What is postmodernism?

Postmodernism or postmodernity includes poststructuralism within its intellectual landscape of the 20th and 21st centuries. Postmodernism is the move away from modernism of art and architecture, philosophy and truth, and general cultural account and critique. It requires especially the rejection of global cultural narratives, meta-narratives, universal theories, or what are also called grand theories like religious fundamentalism.[1] Narratives are constructed realities produced from cultural meta-narratives so that religious fundamentalism can be expressed in the Islamist narrative. However within postmodernism narratives are dynamic, changing and evolving within different times and places, that is, different contextual backgrounds. Meta-narratives cannot even be approached in any substantive way if what we observe from them, namely narratives, are not static. Postmodernism is a social theory of skepticism questioning what meta-narratives create like authority, political and cultural norms for not only a society but individuals, and also questioning where meta-narratives stem from like revealed theology or even human reason.

Reality is dependent upon the individual attempting to interpret the world but even that very fundamental in of itself changes over time and is not really reality but what reality is at the given time and place for the individual. By its nature postmodernism questions the neat and tidy structural understandings of culture like male and female, black and white, rich and poor. Postmodern philosophy brought over the discipline of history denies the function of history to constitute a cause and effect relationship because every cause is a meta-narrative.


Postmodernism can almost be considered uniquely of the French philosophical tradition. It is a relatively new finding its origin in the writings of Jean-Francois Lyotard. His most popular treatise on postmodern thought is called The Postmodern Condition[1] originally released in 1979.

Postmodernism adopts pluralism and conceives of differences or the local and particular while losing sight of the overall reality.[2] Because postmodernism is skeptical about ultimate organizing principles of society it is philosophically anti-foundational and finding itself at times in critique of Marxism and also following the tradition of such great thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche.[3]

Marxism, for example, has its own particular narrative of world history which it feels is true and thus beyond any criticism or need of revision. It is not a narrative to be reinterpreted constantly in the light of changing cultural events, but an impregnable theory that holds over time and whose authority must never be questioned. To Lyotard, such an attitude is authoritarian, and he celebrates the cause of ‘little narrative’ (petit recit) in its stead. Little narratives are put together on a tactical basis by small groups of individuals to achieve some particular objective (such as the ‘little narrative’ combination of students and workers in the 1968 evenements. calling for government reforms), and do not pretend to have the answers to all society’s problems: ideally, they last only as long as is necessary to achieve their objectives.

Postmodern science, Lyotard informs us, is a search for paradoxes, instabilities and the unknown, rather than an attempt to construct yet another grand narrative that would apply over the entire scientific community.[4]


  1. Metanarratives
  2. In Search Of The Truth: A Christian Response To Postmodernity. Disposing Of Metanarratives by Rev. Bryn MacPhail
  3. The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism pg. 3
  4. The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism pg. 8-9

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