According to the introduction of Part IX, what is the fundamental difference between modernist and postmodernist theories? What are the main characteristics associated with postmodernism?
There is much debate over postmodernism vs. modernism in current sociology. "Theorists in both camps generally agree that something has fundamentally changed in the patterns of social relations, economic flows, and moral regulation in modern societies." (p. 411). Both sides agree there has been a shift. Where the debate comes in is how to define the product of this shift. Scholars debate whether it is a new school of thought or a just continuation of modernism, the definition of postmodernism, and when and where it started. At the center of this debate are the fundamental ideas of each school of thought. "In general, it may be said that where modernists tend to thing in terms of totality, genre, or system, postmodernists think in terms of fragmentation, ephemerality, and discontinuity." (p. 412) Modernist thought is grand and overarching. Its overall goal is to maximize life function by constructing the best possible "machine for modern life." Modernism deals with what is functional and searches for universal truths. Postmodernism, on the other hand, thrives in chaos and fragmentation. It questions the functionalism that modernism accepts so readily. Rather than try to step over the discontinuity to find some grand narrative, postmodernism works with the fragments and to create small-scale micro theories that explain smaller parts of the world. Modernism uses science as the way of finding objective truth and knowledge. Postmodernism rejects the idea of universal truth, knowledge or logic. Instead, ideas of knowledge and truth in postmodernism are rooted in language. "Texts must be treated as linguistic products, independent of authors with presence of meaning." (p. 412). There is a difference between what is read and how it is interpreted, and what the author said and how he meant it. There is room for subjectivity.
Postmodernism can be marked by certain economic changes in society. "The economy, for instance, has witnessed deindustrialization and the increasing dominance of post-Fordist practices in which capital has become more flexible and disorganized." (p.413). The accumulation of capital has become more flexible in both space and practice as we entered the information age where the speed and quality of knowledge increased vastly. The information age also affected personal relationships, making us more globalized and connected. There is also a shift in the focus of capitalism itself. We have gone from production-oriented capitalism to consumption-oriented capitalism. These shifts in economy would necessitate a new school of thought, putting postmodernism in its own category as opposed to just a branch of modernism. This is where there is much debate. David Harvey agues that the fundamental element of capitalism, capital accumulation, has remained the same, so postmodernism shouldn't be in its own category. Instead, some theorists argue that postmodernism is just an offshoot of modernism that serves to reflect upon and criticize it. They argue that postmodernism has no fundamental elements of it's own, so it cant be considered a new school of thought.