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Poststructuralism and Postmodernism – Lesson Summary

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Poststructuralism rose primarily in France in the late 1950s in response to certain methods which were then widely used in social sciences, such as anthropology and sociology, and which were often called structuralist. Over the years, structuralism took many forms
The challenge to structuralism did arise in the last half century or so. The strongest challenge to structuralism was launched in 1966 by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. His main argument is that structural explanations are incoherent.
Michel Foucault, a major figure in post-structuralist thought, became famous through his work entitled, “The History of Sexuality” He argued against the idea that sex is a natural phenomenon. He pointed out that sex is a phenomenon which modern people have liberated, or that we can claim to have liberated from periods of repression.
Instead, according to Foucault, reducing sex to a single such concept obscures its great complexity - that is the combination of biological and anatomical elements, cultural practices and meanings, psychological factors, and so on, all of which are involved.
Postmodernism has been as much a part of contemporary life as it has been a way of thinking in the academic humanities. Postmodernism has been expressed in as many areas of life as:
• architecture
• visual arts
• music
• theatre

In architecture, postmodernism has often been cited as a direct counter to modernism. Actually, architecture provided the most visible or obvious rejection of modernism, and that’s not entirely surprising

Critics of modernism regard modernism as inherently elitist and arrogant, because of its reliance on technical or other experts to decide the layout and appearance of towns, cities and houses, and also to tell us about diet, about patterns of exercise, the ways we should live our lives and so on.

Postmodernism has been severely criticized for colluding with, or even being an expression of, neoliberalism, in which individual preference is the sole principle of action. Even more dangerously, postmodernism has been criticised for opening the door to fascism, because it removes the very idea of reasons for our actions, and therefore of accountability for our actions or for the requirement that we justify our actions.

For Foucault, we are untroubled about the ways we encounter the world, which implies that our previous methods of inquiry and investigation are in some way inadequate, and what we consider to be a search for knowledge is no more than a search for power.

McGuckin has reminded us just how important production relations are even in this world of apparently postmodern symbolism and production. And an engaged anthropology can focus on how artisans are at once alienated from material and cultural capital and how they might regain control over both.
According to Aaron Hanlon, postmodernists identified something significant about our time and they were diagnosing our condition, and changing our understanding of language, truth and knowledge. Postmodernism writers invoke postmodernism to describe, not a contested set of observations about the state of knowledge and culture, but instead they seem to regard postmodernism as a committed belief system that forms the basis of partisan politics.

For Alan Sokal, as cited by Michael Bérubé, in international affairs and other theories in social sciences, realism carries a connotation of deep conservatism and an unquestioning acceptance of the existing order and its power-relations. He also contends that fundamentalism, and not abstruse literary theory, is the most important current challenge science and reason face.