in which modernist narratives of progress and social holism are seen as incomplete, elastic, and contradictory. In conjunction with the demise of modernist narratives of progress, the insistence on coherence gives way to diversity, and the dominance of universality is undermined by difference within a postmodern state. In addition, postmodern culture represents more than the current state of society. Postmodern culture is characterized by an appreciation of activities, events, and perspectives that emphasize the particular over the global, or the fragment over the whole. This reversal of a modernist ideology requires an evaluation of variation and flexibility in the cultural domain. Most notably through the writings of Jean Francois Lyotard, whose seminal book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1984) remains the definitive exposition of the term and its meaning for society, postmodern culture has been identified with a radical critique of the relationship between the particular and the universal in art, culture and politics.

The most visible signs of postmodern culture appear after the 1950s in art, architecture, film, music and literature. The most distinctive stylistic features that unite these diverse forums are pastiche, non-representational, and non-linear. In the art and architecture of postmodern culture, collage and historical eclecticism are emphasized. The American painter Mark Tansey depicts historical scenes and figures in anachronistic situations. His 1982 painting Purity Test positions a group of "traditional" Indians on horseback overlooking Smithson's 1970 Sprial Jetty, a temporal impossibility. In architecture, Robert Venturi combines classic and modern architectural features and juxtaposes different historical styles. Art and architecture within postmodern culture celebrate collage and do not symbolize any historical, thematic, or organic unity. Its postmodern quality lies in the artist's or architect's desire to abandon the constraints of temporal, stylistic and historical continuity.

In film, literature, and music representative of postmodern culture, there is an emphasis on nonlinearity, parody, and persiflage. Postmodern films like the Coen brothers' “Blood Simple” or “Fargo” interrupt narrative timelines and emphasize the work of parody. Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, for example, "begins" at the end, continually recycling crime scene clichés throughout the storyline. Similar aesthetic principles are at play in postmodern literature, in which the "realistic mode" is thwarted in favor of the seemingly nonsensical. Canadian writer Douglas Coupland embodies this departure from realism. All Families Are Psychotic (2001) follows the surreal life of the Drummond family - an unlikely family group brought together by the daughter's imminent launch into space and the father's financial woes. In film and fiction, everyday life is complex, parodic and vague. The division between the so-called "real" and the "unreal" is being dissolved and the vast excesses of postmodern society are allowed to spiral out of control. Postmodern culture “adopts a dedifferentiating approach that completely undermines the boundaries between high and low art, artist and spectator, and between different artistic forms and genres” (Best & Kellner 1997: 132).

Music in postmodern culture has much in common with earlier artistic forms. The discontinuity associated with John Cage's atonal compositions is taken to another level. Contemporary postmodern musicians mix and match different musical styles and traditions, adding a cultural pastiche to Cage's theory of improvisation. Bubba Sparxxx's (aka Warren Anderson Mathis) style "Dirty South", "Southern Hip Hop" or "Hip Hop Country" mixes the sound and theme of traditional hip-hop music with a country nuance. His lyrics, particularly in his 2001 song "Ugly," address issues of identity and the hybridity and similarity found among urban and rural youth as they attempt to find fame in the entertainment industry. Along the same lines, rapper Kanye West combines hip-hop music with Caribbean styles, including the reggae sound and motifs one would associate with Ziggy Marley. West offers a "Christian rap" testimony in his music in addition to his political and cultural messages. His 2004 "Jesus Walks" integrates a heavy, military, urban sound with gospel themes derived from direct references to biblical passages. In popular music, figures such as Paul Simon and Sting use non-Western (mainly African and Middle Eastern) sounds and styles in their recent albums. Music in postmodern culture is heterogeneous, stylistically mixed and international in character.

While postmodern culture can be illuminated by reference to specific cultural products, it is important to keep in mind the underlying philosophical logic that drives the phenomenon. Postmodernism as a reaction to a modernism, Lyotard notes, is rooted in the Enlightenment, with its reliance on reason's ability to ascertain philosophical "truths" and its commitment to the advancement of science and technology to empower the human and situation to improve. Taken together, this reliance and commitment to a particular intellectual framework result in monolithic representations of the nature of reality and humanity's place within it. The "postmodern condition" is therefore a disruption of the claim to totality found in these Enlightenment-generated accounts. According to postmodernists, the Western worldview, with its commitment to universality in all things human, is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions and repressions. The comprehensive grand theories or grand narratives, as Lyotard describes them, subsequently fail in a postmodern era insofar as the plurality of human existence emerges in a larger cultural space. Postmodern knowledge of the world, as Lyotard explains, must take into account the multitude of experiences or "phrasings" and the possibility of new, unforeseen experiences or formulations that help to unify reality in ways that are either not allowed or unimaginable Giving meaning through a modernist ideology. The content of knowledge that we currently have is constantly being transformed by technology, and "the nature of knowledge cannot survive unchanged in this context of general transformation" (Lyotard 1984: 4). In terms of postmodernism, culture is more than a data store; It is the activity that shapes the world and gives it meaning by constructing reality rather than presenting it.

Postmodern culture as an appreciation of the diversity found in “small narratives” exhibits anti-modernist tendencies, with art and politics rejecting calls for narrative totalization. Jameson (1984), referring to the social theorist Jürgen Habermas, states that "postmodernism involves the explicit rejection of the modernist tradition - the return of the philistine middle class or bourgeois (bourgeois) rejection of modernist forms and values ​​- and as such the expression of a new social conservatism.” While the emphasis on the particular over the universal captures the revolutionary impulse found in the political and aesthetic sentiments of Lyotardian postmodernism, it contradicts a lengthy critique of postmodernism by social theorists, primarily Marxists, who see this shift towards particularity of the "little stories" as a symptom of late capitalism with its appreciation for proliferating goods and flexible corporate organizational models. The characteristics of multiplicity, pastiche, and nonlinearity, while seen as new aesthetic, epistemological, and political possibilities by postmodern artists, architects, writers, filmmakers, and theorists, are understood by those who dismiss postmodernism as examples of the "logic" of late capitalism" ( Jameson 1984), in which goods and consumers enter into rapid, undifferentiated exchange in ever-expanding and diversified markets.

Harvey (1989) argues that postmodernism is the ideological ally of global capitalism, characterized in part by decentered modes of organization, intersecting markets, and hyperconsumption. While social theorists such as Daniel Bell, Philip Cooke, Edward Soja, and Scott Lash see postmodern culture as a symptom of global capitalist ideology, others see it as an extension or complement of the modernist project. Bauman (1992) states that “the postmodern state can therefore be described . . . as modernity emancipated from false consciousness [and] as a new kind of social condition characterized by the overt institutionalization of features that modernity—in its designs and managerial practices—tried to eliminate and, when unsuccessful, to conceal.” In this sense, the postmodern culture is ascribed a continuity with the modern age and not necessarily an affiliation with a late-capitalist mode of production. Although the characteristics of postmodern culture are similarly described and agreed upon by social and literary theorists across the ideological spectrum, the meaning of postmodern culture remains largely disputed, with its proponents seeing it as a new state and its critics seeing it as an accomplice of late capitalism and the conservative ideology.

In the few decades since its introduction as a critical concept in art, architecture, humanities, and social sciences, postmodern culture remains controversial. However, artists, architects, writers, philosophers, social theorists and filmmakers continue to explore its enormous potential. Whether it is a new condition, an emancipation from the modernist false consciousness, a byproduct of late capitalism, or an undefinable zeitgeist, the debate about postmodern culture will be a central feature of intellectual life for years to come.


  1. Bauman, Z. (1992) Hints of Postmodernism. Rouledge, London.
  2. Best, S. & Kellner, D. (1991) Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. Guilford Press, New York.
  3. Best, S. & Kellner, D. (1997) The Postmodern Turn. Guilford Press, New York.
  4. Debeljak, A. (1998) Reluctant modernity: The institution of art and its historical forms. Rowman & Littlefield, New York.
  5. Harvey, D. (1989) The State of Postmodernism: An Examination of the Origins of Cultural Change. Blackwell, Oxford.
  6. Jameson, F. (1984) Vorwärts. In: Lyotard, J.-F., The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, S. vii xxi.
  7. Lyotard, J.-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: An Account of Knowledge. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
  8. Taylor, V. (2000) Para/Inquiry: Postmoderne Religion und Kultur. Rouledge, London.

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Postmodern Culture - Cultural Sociology - iResearchNet (1)


What is the culture of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism is best understood as a questioning of the ideas and values associated with a form of modernism that believes in progress and innovation. Modernism insists on a clear divide between art and popular culture. But like modernism, postmodernism does not designate any one style of art or culture.

What is an example of postmodern culture? ›


I will consider here two prime examples: pop music and television.

What are 5 characteristics of postmodernism? ›

The postmodern outlook is characterized by self-referentiality, epistemological relativism, moral relativism, pluralism, irony, irreverence, and eclecticism; it rejects the "universal validity" of binary oppositions, stable identity, hierarchy, and categorization.

What are the three key principles of postmodernism? ›

postmodernism, also spelled post-modernism, in Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.

What is postmodern cultural identity? ›

A postmodern society is one in which the identities of the social actors are undergoing constant transformation. Identity then becomes open to contestation as there is no longer any ultimate referent (truth, science, God etc.) to provide universal legitimation.

What is the main focus of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one's own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

What is postmodern culture in sociology? ›

Postmodern culture is characterized by the valuing of activities, events, and perspectives that emphasize the particular over the global or the fragment over the whole. This reversal of a modernist ideology necessitates a Nietzschean revaluation of variation, difference, and flexibility in the cultural sphere.

What is the difference between modern and postmodern culture? ›

While modernism was based on idealism and reason, postmodernism was born of scepticism and a suspicion of reason. It challenged the notion that there are universal certainties or truths.

What is a good example of postmodernism? ›

The clearest example would be the death bunny scene where a rabbit slaughters men. Intentional or not, these works of art belong on the Postmodern film list because they subverted expectations and gave audiences something they couldn't have anticipated long before that was more en vogue.

What is a major influence on postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism. A 20th-century philosophy and art movement characterized by qualities that include politics, appropriation, installation, and non-traditional materials. What is a major influence on Postmodernism? The Dada readymade.

What is the style of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism is an eclectic, colourful style of architecture and the decorative arts that appeared from the late 1970s and continues in some form today. It emerged as a reaction to Modernism and the Modern Movement and the dogmas associated with it.

What are postmodernism key terms? ›

Terms in this set (9)
  • Postmodern Society. ...
  • Decline in Absolute Truth (Baudrillard) ...
  • Hyper Reality (Baudrillard) ...
  • Symbolic Consumption (Baudrillard) ...
  • Media Saturated (Baudrillard) ...
  • Metanarrative (Lyotard) ...
  • Pick and Mix (Lyotard) ...
  • Surface Style and Imagery (Strinati)

What is the most important technique of postmodernism? ›

Irony, playfulness, black humor

This irony, along with black humor and the general concept of "play" (related to Derrida's concept or the ideas advocated by Roland Barthes in The Pleasure of the Text) are among the most recognizable aspects of postmodernism.

What are the effects of postmodernism on society? ›

Postmodernism affects views and lifestyles, which in turn affects the young adult's performance of roles and his interactions within all his different social systems. A strong attachment to family and home, as well as the importance of roles as sons/daughters were found.

What are the foundations of postmodern? ›

The foundations of postmodernism are thus located in the philosophical currents of anti-foundationalism, anti-essentialism, anti-representationalism, and anti-dualism. Scepticism underlines much of postmodernist thought in that the validity of the roots of discourse is challenged.

How do postmodernist view culture and identity? ›

Postmodernists believe that in contemporary global society people's identities are chosen rather than ascribed (given). In the past identity tended to be more simple and fixed, being defined by class, gender and age in a more straightforward way.

How do post modernist view social identity? ›

Postmodern theory broadly defined sees the world as heterogeneous, composed of a vast plurality of interpretations in which knowledge and truth are contingent and therefore ultimately undecidable. In this world, identity is inherently decentered and fluid because constituted in unstable relations of difference.

What is postmodern multiculturalism? ›

The postmodern removes the differentiation between “title culture ” and “alternative cultures.” The lack of a “dominating culture ” (and when the concept of “culture” is not attached to the concept of “ethnos”) is put forward as a characteristic feature of a culturally pluralistic (“multicultural ”) society.

How does postmodernism view reality? ›

Postmodernists contend that there is no objective truth, rather truth is constructed by society. All ideas of morality are not real, but constructed. Consistent with postmodern doctrine is the belief that institutions, such as science and language, are oppressive institutes of control.

What is postmodernism in society today? ›

A postmodern society, or postmodernity, is when individuals within a society are on average skeptical of the world around them, hesitate to make assumptions of that world, and would prefer to instead choose to investigate and form their own opinions based on what they discover.

What is the breakdown of distinction between culture and society in postmodernism? ›

The breakdown of the distinction between culture and society. Post modernism is said to describe the emergence of a social order in which the importance and power of the mass media and popular culture mean they govern and shape other forms of social relationship.

What is the main problem with postmodernism? ›

Criticism of more artistic post-modern movement such as post-modern art or literature may include objections to a departure from beauty, lack of coherence or comprehensibility, deviating from clear structure and the consistent use of dark and negative themes.

Is postmodernism still relevant today? ›

Indeed in the previous decades before us, postmodernism was in vogue in the academic settings of our country and in the Western world. It's not necessarily that way today. You still find it in literary departments. You still find it, unfortunately, sometimes in theology departments.

What is modern vs postmodern culture? ›

While the modern approach was theoretical, objective and analytical, the post-modern approach was subjective. The modernist was in search of an abstract truth of life whereas the post-modernist did not believe in abstract truth or in universal truth. In modernism, there was an attempt to develop a coherent worldview.

What is the culture of modernity? ›

What is cultural modernity? Simply put, this term is used to imply a point in human evolution when people became like us. Implicit in this definition is the view that all living people are cognitively equal regardless of their physical appearance or the kind of technology they use.


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