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Post Modernism and Post Structuralism

Discuss the main features/themes of postmodernism and post structuralism and provide examples from the writings of Foucault, Baudrillard, and Lyotard to explain these themes. Also, discuss these post modern features and what do they mean for the dispossessed, the minorities and the various others in the world.

Post Modernism and StructuralismPost modernism and post structuralism are two schools of though and theory born of what was perceived to be the failings of the modernist and structuralist way of thinking. They came to fracture modernity and look at the cultural changes and shifts that have occurred since the age of modernity began. It was not that modernism and structuralism were or are perceived as wrong or in any way contradictory to the cultural reality that they attempt to address and critique, but that the perch on which modernist and structuralist theory sat was leant had become fractured. Furthermore, the premise upon which these schools of thought sat to offer up theory, criticism, social models and ideas had become fractured through a variety of ways that opened up a post-modern and post-structural enquiry and a re-think of social paradigms. The enquiry suggested that the discourse which was provided by the two schools of thought were twinned with the fracture of modernist and structuralist theory and frameworks. Essentially, as the structure that supported modernist theories, such as Marxism, had lost its hold over culture and had depended upon language and objective truth to justify itself, post structuralism began to fracture the foundational perspective that such ideas were founded upon. Lyotard was perhaps the first to detail the onset of postmodernism by coining the term in his text entitled The Post Modern Condition, though post structuralism had been around in the school of language and criticism for some time. In this text he detailed the ways in which the modern project and its liberal schools of thought had come to deny the subject and his/her experiences in the models and languages that the project accorded to. This seminal text introduced the vastness of the cultural reality and failings of the modern project, while indicating that,

‘The object of this study is the condition of knowledge in the most highly developed societies. I have decided to use the word Post-modern to describe that condition. The word is in its current use on the American continent among sociologists and critics; it designates the state of our culture following the transformations which, since the end of the nineteenth century, have altered the game rules of science, literature and the arts.’ (Lyotard, 1979, p. 1)

Essentially, Lyotard is referring to a philosophical change that incorporates the significance of language in the construction of reality, including society, art, science and anything else that comes to be constructed within the process of cultural production. Even the role of scientific truth, which had hinged upon empiricism and rational methodology had according to Lyotard become fractured as it drew upon the ideals and discourses of modernism and structuralism rather than truth. Highlighting the ways in which knowledge had become determined by this emphasis placed upon a modern enquiry, Foucault stated in his text the Archaeology of Knowledge that,

‘There are notions of development and evolution: they make it possible to group a succession of dispersed events, to link them to one and the same organisation principle, to subject them to exemplary power of life, to discover, already at work in each beginning, a principle of coherence and the outline of a future unity, to master time through a perpetually reversible relation between an origin and an end that are never given, but are always at work’ (Foucault, 1969, p.421-422)

In this, we can see that knowledge was firmly based upon the language and tools of modernity. Essentially, everything that came to construct and structure a society, such as sanity and insanity, righteous and criminal, good and bad, was based upon the principles of the language that dominated it. This meant that terms of structural definitions, such as class distinction, were not applicable to the reality of those living in a post structural society. All that these things indicated were in accordance to the modernist paradigm rather than any truth or reality. Essentially, even madness could not be defined by language without first realising the meaning and relationship between the subject and the language they had come to adopt and identify with. For instance, if one was of a certain socio-economic background then although they may have been inclined to become a stereotypical class of person, this was an identity that would have to be adopted and could be better understood by their relationship to language and experience, rather than their relation to class structure. As it was adopted, then the notion of identity had become essential to any structurally determined person living within any society. Essentially, this spelled the reintroduction of subjectivity over objectivity within the constitution of societies and also the notion of fluid change within a society. Looking at this role of subjectivity and choice based upon an identity within the fluctuation of societies, post modern philosopher and theorist Jean Baudrillard looked at the rise of the image as a means of examining the way in which ideologies, values and ultimately identity came to shape the subject within the social environment. In his text entitled The Order of Simulacra he stated that in especially affluent societies that have access to a range of images the post modern reality could be seen as relationship between each subject and the media images that they encounter suggesting that it was,

‘Through planned motivation we find ourselves in an era where advertising takes over the moral responsibility for all of society and replaces a puritan morality with a hedonistic morality of pure satisfaction, like a new state of nature at the heart of hyper civilisation’ (Baudrillard, 1968, p.3)

In this we see how the modernist values associated with a structured society have become disturbed due to a great array of images indicating a variety of values and ways of life in accordance to one's choice and experience. Revealing how technology came to interact with the subject in this post-modern reality Baudrillard added that,

‘Whole imagery based on contact, a sensory mimicry and a tactile mysticism, basically ecology in its entirety, comes to be grafted on to this universe of operational simulation, multi-stimulation and multi response. This incessant test of successful adaptation is naturalised by assimilating it to animal mimicry, and even to the Indians with their innate sense of ecology tropisms, mimicry, and empathy: the ecological evangelism of open systems, with positive or negative feedback, will be engulfed in this breach, with an ideology of regulation with information that is only an avatar, in accordance of a more flexible patter.’ (Baudrillard, 1976, p.9)

From this extract we can see that even structured societies and cultures that have their basis and values founded upon the premise of something as purist as nature have become absorbed and fractured due to this array of images and mimicry of a fluid variety of ideologies and identities. Essentially, there is no way to trace the subject and their identity to such features as class or static role within society as they can determine and regulate their own idea within the domain of society itself. Society then becomes fractured and disrupted and the foundations become susceptible to the individual's changes and shifts in ideals, values and positions within the society. This is essentially the reality as prescribed by post structuralism and post modernism. It is from this reality that post-modern and post-structural theories, such as those prescribed by Lyotard, Foucault and Baudrillard come to emerge in place of the former modernist and structuralist paradigms.

Outline the development of the world system as envisaged by Frank and Gills. What are the distinguishing features between their theories and that of Immanuel Wallersteins?

The world system as prescribed by Frank and Gills is one that attempts to trace the similarity of world concepts throughout civilisations and cultures stemming back five thousand years and brought into the modern, present domain. It fundamentally incorporates the world view as prescribed by different cultures and addresses the similarities in geographic significances prescribed by each culture throughout the globe. It also incorporates the differences stemming from the historical and cultural specifics that go into forming each present culture's internal perspective, philosophies and values. In this, their thesis aligns with the central position of Wallerstein who also considered the notion of similarity through global regions from a historical perspective. However, what is also fundamental to their analysis of world systems is the significance of the dominant euro-centric perspective of the current model of globalisation and its dependency to see the world in relation to its own European past, including colonisation and philosophical supremacy. However, this rise in dominance of Europe and Euro-centrism in the Western world system were deemed by Frank and Gills to be only recent and subsequently passing events attributed to modernism and recent technological advances, such as mass media. In this we can see a distinction between the model of Frank and Gills and that of Wallerstein. Essentially, they suggest alongside Wallerstein that the process of capital accumulation as a binding force for a world system was based upon a linear history tracing back five thousand years, but contrastingly, that is has a discrepancy from a cultural and sociological standpoint. For instance, Wallerstein regards the continuous capital accumulation as the specific difference of the modern world system, whereas, Frank and Gills argue that the modern world system is not so different as the same process of capital accumulation can be seen throughout history as playing a significant role in the world system for several millennia (Wallerstein, 1976). From this economic perspective, Frank and Gills are then able to suggest that the existence and development of the same world system stretches back at least five thousand years. However, where they differentiate is in the notion of a Euro-centric cultural and social perspective based upon using modernism as an indication of progressive civility.

According to Frank and Gills theory, the Euro-centric based modern perspective is seen as something that must be dismantled and replaced by a human centred alternative perspective, which incorporates a range of significant cultural, philosophical, social, scientific, and socio-political factors. The main concern is in the discourse of the current western model of globalisation that incorporates a western modern history written from the perspective of a Euro-centric, rather than an economic distinction as prescribed by Wallerstein. In this, they suggest that it has distorted a genuine world history and placed the majority of other cultures and their histories as foils to such modernist values as the civilised and the expansive. Due to this, Frank and Gills can then suggest that the true position of the modern world in relation to the world system and economic history has been misread from the perspective of the might in western dominance. Subsequently, these are commonly mis-interpreted in an almost entirely Euro-centric discourse, which strengthens the notion of western bias and the western perspective in global expansion. Concluding that almost all modern and economic world history since the fifteen hundreds has been written as though civilisation began in Europe, and then had expanded outwards in a bid to incorporate and modernise the world, gives an indication of the difference between the theory of Frank and Gills and Wallerstein.


Baudrillard, J., (1968) The System of Objects Taken from: The Order of Simulacra (1993) London: Sage.

Baudrillard, J., (1976) Symbolic Exchange and Death Taken from: The Order of Simulacra (1993) London: Sage.

Foucault, M., (1966) The Archaeology of Knowledge Taken From: Ryan & Rivkin (eds.) Literary Theory: An Anthology Oxford: Blackwells 2001.

Frank, A, G., & Gills, B, K., (1996) The World System: Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand? London: Routledge

Lyotard, J, F., (1984) The Post Modern Condition Minnesota: Minnesota University Press.

Wallerstein, I., (1976) The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press, pp. 229-233.

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