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Postmodernism as pseudohistory

Calhoun, Craig (1991) Postmodernism as pseudohistory. Centre for Psychosocial Studies (40). University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.

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In the present paper, I want to question how much the genuinely dramatic cultural changes which are going on around us are a real departure from previous trends, and to the extent that they are, whether this is part of a social transformation sufficiently basic to warrant an argument that modernity is dead or dying. I will argue generally against the postmodernist view. Though changes are real and major, they do not yet amount to an epochal break. Indeed, many of them reflect continuing tensions and pressures which have characterized the whole modern era. Underlying my account of the problems of the claim that postmodernity is upon us, is the counterclaim that the two basic organizing forces in modernity--capitalism and bureaucratic power--have hardly begun to dissolve. Rather than narrowing our notion of the modern in order to justify the use of the prefix "post," I will argue that we need to incorporate the insights of postmodernist thinkers into a richer sociological approach to the entire modern era. In the first part of the paper, I will very briefly and sketchily introduce the notion of a postmodern condition. Since this is a position argued by a variety of thinkers on somewhat different grounds, and since some scholars--like Foucault--are claimed as part of the movement though they never proclaimed themselves postmodernists, my sketch will inevitably conceal a good deal of complexity.... Constrained by space not to go into all the ramifications of the postmodernist argument or its implications for sociology, in the second part of this paper I will take up one particular instance. This is the conceptualization of "new social movements." It is an advantageous one for discussion because it links nearly all the different discourses contributing to the postmodernist potpourri, and has been a topic of discussion outside of the postmodernist debate as well. As in my more general treatment of postmodernism, I want to argue here that novelty is being overstated, and the modern era itself being poorly conceptualized by a picture which flattens out its own internal diversity. The "new" social movements appear to be quite new, in other words, only because they are understood through a contrast to a one-sided, hypostatized account of the "old" labor movement.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 1991 University of Chicago
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2012 15:07
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 11:16

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