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Living In A Postmodern Society Essay

The world in which we live is becoming increasingly powerful in that societies are represented through diverse and multifaceted structures that interrelate and bind groups together in order to produce a consistent and rapid growth of changes and continuities. Postmodernity is a recent concept initially introduced in the arts and architecture, spread to the study of popular culture and was developed most fully in philosophy, but they are becoming increasingly influential in the social sciences, particularly sociology’ (Taylor 1999, p.16). The historical processes of the Great Transformation and modernity have played a significant role in the development of a post-modern society. Sociological theorists such as Jean-Francois Lyotard and Daniel Bell reinforce the notion of post-modernity and its existence in our world today; however, Ulrich Beck does not support this concept.

The Great Transformation, involving the processes of industrialization and the expansion of market capitalism’, was first observed in the Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries’ (Holmes, Hughes & Julian 2003, p. 22). The most important change was the great European industrial revolution’ which began in the ‘1780s right through to the 1950s’ (Holmes, Hughes & Julian 2003, p. 24). The great European industrial revolution was ‘…a period of massive innovation in the production of everything from manchester to heavy engineering. This revolution also saw the steady movements of populations into cities, looking for wage work in factories’ (Holmes, Hughes & Julian 2003, p. 24). As a result of industrialization, the establishment of modernity enabled sociologists to enhance a greater understanding of where the world was working towards.

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Modernity is a significant concept used in sociology to: ‘…describe the complex range of phenomena associated with the historical process, commencing in the 17th century, which saw Western societies change from an agricultural to an industrial foundation, from a feudal to a capitalist framework, with most of their populations migrating from rural, village settings to towns and cities, as well as moving beyond Western Europe in the process of colonizing much of the rest of the world’ (Krieken, Habibis, Smith, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000, p. 7) However, as societies continue to change rapidly and consistently, some sociologists are beginning to acknowledge postmodernity and its role in contemporary societies. The terms postmodernity and postmodernism share similar meanings. Holmes, Hughes, and Julian (2003) state that: ‘Postmodernism denotes aesthetic movements in arts, architecture, music, theatre, film, and design, as well as intellectual movements in the human sciences.

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Postmodernity, like modernity, refers to the historical period, and like ‘modernism’, to its cultural domain. Postmodernity also corresponds to an intellectual movement, for which the term postmodernism is often used interchangeably with post-structuralism’. (p. 63)
French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard (1984 cited in Krieken, Habibis, Smith, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000) ‘argued that post-industrial society and postmodern culture began to develop at the end of the 1950s’ (p. 673). He ‘saw these developments as related to technology, science, and some social developments, but most importantly to changes in language’ (Krieken, Habibis, Smith, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000, p. 673). According to Lyotard, ‘postmodern society is based on the production and exchange of useful knowledge’ (Krieken, Habibis, Smith, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000 p. 674).

In The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard (Lyotard cited in Elliot 1999) states that ‘…technological transformations can be expected to have a considerable impact on knowledge’ and he also discusses ‘its two principal functions’: ‘With respect to the first function, genetics provides an example that is accessible to the layman: it owes its theoretical paradigm to cybernetics… As for the second function, it is common knowledge that the miniaturization and commercialization of machines are already changing the way in which learning is acquired, classified, made available, and exploited. It is reasonable to suppose that the proliferation of information-processing machines is having, and will continue to have, as much of an effect on the circulation of learning as did advancements in human circulation (transportation systems) and later, in the circulation of sounds and visual images (the media)’ (p. 317-318)

Lyotard clearly demonstrates an analysis of the changing nature and diversification of knowledge and the repercussions of this aspect on postmodern societies. Due to powerful influences of technology and integration of computerization in our daily lives, Lyotard believes that ‘knowledge is no longer an end in itself, but a means to be bought and sold, perhaps even fought over’ and speculates that ‘future wars will not be disputes over territory but control of knowledge’ (Krieken, Habibis, Smith, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000, p. 674). Hence, philosopher Lyotard’s report on knowledge in the postmodern era provides evidence of his supportive ideas that consider individuals to be living in a postmodern setting. Similarly, the term ‘post-industrial society’ was ‘first employed by Daniel Bells, writing in the United States, and Alain Touraine, working in France’ (Bell, 1973; Touraine, 1974 cited in Giddens 1993, p. 663). Sociologist Bell (1988;20 cited in Schaefer & Lamm 1994) ‘defines postindustrial society as a society whose economic system is based on the production of information rather than of goods’ (p. 66).

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He states that ‘…large numbers of people become involved in occupations devoted to the teaching, generation or dissemination of ideas, among them, engineers educators and scientists’ (1988:20 cited in Schaefer & Lamm 1994, p. 66). Bell (Bell 1973 cited in Giddens 1993) focuses on the changes in the employment sector and its role in the establishment of a postindustrial society. He believes that ‘the blue-collar worker, employed in a factory or workshop, is no longer the most essential type of employee. White-collar (clerical and professional) workers come to outnumber those in blue-collar jobs, with professional and technical occupations growing fastest of all’ (Bell, 1973 cited in Giddens 1993, p. 663). Bell (Bell 1973 cited in Giddens 1993) refers to white-collar jobs as occupations that require ‘codified knowledge – systemic, coordinated information and argues that this type of knowledge ‘… is the main strategic resource on which the society depends’ (p. 663).

Thus, Bell strongly believes that the growing insignificance of blue-collar workers in our society has occurred as a result of high demand for knowledge-based white-collar positions and this transition marks a shift from industrial to postindustrial society. Conversely, German Sociologist Ulrich Beck disagrees with the idea of postmodernity and introduces ‘second modernity’, ‘his proposed alternative to the concept of postmodernity’ (Krieken, Habibis, Smith, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000, p. 676). Beck states that: “…postmodernist theory only tells us what is not the case’, what is wrong with old approaches to modernity, but does not go beyond that to engage with the task that this critique makes necessary, namely a ‘fundamental self-critique, a redefinition – we might even say a reformation – of modernity and modern society’ (Beck & Willms 2004:25 cited in Krieken, Smith, Habibis, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000, p. 676-677)

In relation to Beck’ssecond modernity and zombie’ approach to sociology, she argues that ‘…the social changes taking place today do not reflect a movement ‘beyond’ modernity or the ‘end’ of an era, but a radical modernization of modernity itself and the beginning of a new type of society’ (Krieken, Habibis, Smith, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000, p. 677). In addition to this, ‘Beck and his colleagues also refer to the emergence of ‘second’ modernity as ‘reflexive modernization’ and ‘they explain this concept as follows’: The hypothesis of a ‘reflexive’ modernization of modern societies examines a fundamental societal transformation within modernity. Modernity has not vanished, but it is becoming increasingly problematic. While crises, transformation, and radical social change have always been part of modernity, the transition to reflexive second modernity not only changes social structures but revolutionizes the very coordinates, categories, and conceptions of change itself’ (Beck, BonB & Lau 2003, p.2 cited in Krieken, Smith, Habibis, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000, p. 677).

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Beck endeavors to ‘…describe a simple evolution’ from modernity to ‘second modernity’ and state that ‘…one does not replace the other’ (Krieken, Habibis, Smith, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000, p. 677). According to Beck, ‘they exist simultaneously, and completely interpenetrate each other’ (Beck & Willms 2004, p. 31 cited in Krieken, Habibis, Smith, Hutchins, Haralambos & Holborn 2000, p. 677). Consequently, Ulrich Beck’s second or ‘reflexive’ modernist approach has proven to be one that objects to the idea that the social transformations in the modern world are not responsible for shaping, what some call, a ‘postmodern society’. Sociologists are becoming increasingly familiar with the term ‘postmodernity’ and its role in our world as it provides critical insights into the constructions and function of contemporary societies. Historical evolutions in the past have vitally contributed to the classification of modern societies as postmodern societies. Jean-Francois and Daniel Bell are two very recent postmodernists that overtly support the presence of the postmodern era. Yet, Ulrich Beck’s opposition towards ‘postmodernity’ is also a crucial example of how some individuals reach different conclusions as a result of social changes and continuities.

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