Three Examples of Post-Modern Thinkers

Post modernists argue that we need new ways of thought to understand and conceptualise this new ‘post-modern society’ – the age old theories of modernity are no longer relevant!

  1. Lyotard – the abandonment of the Enlightenment Project

Lyotard refers to post-modernism as‘incredulity towards metanarratives’. A metanarrative is a theory that holds that it is the universal truth, or it contains within it a great hope of salvation if only everyone would go along with it! Science, religion, political ideologies are all metanarratives. According to Lyotard, in the postmodern world, people have seen all of these metanarratives turn to ashes, the promises they once held have turned out to be disastrous.

The greater diversity and freedom of the post-modern age means that individuals abandon the search for one universal truth. Lyotard argues that this is a good thing, because the search for universal truths has led to such terror and oppression in the past. Hence post-modern diversity is good because it should promote tolerance!

In a nutshell, Modernists tend to believe that if we can find the truth, then we can apply this to society and it will enable us to be free; while according to post-modernists, in order to be free, we need to be liberated from the concept of truth!

  1. Michel Foucault1 – Knowledge is not objective – rather it is distorted by power

Michel Foucault argued that the modernist Enlightenment project is a myth – throughout history knowledge has not been objective and it has not necessarily been used to make the world a better place. This is because the knowledge we collect about the world is shaped by the subjective views and values of those with power. Foucault illustrates this through exploring how societies have dealt with insanity and criminality throughout history. He basically argues that those in power define their own behaviours and values as ‘normal’ –and then those most unlike them as mentally ill or criminal – once these basic categories have been established, experts then emerge to construct ‘expert knowledge’ about why people are insane and how they are best treated. The labels ‘sane’ and ‘insane’ according to Foucault are subjective.

To illustrate this, in the 1940s the social norm was to have children within marriage. Women who had children outside of wedlock were labelled as insane, and sometimes put in mental institutions and subjected to study by experts. The point here though is that there is nothing objective, value free, or progressive about the original categories of ‘sane’ and insane’ – these are simply a function of power.

  1. Jean Baudrillard – Hyper reality is more important than actual reality

The post-modern era has witnessed a huge expansion in media technology. One consequence of this is that our society has an increased reliance on the media to tell us what is going on in the world. Jean Baudrillard argues that the media creates something called ‘hyper reality’ where what we see in the media is different from and yet more real than reality. Baudrillard argues that the media coverage of war for example is different to reality, yet is the only reality most of us know. The media is thus a world different from reality, and thus a modernist project that focuses on how ‘reality’ influences people’s lives and how we should try to ‘improve’ society seams irrelevant in a society where most people have not lived experience of this social reality.

A Sociology of Post-Modernity

Post-modernism has influence Sociology….

For Zygmunt Bauman2, the central feature of post-modern society is that we are all consumers. Rather than basing our identities around work (and hence class), we are much more likely to define ourselves through the products that we buy. It follows that post-modern sociology is much more focussed on how people use consumption to define and understand themselves. There is much more of a focus on how people construct their identities in a world of huge potentiality. Post-modern sociology is thus much more interested in describing the diversity of life and looking at how people cope in the hectic, post-modern world around us, and much less interested in social structures and how these shape people’s identities. The Sociology of post-modernity is also very interested in deviance and subcultures and in individuals and groups transgress ‘normative boundaries’

Transgression….. Because post-modern society is different, and as culture has become more important, it means that new areas have opened up for study. Such new areas include studies of rave culture, the study of new genders and the development of ‘queer theory’, and the emergence of cultural and media studies as sub- disciplines of sociology.

Narrative – Much of this new post-modern sociology limits itself to a description of the ways of life of these groups, and at best tentative attempts to theorise specific to that group under study. Post-modernists are not interested in constructing generalise able social theory as they believe such a mission is flawed.

1 Strictly a post-structuralist, but for A level we can let that distinction pass!

2 KT thinks the term ‘critical late modernist’ is a better way of categorising Bauman’s work

Related Posts

Criticisms of Post-Modernism

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Eight Reasons Why We Should All be Marxists

The third of three posts on Marxism for A2 Sociological Perspectives – Arguments and evidence for the continued relevance of Marxism 

Contemporary Marxists argues that Marxist analysis is still relevant to an understanding of modern society. A considerable amount of contemporary Marxist thought focuses on how Capitalism has become globalised and emphasises the injustices of the global capitalist system; another strand of contemporary Marxist theory focuses on how the values of capitalism (in the form of ‘neo-liberal hegemony’) have penetrated Western culture to the detriment of us all.

You might like to think about what Marxist concepts are illustrated by these cartoons

  1. Some Sociologists argue that a class based analysis of global society is still relevant.

Leslie Sklaire argues that recent decades have seen the emergence of a ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’. These are the leaders of global corporations, certain politicians and their bureaucrats who control billions of dollars of assets and financial flows. They wield their power through undemocratic international economic institutions such as the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund and the G20. These institutions were established after World War Two to help co-ordinate the expanding global economy and facilitate redevelopment after the war. However, many left wing theorists such as Joseph Stiglitz argue that since the 1970s these institutions have forced dozens of developing countries to adopt neo-liberal economic policies. Neo-Liberal policies include such things as privatising public services, cutting taxes and regulating industry less, thus allowing Transnational Corporations to open sweat shops, pollute local areas, and take all the profits away without giving very much back. The basic idea here is that the global economy is run by Corporations and Politicians for the benefit of Corporations and their high powered political supporters (One of whom is ‘Gideon’ Osborn)

  1. There is considerable evidence that exploitation still lies at the heart of the Capitalist system.

Corporations are frequently criticised for exploiting workers and the environment – through sweatshop labour and pollution, where they can get away with it. Some of the most obvious examples include Shell and oil pollution in Nigeria; Coke’s legacy of draining water local water supplies in India to produce Coke, which results in drought in local areas and Apple’s use of sweatshops in China to produce the ipad.

  1. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

Marxist Theory is still relevant because…. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

I should just point out that the point of this post is to provide soundbites that you can use in an exam (or an arguement with a Tory supporter of the neo-liberal state apparatus) rather than a comprehensive or balanced account of evidence for or against (the variety of) Marxist theory.

Evidence of Elite control over the government

By far the best example of state putting the interests of Capital before the interests of the majority of people is how the government has responded to the present ‘economic crisis’. 

Simply put, the state is making the poor pay for the economic problems caused by the Transnational Capitalist Class. The average guy on the street is getting poorer while the rich are still getting richer! Consider also the recent case of Ireland, where the minimum wage is being cut by one euro, VAT is being increase, and public sector jobs axed, while Corporation Tax remains at an incredibly low 12.5%  

Getting back to the cuts in Britain, this is no surprise if you actually look at the characteristics of those who make up the cabinet and the wider Tory Party; you actually find that many of them are themselves extremely wealthy. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and Chancellor are all millionaires – They are the Transnational Capitalist Class – and they are hardly likely to hurt themselves.

Evidence of Elite control over the Criminal Justice System

Another example of the elite class having control over the superstructure lies in the differential treatment of white collar crime and street crime. Even though White Collar Crime costs more to the economy than street crime, White Collar Criminals are still less likely to get punished. According to Tombs and Whyte, this is partly because the government invests fewer resources into investigating fraud and health and safety crimes (the types of crime Corporations are most likely to be guilty of) than it does into working class street crime.

Evidence of Elite Control over the mainstream Media

Greg Philo argues that it is simply crazy it is that the agenda in the media is about ‘what services should the government cut’ rather than ’should we tax the wealthy or make cuts.[1] Philo points[2] out that there are other solutions to the current economic crisis – there is enough property wealth in the country – we could just take it off them, but the government is making the average man on the street pay instead. In his film, 

Evidence of Elite Control of the Education system

Evidence for elite control of the education system lies in the fact that if you are wealthy, you can buy your children a private education, which gives them a much greater chance of getting into a top university and high getting a highly paid, prestigious job.  The statistics make for extremely uncomfortable reading… Intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’.Looked at another way, of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year.[3]

People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools.’[4]

  1. There is evidence that we are still under ideological control – but we don’t realise it.

Antonio Gramsci, A humanist Marxist writing in the early twentieth century first pointed out that what he called ‘Hegemonic Control’ plays an ever important role in advanced Capitalist societies. Hegemonic control occurs when the intellectual and moral leadership provided by the dominant class provides the fundamental outlook for the whole of society.

Greg Philo points to one very good recent example of this in recent years – the fact that we are so willing to accept cuts to public services when the richest ten percent of the country own so much wealth that if we just took one fifth of their wealth we would clear the national deficit, yet this idea doesn’t not even appear in the media. Agenda Setting has removed it and so we do not even consider it.

  1. Capitalism is kept going by creating ‘false needs’

Successful companies today spend billions on advertising campaigns to convince us that we need the products that they make. Looked at objectively much of what we buy we don’t need, yet the Capitalist class invests billions convincing us to buy things that we do not need.

Worse that ideological control – More generally, numerous Sociologists such as Richard Wilkinson and David Garland point out that the more unequal a country, and the more a country has adopted neo-liberal policies – the higher the prison population. It would appear that the closer a country is to ‘pure capitalism’ the more punitive the elite class is.

  1. Alienation and Commodity Fetishism

We in west have become so obsessed with consumer culture that we end up defining ourselves through the products we consume, and how we ‘pick and mix them’ (this means fashion, holidays, houses, cars, mobile phones). From a Marxist point of view this is incredibly shallow – Marx believed that we are only fully human when we are fully engaged with the political and economic processes of our society. From the Marxist point of view, Capitalism just encourages us to be childlike and define ourselves through our styles and our hobbies and to forget about politics and economics. In the truest sense we are alienated from our productive base while our identities become more and more dependent on material goods.

  1. David Harvey argues that economic crises are inherent to the Capitalist system and that in recent years these crises have become more severe and more frequent.

Harvey argues that any sane person should join an anti-capitalist movement because the root problems of Capitalism are the same as they were in Marx’s day – click here for his analysis of the problems of Modern Capitalism

  1. Capitalist exploitation is so bad in some parts of the world that there is vehement resistance to it – especially in Latin America – President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, for example, perceives himself as an anti-Capitalist, as do many people of Latin America. The Zapatistas in Mexico is another good example and the World Development Movement also has Marxist undertones.

  • See the first 20 mins or so of John Pilger’s ‘War on Democracy’ to here Hugo Chavez talk in Marxist terms – on stream

  1. Although you don’t see it in the media there are tens of thousands of people who call themselves Communists and who sympathise with Marxism and the wider anti-capitalist movement. Left Wing criticisms and the anti-capitalist movement are still very much alive today.

Related Posts

The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society – Eight Key Ideas

Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism

Eight Criticisms of the Traditional Marxist View of Society

  1. The class structure today is more complex than Bourgeois-Proletariat. In most Western Nations and increasingly in developing nations there is an extensive middle class who have stocks and shares invested in Corporations run by what Marxists would call the ‘Capitalist Class’. Also in Britain 70% of people own their own homes and see these homes (our private property) as ‘economic assets’ so many of us are, in a sense, petit-capitalists.

  1. Capitalism today is less exploitative – Two historical examples of this are when Henry Ford, the famous car manufacturer, realised that paying his workers good wages would generate demand for the cars he produced – a process which lead to workers being less exploited and ‘buying into’ the Capitalist system. A second example is the move towards ‘Keynsian Economics’ in which the state came to play a more central role in regulating Capitalism to ensure that worst excesses of exploitation, inequality and insecurity that pure Capitalism generates were minimised. Part of this involved the introduction of the welfare state in many European Countries after the Second World War. In the United Kingdom the state now provides universal health care, education, pensions and social security, as well as guaranteeing a minimum wage. All of these things acts as a safety net to ensure that the worst excesses of Capitalist exploitation are ameliorated.

  1. Marx argued that those who control the economic base controlled the economic superstructure – yet many of our institutions today have at least relative autonomy from Bourgeois control – it is quite obvious, for example, that huge sections of the press are critical of the Elite and many popular music artists are extremely critical of the Capitalist system.

  1. Given the above three points, it seems ludicrous to argue that the superstructure is controlled by the Bourgeoisie and is used to create false consciousness. Firstly, post-modernists argue that culture (mainly the media) exists independently of Bourgeois control and is used by people in different for a variety of different purposes. If institutions are not controlled by the Bourgeois, then there can be no False Consciousness. What we really have in post-modern society according to Post-Modernists is free individuals who correctly see class as irrelevant and who do not feel exploited and who are happy to identify themselves through the products they buy – products that are themselves the final outcome of a successful Capitalist system of production.

  1. There is much less Alienation in modern companies. Workers have a lot more say, partly due to unionisation and partly due to enlightened management techniques. In addition, there are four million self employed people who directly control the terms and conditions of their working lives.

  1. Classic Marxist theory has been criticised for being economically deterministic. Marx argued that ‘economic laws’ determined not only the shape of society but also the direction of history itself. On reflection, however, it is clearly the case that other factors shape history too – different societies have responded differently to the global spread of Capitalism – some have pushed neo-liberalism (America and Britain under Thatcher and Bliare) others have taken a social democratic line and used the state as a buffer to protect citizens from the worst excesses of Capitalist exploitation (Scandanavian countries); China has developed a form of autocratic- capitalism and other countries (Cuba and more recently Venezuala) have rejected it in favour of a Socialist dictatorship.

  2. The Communist Revolutions in Eastern Europe did not lead to greater equality and freedom as Marx would have hoped. Given the failures of communism it is difficult to see what the alternative to Capitalism might be. NB – As a counter critique, contemporary Marxists would argue that the state communism of Eastern Europe was hardly true communism.

  3. Finally, many sociologists today would argue that Marx’s ‘grand theorising’ about the world is no longer relevant – rather than researching with the intention of creating the perfect society, we should really be focussing our attention of much more specific and localised social issues.

Related Posts

The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society – Eight Key Ideas

Eight Ways in Which Marxism is Still Relevant Today

The Marxist Perspective on Society

Includes some of the Key Ideas of Karl Marx, including Bourgeoisie/ Proletariat, exploitation, false consciousness, ideological control, and revolution.

This is a simplified version of Marxist Theory designed for second year A level students

In order to fully understand Marxism, you need to understand the work of Karl Marx, who produced most of his writing between 1840 and 1870.

  1. Under Capitalism there are two basic classes- The Bourgeois and The Proletariat

  1. The relationship between these two classes is exploitative because the amount of money the employer pays the worker is less than the total value of goods that worker produces. The difference between the two is called surplus value. Marx thus says that the capitalist extracts surplus value from the worker. To Marx, Profit is basically the accumulated exploitation of workers in capitalist society.

  1. Control of the Economic Base means control of the superstructure… According to Marx those who have economic power control all other institutions. During Marx’s day there was some evidence to suggest this was true – Voting was restricted to men with property; Press Barons used their papers to spread propaganda; and only the children of the wealthy could get to university.

  1. The Bourgeois use their control of institutions to keep the masses ignorant of their exploitation – this is known as ideological control. According to Marx this was mainly done through the Mass Media and Religion. Ideological control results in False Consciousness – individuals not being aware (conscious) of their true class position or their exploitation by the ruling class. They are in a state of illusion.

  1. Capitalism causes alienation- Under Capitalism the worker becomes alienated from the process of production, from the people he works with and from the products they produce. This is because he lacks control over his work and becomes a ‘machine’, and thus work appears as ‘alien’ to him.

  1. Marx’s ideas on Capitalism and social change – Competition leads to increasing levels of exploitation – Marx argued that the Capitalism had within it the seeds of its own destruction – it would eventually create the social conditions that would lead to its downfall. In order to stay competitive, Capitalists would have to sell goods at lower prices, which would mean reduced profit. This would then encourage Capitalists to seek to reduce wages and increase efficiency– making the working conditions of the proletariat ever worse. Marx theorised that increasing numbers of increasingly exploited proletarians crammed into ever expanding cities (where factories were based) would eventually lead to a violent revolution – in which the proletariat would throw off their oppressors.

  1. Revolution and Communism – Marx argued that following the overthrow of the Bourgeois – society would eventually organise itself along Communist lines – where the means of production are collectively owned (no private property) and everyone has equal wealth. Marx was vague about exactly what the Communist society would look like but argued that in this society ‘each would give according to their ability and take according to their needs’ and that there would be a lot more free time for all.

  1. The point of ‘Social Research’ according to Marx – Marx spent the last decade of his life sitting in the British Library analysing how Capitalism worked and discovered that over time, the degree of exploitation of workers increased. He thus theorised that Capitalism would gradually lead to an increasing amount human misery and exploitation and that it must, one day come to an end.

As far as Marx was concerned, he had realised the truth, and he believed that political action was necessary to ‘wake up’ the proletariat and bring them to revolutionary class consciousness. He spent much of the middle and later parts of his life engaged in efforts to bring about revolutionary change.

Related Posts (for A2 Sociology – criticisms and counter-criticisms)

Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism

Eight Ways in Which Marxism is Still Relevant Today

Related Posts from other Topics Within Sociology

One way to approach Marxist Theory in second year Sociology is to look at what Marxists say about specific areas of society such as the family and education.

The Marxist Perspective on The Family

The Marxist Perspective on Education

Dependency Theory

World Systems Theory

Find out more about Marxism – Good external sites

The Marx and Engels Archive – This is a comprehensive site which provides access to Marx’s major works, as well as biographies and articles about Marx, and a picture gallery!

The Communist Manifesto – Published in 1848 this is Marx’s most famous work – the one which contains the classic line ‘Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains’.

Marxism 2016 – Ideas for Revolution – This is the homepage of the latest Marxism festival, which is held in London every year over several days, where you can go to hear contemporary Marxists speak and argue amongst themselves.

The Victorian Slum is a BBC recreation of slum life from the 1860s, which was one of the decades when Marx was writing and conveys some of the privations working class slum dwellers had to endure – basically wages just about covered lodging and food. NB – According to this article, the level of squalor was almost certainly worse than in the video. There’s a good level of sociological commentary running through this.

From Modernity to Post-Modernity

In order to understand what post-modernity is, one has to understand what modernity, or modern society was! Somewhat confusingly ‘modern society’ refers to European society between roughly 1650- 1950 (ish) and post-modern society refers to European and many other ‘advanced’ ‘post-industrial’ societies from around 1950 (ish) onwards.

Post-Modernists argue that post-modern society is different to modern society, so much so that it requires new methods of study and new theoretical frameworks. Essentially, what is different, according to Post-Modernists, is that those stable institutions which used to bind us together have much less influence now, and with the rise of globalisation and New Media technologies, individuals are much more free to construct their culture and identity that they once were. Sociologists disagree as to exactly when post-modernism started. For some, the roots of it lie in early modernity, for others, post-modernism does not properly begin until the 1970s, still others argue (Giddens) that we don’t even live in a post-modern society at all!

Now it’s important for you to get your head around what post-modern society is, because theorists of post-modernity argue that the traditional structuralist theories of Marxism and feminism are no longer relevant and suggest new ways of ‘doing sociology’.

In order to understand what post-modern society is, one has to understand what modern society was

What was (is?) modernity?

Modernity is the term used by sociologists to describe the “modern” period which began in Europe several hundred years ago. Some of the key features of modern societies are:

  • Economic production is industrial and capitalist, with social class as the main form of social division. Social classes are based on people’s social and economic position. Marx’s view for instance, was that industrial society people were divided into two main classes, those who owned businesses and those who sold their labour to them.

    fordism_2
    The Fordist Factory – Industrialist and with Clear Social Class Divisions
  • The growth of cities, or urbanisation. During the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries thousands of people moved to cities to find work and make their homes.

    urbanisation
    Urbanisation – The growth of cities was a key process of modernity
  • A powerful central government and administration, known as a bureaucratic state. Local and central government have played an ever increasing part in our lives, the development of compulsory education, public housing and the welfare state for example.

    nation state
    Many of these nations regulated people’s lives and developed welfare systems of some sort during the modern period
  • People’s knowledge is derived from scientific and rational thinking rather than religious faith, magic or superstition. During this period people have looked to science and logical thinking to explain the world. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, for example, have tended to be explained scientifically rather than as an “act of god”.

    Moon+Landing+1920x1200+wallpaper
    The Moon landing – probably the pinnacle of the modernist idea of scientific progress
  • A widely held faith in scientifically based progress. An associated view has been that the more we trust in science and technological progress, the better our society will be.

    Progress 12a

Most of the “great” sociologists have attempted to find ways of understanding “modernity” and the “great transformation” which created it. Writers such as Marx and Durkheim attempted to create theories and concepts which could help explain the workings of societies and answer basic questions such as “what holds societies together?” and “what makes societies change?”

What is Postmodernity?

Post-Modernity refers to the view that the institutions and ways of living characteristic of Modernity have been replaced to such a profound extent that our society is fundamentally different to the ‘modern’ society. In contrast post-modernism is a term that refers to new ways of thinking about thought. Post-modernists believe that knowledge itself needs to be understood in a different way to modernists sociologists such as Functionalists and Marxists. It follows that not all theorists of post-modernity are post-modernists.

Five Key features of the post-modern society

  1. Globalisation

  2. The Media

  3. A world in Fragments (due to Dynamism: Rapid social change)

  4. Consumer society: Individual freedom to choose one’s lifestyle

  5. Cultural diversity and hybridity

  1. Globalisation

A simple definition of Globalisation is the increasing connectedness between societies across the globe. Globalisation means there are more flows of information and ideas, money, and people moving across national boundaries.

postmodernity globalisation

  1. The increasing importance of the mass media

The post-modern era has witnessed a huge expansion in media technology. The rise of digital media, especially the internet, has lead to a massive and unprecedented increase in the number of people using the media; a huge increase in the diversity of media products both factual and fictional; an increase in the number of people creating their own music, videos, profile sites and uploading them for public consumption, greater interactivity, more flexibility. All of this results in much more complex patterns of media usage, more picking and mixing

One consequence of this is that our society has an increased reliance on the media to tell us what is going on in the world. Some sociologists argue that the media creates something called ‘hyper reality’ where what we see in the media is different yet more real than reality. Baudrillard argues that the media coverage of war for example is different to reality, yet is the only reality most of us know.

New networks also emerge through the use of media, most obviously through profile sites such as Facebook. One consequence of this is the breakdown of local communities, as people increasingly network online in the privacy of their own homes, and don’t communicate with their next door neighbours.

postmodernity hyperreality
Hyperreality – Is the virtual world more real than reality?
  1. A world in fragments

In post-modern society, the pace of change is much more rapid than in modern society. Post-modern society is thus more dynamic, more fluid if you like. The post-modern society doesn’t sit still, it is like a fidgeting child, and as a result, it lacks any coherent, stable social structure. This can be evidenced in the following areas:

Work: Gone are the days of a ‘Job for Life’, today is the era of the ‘portfolio worker’ who is much more likely to move jobs and change career several times throughout his or her working life. Working life is also characterised by much more uncertainty as businesses are quick to move to other regions or countries if they can find cheaper labour abroad. One very good illustrative example of this is Dyson, which recently closed down a factory in South Wales to seek cheaper labour in China. From the perspective of the South Wales workers, Dyson came and went in a very short time frame. Also, companies are now increasingly likely to employ workers through recruitment agencies which can fire at short notice, and much work is temporary, part time and characterised by flexible working hours. There are of course good sides and bad sides to all of this, but the upshot is that working life is much less stable than it used to be. See Richard Sennet: The Corrossion of Character chapter 1 and Polly Toynbe: Hard Work for an insight into the post-modern world of work.

Fashion and Music: Two of the most visible examples of the fast pace of change lies in the fashion and music industries, which are constantly evolving with new styles and musical forms constantly emerging, and with many artists having to continually reinvent themselves to stay in the spotlight. At the extreme end of this, the pop-idol genre of shows demonstrates how individuals are made stars for a month and then forgotten.

The breakdown of local communities: The increased flexibility of labour associated with the world of work means people move more often in their lifetimes, meaning that people are much less able to put down sable roots in their local communities. This has lead to a decline in ‘social capital’ (pretty much like trust) according to Robert Putnam. Look him up on Google, go on, you know you want to. Do something different instead of wasting your time surfing for information on…

post modernity network society
Postmodern society is a network society, with a complex ‘structure’, if any structure at all!

4. The Consumer society

According to post-modernists one Fundamental difference between the post-modern society and modern society is that our society is consumer oriented, rather than work oriented. This means that consuming things, and leisure activities are more important today than work. The image of the post-modern society is thus one of a shopping mall, rather than a factory.

Post modernists argue that we live in a ‘Pick and mix’ society. Individuals today are free to pick their lifestyle and life course, from a wider range of options than ever before, just as if they were picking and choosing products in a super market! Importantly, post modernists argue that individuals are much less shaped by their class, gender and ethnic backgrounds today. Women, for example, are not expected to become housewives and mothers, just because they are women and work is much less gendered than it used to be. Society is no longer divided along class lines, or gender lines, or even ethnic lines. Being born working class, being born a woman, or being born black, does not, according to post-modernists, pre-determine one’s future, or shape one’s consciousness (identity) as it did in modernity (and the extent to which it did was often exaggerated by the classical sociologists).

postmodernity consumerism
Postmodern society – a society of consumers

5. Cultural diversity and hybridity

The ever increasing pace of globalisation has lead to an increase in cultural diversity and ‘hybridity’, which refers to the mixing of different cultural traditions. If we compare society today to that of 100 or even 50 years ago we see a bewildering increase in the diversity of social and cultural forms. Some of the more obvious examples include:

  • Goods and services: A simple trip to the supermarket or shopping mall reveals a huge range of products one can buy, and the same is true of services.

  • Fashion and Music: Once again, one can spend several hours in a week simply choosing what to buy or wear, or sorting MP3s on one’s MP3 player (once you’ve chosen one of those course!)

  • Pretty much every other sphere of life is more diverse than it was 50 years ago: Education, work, family life…..

postmodern uncertainty
The result of all of the above = a lack of clear direction, and an abandonment of the possibility of progress

Review Questions

In a post-modern society, we have much more consumerism choice, what are the consequences of this for individuals?

Briefly explain two key features of the modern society

What is ‘Globalisation’?

What is meant by the term ‘hyperreality’?

Briefly explain what is meant by the fragmented society

What is cultural hybridity, illustrate with an example

Related Posts

Three examples of Postmodern Thinkers

Criticisms of Postmodernism

Postmodern and Late Modern Views of Education – A Summary

The Postmodernist View of Education 

  • Postmodernists stand against universalising education systems – it there is no one truth, then it is not appropriate to have a one size fits all education system.
  • Modernist education is oppressive to many students – students give up their freedom for 11 years in order to learn knowledge which will improve their life chances – this does not work for everyone.
  • Ideas of education which fit with a postmodern agenda include –
  1. Home Education
  2. Liberal forms of education (Summerhill School)
  3. Adult Education and Life Long Learning (because adults can make more of a choice)
  4. Education outside of formal education (leisure)

The Late-Modernist View of Education

  • At an Institutional level education (mainly schools) become a fundamental part of the reflexive institutional landscape of Post-Fordist late-modernity
  • Education policy is one of the things which the New Right and New Labour governments can and have used to ‘colonise the future’ by (a) providing opportunities for reskilling in an ever changing global labour market and (b) to keep under surveillance students ‘at risk’ of future deviance.

Post and Late Modern Perspectives on The Family – A Comparison

The Postmodern View of Family/ Personal Relationships

  • The fact that we see a dazzling array of personal, intimate relationships and family forms is an expression of post-modern society.
  • Postmodern relationships are much more complex because of hyperreality (think Tinder) and because of leisure – this is generally to be celebrated because relationships (and sexuality) are now much more about fun rather than duty.
  • A postmodern view would celebrate the new freedoms surrounding postmodern relationships – based on choice and leisure – as this is a move away from the oppressive norms of the traditional nuclear family.

The Late Modern View of Family/ Personal Relationships

  • Developing stable relationships becomes more difficult in late modern society because relationships becomes a matter of choice.
  • The root cause of this is that the ‘new norm’ is for people to ‘use’ their relationships as a means of constructing their own identities. ‘My needs’ come first, the relationship comes second.
  • Two generic forms of ‘typical relationship emerge’ – The Pure Relationship (based on ‘confluent love’) and the Negotiated Family.
  • These are typically characterised by greater equality but more instability (hence high divorce) – new structures emerge to help people through relationship breakdowns.

Sociological Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

A Level Sociology – Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

A summmary of the Functionalist, Marxist, New Right, Late Modern/ New Labour and Postmodern Perspectives on the role of education in society – focusing on Key ideas, supporting evidence and criticisms. (Scroll down for ‘test yourself’ link)

Key Ideas about Education

Supporting Evidence

Criticisms/ Limitations

Functionalism

  • Education performs positive functions for the individual and society.

  • It creating social solidarity (value consensus) through teaching the same subjects.

  • Teaching skills necessary for work – necessary for a complex division of labour.

  • Acting as a bridge between home and soceiety – from paricularistic to universalistic values.

  • Role Allocation and meritocracy

  • School performs positive functions for most pupils – exclusion and truancy rates are very low.

  • Role Allocation – Those with degrees earn 85% more than those without degrees.

  • Schools do try to foster ‘solidarity’ – Extended Tutorials – (‘cringing together’?)

  • Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses.

  • Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer).

  • Marxists – the education system is not meritocratic (not fair) – e.g. private schools benefit the wealthy.

  • Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school –

  • Many schools fail OFSTED inspections,

  • Not all pupils succeed

  • Negative In school processes like subcultures/ bullying/ teacher labelling

  • Postmodernists argue that ‘teaching to the test’ kills creativity.

  • Functionalism reflects the views of the powerful. The education system tends to work for them. (because they can send their children to private schools) and it suggests there is nothing to criticise.

Marxism

  • Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. The education system performs three functions for these elites:

  • Reproduces class inequality.

  • Legitimates class inequality.

  • The Correspondence Principle – School works in the interests of capitalist employers.

  • Neo- Marxism – Paul Willis – A Classic piece of Participant Observation of 12 lads who formed a counter school cultur. Willis argued they rejected authority and school and just turned up to ‘have a laff’ (rejecting the correspondence theory). However, they ended up failing and still ended up in working class jobs (so supports the reproduction of class inequality).

  • To support the reproduction of inequality – Who gets the best Jobs. And there is no statistically significant evidence against the FACT that, on aggregate, the richer your parents, the better you do in education.

  • To support the Legitimation of class inequality – pupils are generally not taught about how unfair the education system is – they are taught that if they do badly, it is down to them and their lack of effort.

  • To support the Ideological State Apparatus – Surveillance has increased schools’ ability to control students.

  • There are many critical subjects taught at university that criticise elites (e.g. Sociology).

  • It is deterministic – not every child passively accepts authority (see Paul Willis).

  • Some students rebel – 5% are persistent truants (they are active, not passive!).

  • Some students from poor backgrounds do ‘beat the odds’ and go on to achieve highly.

  • The growth of the creative industries in the UK suggest school doesn’t pacify all students.

  • The nature of work and the class structure has also changed, possibly making Marxism less relevant today.

Key Ideas about Education

Supporting Evidence

Criticisms/ Limitations

Neoliberalism and The New Right

  • Created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school = league tables.

  • The state provides a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing – National Curriculum.

  • Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work: New Vocationalism!

  • Their policies seem to have raised standards.

  • Their policies have been applied internationally (PISA league tables).

  • Asian Countries with very competitive education systems tend to top the league tables (e.g. China).

  • Competition between schools benefited the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice.

  • Vocational Education was also often poor.

  • There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools.

  • The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools.

Late Modernism and New Labour

  • Government needs to spend more on education to respond to the rapid pace of change brought about by Globalisation.

  • People need to reskill more often as – government should play a role in managing this.

  • Schools are also necessary to keep under surveillance students ‘at risk’ of future deviance.

  • New Labour Policies – the purpose of school should be to raise standards, improve equality of opportunty, and promote diversity and equality.

  • See Evaluation of New Labour Policies

  • All developed economies have governments who spend large amounts of money on education, suggesting more (not less like Neoliberals suggest) state education is good.

  • It is difficult to see what other institution could teach about diversity other than schools.

  • There did seem to be more equality of opportunity under New Labour rather than under the 2015 Neoliberal/ New Right government.

  • Postmodernists argue that government attempts to ‘engineer’ pupils to fit society kill creativity

  • Marxists argue that whatever state education does it can never reduce class inequalities – we need to abolish global capitalism, not adapt to it!

  • Late-Modern, New Labour ideas about education are expensive. Neoliberalists say that we can no longer afford to spend huge sums of money on education.

Postmodernism

  • Stand against universalising education systems.

  • See Modernist education as oppressive to many students – especially minority groups

  • Believe the ‘factory production-line mentality of education kills creativity

  • Ideas of education which fit with a postmodern agenda include – Home Education, Liberal forms of education, Adult Education and Life Long Learnin and Education outside of formal education (leisure)

  • Many people agree that schools do kill creativity (Ted Robinson, and Suli-Breaks)

  • Sue Palmer – Teaching the test has resulted in school being miserable and stressful for many pupils.

  • Do we really want an education system more like the Chinese one?

  • The National Curriculum has been criticised as being ethnocentric (potentially oppressive to minority groups).

  • Late-Modernists – we need schools to promote tolerance of diversity.

  • Neoliberalism – we need a competitive system to drive up standards in order to be able to compete in a global free market!

  • Marxists would argue that home education would lead to greater inequality – not all parents have an equal ability – if we leave education to parents, the middle classes will just benefit more, and working class kids will be even further behind.

  • Liberal forms of education may result in the survival of the fittest’

 

Test yourself:

Functionalist or Marxist? (Quizlet Test)

Sociological Perspectives on Social Policy and the Family

The Functionalist View of Social Policy and The Family

Functionalists see society as built on harmony and consensus (shared values), and free from conflicts. They see the state as acting in the interests of society as a whole and its social policies as being for the good of all. Functionalists see policies as helping families to perform their functions more effectively and making life better for their members.

For example, Ronald Fletcher (1966) argues that the introduction of health, education and housing policies in the years since the industrial revolution has gradually led to the development of a welfare state that supports the family in performing its functions more effectively.

For instance, the existence of the National Health Service means that with the help of doctors, nurses, hospitals and medicines, the family today is better able to take care of its members when they are sick.

However, the functionalist view has been criticised on two main counts:

  • It assumes that all members of the family benefit equally from social policies, whereas Feminists argue that policies often benefit men more than women.

  • It assumes that there is a ‘march of progress’ with social policies, gradually making life better, which is a view criticise by Donzelot in the following section.

Adapted from Robb Webb et al

A Conflict Perspective – Donzelot: Policing the Family

Jacques Donzelot (1977) has a conflict view of society and sees policy as a form of state power and control over families.

Donzelot uses Michel Foucault’s (1976) concept of surveillance (observing and monitoring). Foucault sees power not just as something held by the government or the state, but as diffused (spread) throughout society and found within all relationships. In particular, Foucault sees professionals such as doctors and social workers as exercising power over their clients by using their expert knowledge to turn them into ‘cases’ to be dealt with.

Donzelot applies these ideas to the family. He is interested in how professionals carry out surveillance of families. He argues that social workers, health visitors and doctors use their knowledge to control and change families. Donzelot calls this ‘the policing of families’.

Surveillance is not targeted equally at all social classes. Poor families are much more likely to be seen as ‘problem families’ and as the causes of crime and anti-social behaviour. These are the families that professionals target for ‘improvement’. For example as Rachel Condry (2007) notes, the state may seek to control and regulate family life by imposing compulsory Parenting Orders through the courts. Parents of young offenders, truants or badly behaved children may be forced to attend parenting classes to learn the ‘correct’ way to bring up children.

Donzelot rejects the Functionalists’ march of progress view that social policy and the professionals who carry it out have created a better society. Instead he sees social policy as oppressing certain types of families. By focussing on the micro level of how the ‘caring professions’ act as agents of social control through the surveillance of families, Donzelot shows the importance of professional knowledge as a form of power and control.

However, Marxists and Feminists criticise Donzelot for failing to identify clearly who benefits from such policies of surveillance. Marxists argue that social policies generally operate in the interests of the capitalist class, while Feminists argue men are the beneficiaries.

Adapted from Rob Webb et al

The New Right and Social Policy

The New Right have had considerable influence on government thinking about social policy and its effects on family. They see the traditional nuclear family, with its division of labour between a male provider and a female home maker as self-reliant and capable of caring for its members. In their view, social policies should avoid doing anything that might undermine this natural self-reliant family.

The New Right criticise many existing government policies for undermining the family. In particular, they argue that governments often weaken the family’s self-reliance by providing overly generous welfare benefits. These include providing council housing for unmarried teenage mothers and cash payments to support lone parent families.

Charles Murray (1984) argues that these benefits offer ‘perverse incentives’ – that is, they reward irresponsible or anti-social behaviour. For example –

If fathers see that the state will maintain their children some of them will abandon their responsibilities to their families

Providing council housing for unmarried teenage mothers encourages young girls to become pregnant

The growth of lone parent families encouraged by generous welfare benefits means more boys grow up without a male role model and authority figure. This lack of paternal authority is responsible for a rising crime rate amongst young males.

The New Right supports the following social polices

Cuts in welfare benefits and tighter restrictions on who is eligible for benefits, to prevent ‘perverse incentives’.

Policies to support the traditional nuclear family – for example taxes that favour married couples rather than cohabiting couples.

The Child Support agency – whose role is to make absent dads pay for their children

Criticisms of the New Right

Feminists argue that their polices are an attempt to justify a return to the traditional nuclear family, which works to subordinate women

Cutting benefits may simply drive many into poverty, leading to further social problems

Feminism and Social Policy

Liberal Feminists argue that that changes such as the equal pay act and increasingly generous maternity leave and pay are sufficient to bring about gender equality. The following social policies have led to greater gender equality:

  • The divorce act of 1969 gave women the right to divorce on an equal footing to men – which lead to a spike in the divorce rate.

  • The equal pay act of 1972 was an important step towards women’s independence from men.

  • Increasingly generous maternity cover and pay made it easier for women to have children and then return to work.

However, Radical Feminists argue that patriarchy (the ideal of male superiority) is so entrenched in society that mere policy changes alone are insufficient to bring about gender equality. They argue, for example, that despite the equal pay act, sexism still exists in the sphere of work –

  • There is little evidence of the ‘new man’ who does their fair share of domestic chores. They argue women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal – men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour.

  • Some Feminists even argue that overly generous maternity cover compared to paternity cover reinforces the idea that women should be the primary child carer, unintentionally disadvantaging women

  • Dunscmobe and Marsden (1995) argue that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’ – being expected to take on the emotional burden of caring for children.

  • This last point is more difficult to assess as it is much harder to quantify emotion work compared to the amounts of domestic work and paid work carried out by men and women.

  • Class differences also play a role – with working class mothers suffering more because they cannot afford childcare.

  • Mirlees- Black points out that ¼ women experience domestic violence – and many are reluctant to leave their partner

New Labour and Family Policy

New Labour was in power from between 1997 – 2010. There are three things you need to know about New Labour’s Social Policies towards the family

1. New Labour seemed to be more in favour of family diversity than the New Right. For example –

In 2004 they introduced The Civil Partner Act which gave same sex couples similar rights to heterosexual married couples

In 2005 they changed the law on adoption, giving unmarried couples, including gay couples, the right to adopt on the same basis as married couples

2. Despite their claims to want to cut down on welfare dependency, New Labour were less concerned about ‘the perverse incentives of welfare’ than the New Right. During their terms of office, they failed to take ‘tough decisions on welfare’ – putting the well-being of children first by making sure that even the long term unemployed families and single mothers had adequate housing and money.

3. New Labour believes in more state intervention in family life than the New Right. They have a more positive view of state intervention, thinking it is often necessary to improve the lives of families.

For example in June 2007 New Labour established the Department for Children, Schools and Families. This was the first time that there was ever a ‘department for the family’ in British politics.

The Government’s aim of this department was to ensure that every child would get the best possible start in life, receiving the on-going support and protection that they – and their families – need to allow them to fulfil their potential. The new Department would play a strong role both in taking forward policy relating to children and young people, and coordinating and leading work across Government and youth and family policy.

Key aspects included:

Raising school standards for all children and young people at all ages.

Responsibility for promoting the well-being, safety, protection and care of all young people.

Responsibility for promoting the health of all children and young people, including measures to tackle key health problems such as obesity, as well as the promotion of youth sport

Responsibility for promoting the wider contribution of young people to their communities.

Why do White Working Class Kids Lack Aspiration?

This useful Thinking Allowed Podcast summarises two recent pieces of qualitative social research and helps further our understanding of why white working class boys underachieve in education.

The podcast starts with Michael Wilshaw in 2013 (when he was head of OFSTED) pointing out that only 35% of white girls from low income households and 26% of white boys achieved 5 GCSEs at grades A*- C.

Wilshaw states that there is no reason why such pupils shouldn’t be able to achieve, and effectively blames their failure on a lack of aspiration among white working class boys.

Two sociologists who take issue with Wilshaw’s theory are Garth Stahl (spent nine years teaching in state secondary schools in England before conducting interviews in three London schools), and Heather Mendick ( who has researched the relationship between urban youth and schooling more generally). Together Stahl and Mendick effectively argue that white working class boys don’t lack aspiration at all, what they lack is a middle class view of aspiration, and it is this which puts them at a disadvantage in education.

Schools are Based Around a Middle Class Idea of Aspiration

Stahl argues that aspiration is a big thing in contemporary education – the dominant discourse in the system (which is unquestioned) is that learning will eventually equal earning, and that it is up to the individual student to do this on their own – i.e. the right kind of aspiration is to aspire to earn and then sacrifice now in order to get the grades to get you that income in the future.

The podcast also mentions that this discourse is tied up with the neoliberal idea of ‘self-crafting’ – or working on the self to progress – and no doubt this means that part of aspiration means skilling yourself up to make yourself more attractive to employers – you know the sort of thing – D of E and other volunteering, team sports, musical instrument, winner of the Young Apprentice.

The problem with the above is that it is a very middle class definition of aspiration – the kind of thing middle class parents spend a lot more time instilling in their children than working class parents.

White Working Class Aspirations and how They Conflict with School’s 

According to Stahl, working class boys do  have aspirations – they generally wished for a nice, ‘ordinary life’, not to be greedy, just wanting to get a decent job and to  ‘bring home the bacon’for their family.

There was a significant focus on trades (plumbing for example) as being good careers where they could do an honest days work for a decent wage, a focus on ‘authenticity’ (rather than ‘constructing an image of yourself and selling your image,, maybe?)

One point of conflict was over the paid work some of the boys did while at school – for them it was all part of their future ‘honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay’ aspiration (demonstrating a clear work ethic) but not for the school, as it conflicted with the ‘learning = earning’ discourse.

Interestingly, the boys didn’t reject school like Willis’ lads did, rather they invested in ‘ordinary learner identities’  – they didn’t want to succeed or fail and settled for middling positions in the school.

The harmful effects of the normalisation of middle class aspiration 

Mendick points out that aspiration is now used to judge people – certain aspirations which do not fit into the ‘learning = earning’ discourse are seen as failures – such as being a celebrity, having a family at a young age, or just wanting to being normal for example, all of these are seen as not good enough. The effective of this is normalises a middle class pathway through life and to further denigrate working class culture and aspiration as inferior.

This is supported by Stahl who found that the boys he interviewed had a sense of working class pride, but they weren’t so loud and proud of this identity like Willis’ lads were in the 1970s.

Mendick also found evidence of some middle class children just wanting out from this competitive culture – it’s not just the working classes who are disempowered.

Finally, and depressingly, the researchers both found a widespread acceptance of self-blaming for failure.

Brief Commentary

I think these pieces of research are an invaluable antidote to the dominant culture of middle class aspiration which has infiltrated our education system.

These ideas about aspiration and individual responsibility haven’t just emerged out of thin air after all – as Zygmunt Bauman would probably out, they’re just part of the wider social process of individualisation – Where individuals are expected to find biographical solutions to system contradictions.

I think more students should question the ‘learning = earning’ equation, because in the future formal education and qualifications may well not be the best way for kids to guarantee a secure income (if, indeed they can ever gain a secure income).

Finally, we should ask ourselves whether there’s anything wrong with ‘merely’ aspiring to having a decent job, paying your way, and feeling like you’re contributing to society, rather than always wanting to ‘work harder, earn more cash and so on….’

This is only a selective commentary from the podcast, read the research if you want to find out more…!

 References

Identity, Neoliberalism and Aspiration – Educating White Working Class Boys, and Mendick as studied the relationship

Urban Youth and Schooling