Post-modernity, post-modernism and post-modern

 

So, to Lyotard, there is a clear emphasis on sensation as opposed to rationality and this is a major change to ‘modern’ thought. This, he felt was due to an ‘erosion’ of high and mass culture. Art was now available to people of all classes and not just the elite as it once was. Examples of this might be musicals or more specifically Andy Warhole’s populist art which appeals to a wide variety of classes. With regards to post-modernity, Lyotard suggests that it brought a decline in nation states and nationalism.

This appears to be the case and the European Union seems to be a good example as are now much more similar to our surrounding countries. He also felt that there is a decline in capitalism and industrialism, this we know to be true, as the workplace no longer tends to be industry based but marketing based as we will look at later through the work of Braudillard and Klein. Science and instrumental rationality also saw a decline with the decline of modernity, although this I feel is a less absolute fact.

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The quest for knowledge through science is still very much a part of a post-modern society, however, through recent developments, such as quantum physics and Chaos theory have somewhat changed our views on many previous scientific discoveries. Class divided cultures have also declined with the emergence of post-modernity, although there is still a class system, which can often be very obvious. For example, if you were to look at the races at Ascot, you can see the divisions quite clearly as there are separate seating areas, admittedly decided by ticket price and not your class, but class division is inevitable.

This example however, re-affirms Lyotard’s belief that there has been an erosion of ‘high’ culture as many classes can enjoy an event that would have only been allowed for the elite. Jean Braudillard, in his first major work on post-modernity, ‘The Mirror of Production’ (1973), argues that there has been a shift towards consumption and status as opposed to production and class. He also argued that products now have a sign value rather than a use value. For example, you may purchase ‘Coke Cola’ as opposed to another brand simply because you recognise the brand name.

These points were further developed in the work of Naomi Klien in her book, ‘ No Logo’ (1980) where she argues that there has been a shift from manufacturing to marketing. Companies now invest huge sums of money into market research and advertising in order to tap into their optimum buyers market. As previously stated, modern industrial society, saw that the emphasis was on productivity and efficiency. So to Braudillard, post-modernity means the co modification of human experience and that life is now controlled by the media and culture industries.

This is an unarguable fact as consumers are forever basing their purchases on designer labels that they have seen celebrities wearing in newspapers and magazines. In his book ‘Simulations’ (1981) he argues that we are now ‘lost in a hyper-reality’. He gives the example of Disneyland, saying that it is only there to cover up the hyper reality of the ‘real world’. “In fact, all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyper real and simulation…. ‘ (Braudillard. in Poster. 1988. p. 153-4).

He also gives the example of the Gulf war, saying that it was a war that never happened in that the spread of a mediated reality can convince of something that is not. A more recent example might be the war on Iraq. The media hype leading up to the war was in no doubt immense, this created huge public debate on the matter and hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protest. As soon as the medias coverage quietened down, so did the public interest, even though the war was still in full swing. So Braudillard has a slightly different stance on post-modernity to Leyotard.

Where Leyotard is concerned with issues such as a decline in the economic and cultural foundations of modernity, Braudillard sees it as the emergence of a commodity based society where the media have control over society. The argument that there has been a real historical change between the periods of modernity and post-modernity, to me, seems a convincing one. There are clearly huge differences in our values and beliefs in what can only be described as a commodity based society, where brand names are more important than usefulness.

As Lyotard suggests, the quest for sensation seems to have overcome the quest for rationality. And as Braudillard has shown, consumption and status have overcome production and class. Sociology by definition means the study of society, and if we can show that there has been a shift in societal behaviour (in this case from modernity to post-modernity) then these concepts must be useful in sociological analysis. The terms post-modern, post-modernity and post-modernism clearly help us to categorise the changes which society has experienced since the age of enlightenment.

Bibliography 1. Bauman, Z. (1992) Intimations of Postmodernity, London: Routledge.. 2. Hall, S. (1996) ‘The meaning of New Times’ in D. Morley and K-H Chen (eds) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, London: Routledge 3. Lyotard, J-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A report on knowledge, Manchester: Manchester University Press. 4. Braudillard, J (1973) The Mirror of Production, Telos Press 5. Giddens, A (1990) The Consequences of Modernity, Stanford University Press, California.

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