A comparison of Post and Late Modern Views of self and society, and the corresponding purposes of social research
Postmodern View of Society and Self
-Globalisation destabilises social structures – Globalisation is an unpredictable process
-Consumer culture is free from social structure and this is what informs most people’s lives
-Hyperreality is more important than actual reality, such that it is impossible to get in touch with the real world (individual’s cannot free themselves from discourse)
-Individuals have the freedom to construct identity, this =More Diversity Tolerance of diversity is essentially utopia.
-End of Metanarratives – Because of all of the above, the idea of searching for one truth or one grand theory which can be applied to help free us from ‘want or oppression’ is out of date – there are many truths.
-Objectivity does not exist – we can only gain knowledge through discourse/ language and we cannot see beyond language.
The Postmodern View of the Point of Social Research
-Because Sociology should abandon the quest for truth, and because individuals are free, it makes sense that the focus of Sociology should be on what people do with their new found freedoms in post-modern culture – thus the focus should be on people’s stories, on exploring the diversity of identities – of special interest here is the exploration of hybrid identities.
-Also of particular interest to ‘Postmodern’ researchers is the issue of ‘transgression’ – focussing on telling the stories of those who go against traditional norms -Deviants and criminals for example.
-There is also a critical element to Postmodern research – which is deconstruction – using evidence to pick apart those theories which claim to have found the truth, in order to keep those dreaded metarratives at bay.
-To my mind most BBC Documentaries are good examples of Postmodern Research – typically narratives of transgressive individuals or groups, with little theory.
Late Modern (Giddens’) view of Society and Self
There is a global structure – e.g. it’s Capitalist and Nation States remain powerful, but it’s dynamic, constantly changing, and not predictable.
-Institutions (political and economic) are reflexive – they try to ‘steer’ events in the future in the light of existing (imperfect) knowledge.
-There are significant global problems (manufactured risks) which we all face and none of us can escape – e.g. Global Warming. These are real, not hyperreal and bind us together, even if many of us fail to accept this.
-The increased pace of change and Uncertainty are a fundamental part of late-modernity.
-Globalisation penetrates our lifeworlds through abstract Systems (money, clock time, expert systems especially science).
-The media is more important and influential in late-modern society, but Giddens rejects the concept of hyperreality – the main significance of the media is that it makes us more aware of diversity and of the fact that there are many different ways of living.
-In terms of the self – Individualisation is the major process – we are forced to look to ourselves and continuously ask the question ‘who am I’ – identity becomes a task, something we must do for ourselves, and nearly every aspect of our lives becomes something we need to reflect on as a result.
-It is for this reason that we become concerned with constructing a ‘Narrative of Self’ – A coherent life story, so that we can convince ourselves that we have a stable identity through time. Constructing a self-identity takes a lot of time and effort.
-Therapy emerges as a new expert system to help people in the process of continual identity reconstruction – especially useful at epochal moments like divorce.
– The construction and expression of the self becomes the new norm – there are many ways we can do this – mainly through consumption (buying and doing stuff), through relationships, and through developing bodily regimes (health regimes).
– An unfortunate consequence of this focus on the self is the rise of Narcissism, with very few people asking moral and existential questions about existence
– However, this process is dialectical and New Social Movements (e.g. the Green Movement) which does consider moral and existential issues – in which people attempt to incorporate moral and existential questions into the construction of their ‘political’ identities.
-Late Modernity produces various ‘Generic’ Types of Identity – The Narcissist, the Fundamentalist, both are extreme expressions of the same social system.
Giddens’ view of the purpose of social research
-Doing research to inform the ongoing process of reflexive modernisation at an institutional level
-Doing research into how flexible structures and what extent these structures are used (used by) to either constrain or empower people
-Helping people to realise that they are still dependent on ‘structures’ and dispelling the ‘myth of total individual freedom’.
-Encouraging people to consider moral and existential issues when they engage in the construction of self-identities and thereby helping people be more effective agents in the ongoing (re) constitution of society.