How has education changed in the age of postmodernity?
Postmodern society is more diverse, consumerist, fragmented, media-saturated (hyperreal) and allows individuals much more freedom of choice than in the previous modern society. You might like to review this article on modern and postmodern society before continuing.
A few examples of some of the ways education could be said to have responded postmodernisation include:
Schools are more ‘consumerist’ and provide more individual choice
With the introduction of marketisation and open enrollment, parents now have more choice over which school to send their child to. Marketisation has effectively made schools into businesses and parents/ pupils into consumers. When choosing primary or secondary schools, parents and pupils now get to peruse school prospectuses and attend open evenings, ‘browsing’ for the school of their choice. Parents are also free to enroll their children at alternative schools, or home educate if their ‘consumer needs’ are not met by their current school.
Education has become more individualized
Teachers are expected to use a variety of teaching approaches in their delivery of lesson, to take account of the variety of ‘learning styles’ of students, and where possible ‘facilitate’ lessons so that they are learner centered.
Tutors also spend time working out ‘learner pathways’ with students, so that their educational path is tailored to suit their future career aims.
Education is more diverse
Since New Labour the U.K. has seen an increasing diversity of school types – there has been an increase in ‘specialist schools’ which specialise in one subject in particular (such as maths), many more faith schools, and more recently a dramatic increase in the number of academies and free schools.
There are also many more education providers today – the dramatic increase in apprenticeship places in the last decade means that there are now thousands of employers offering training to 16-24-year olds.
Despite the national curriculum, the experience of education has become more fragmented – privately educated school children generally enjoy a very cosy education, with clearly structured lessons and school years meaning they can realise their full potential by the time they leave school. At the other end of the social class spectrum, children mostly from lower working-class backgrounds feel alienated by a middle-class school system and they may experience disruption to their learning from badly behaved students.
The recent increase in home-schooling is also a good example of education becoming more fragmented.
Education is more ‘Hyperreal’
A fairly obvious example of this that schools are making much more use of ICT in education, and students are increasingly being directed to online sources for learning support, or even as the main source of tuition for some courses.
Relevance of the postmodernisation of education to A-level sociology
This topic is relevant to the education module, usually taught in the first year.
It’s fairly unlikely that you’ll get an exam question asking you directly about postmodernism and education, the most likely use you can make of the above material is to criticise the functionalist view of education – for example, if education is more fragmented, it is unlikely that education can perform the function of creating value consensus in a society!
The Sex Map of Britain is a very interesting recent documentary series which ‘meets people for whom sex, sexuality and having children is far from straightforward.
The series covers the following topics:
The reality of being a ‘cheap prostitute’ – selling sex for as little as £4.
Why some people choose a career in porn.
Asexuality – why some people just don’t want sex.
Transgender escorts and parenting urges.
The journey of freezing eggs and ‘alternatives’ to IVF.
And a trip behind the scenes of a sexual health clinic.
Unfortunately the episode on polyamory has disappeared.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is a terrific series to get students to explore the wonderful diversity of relationships and sexuality in postmodern society, and taken together, this collection clearly illustrates the postmodern view of modern family life – that there’s no longer such a thing as a ‘normal’ family or relationship!
There are nine available episodes available on iplayer for the next 10 months, and, suitably for a documentary series which explores the diversity of family life in postmodern society, they are all nice and short, so perfect for postmodern students with postmodern attention spans (i.e. short ones).
In the first section Bauman provides an overview of some of the key features of contemporary urban areas.
Firstly, that modern urban areas are increasingly gated – To illustrate this he offers a description of Heritage Park, a new 500 acre gate community about to be built not far from Cape Town in South Africa, complete with high-voltage electric fencing, electronic surveillance of access roads and heavily armed guards. Within the fortifications, Heritage Park contains several amenities – from shops to salmon lakes, but the most significant feature for Bauman, is the assumption that lies behind the project – that in order to build a spirit of community, we can only do so if we exclude others.
Secondly, he illustrates that a fear of strangers is common by pointing out that increasing amounts of people think they are victims of stalkers and, although there is a long-historical trend of people looking for the source of their misery outside of themselves, this fear of stalkers is just the latest manifestation of a society-wide fear of the ‘mobile vulgus’, the inferior people who are always on the move (stalkers are not generally of the places which they stalk).
He rounds of this section by drawing on Sharon Zukin’s description of LA to provide an overview of the current evolution of urban life which can be described as the ‘institutionalization of urban fear’ the key features of which include…
‘defence of the community’ translated as the hiring of armed gatekeepers to control the entry.
Stalker and prowler promoted to public enemy number one.
Paring public areas down to defensible enclaves with selective access (thus reducing freedom to move about).
Separation in lieu of the negotiation of life in common.
The criminalisation of residual difference.
This is actually a very tame section for Bauman on this particular topic. There is a much stronger commentary in ‘Liquid Times’ in which he comments on ‘Fortress cities’, talking about how, for the marginalised, cities are increasingly becoming full of places where they cannot go.
(94) When strangers meet strangers
Drawing on Richard Sennet (which he does often), Bauman points out that ‘a city is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet’ – the encounters are likely to be without a past or a future, and such encounters require a particular set of skills which Sennet calls civility.
Civility is not an easy skill to learn, it involves putting on a mask to shield others from having to deal with the private burdens of one’s own self, and we expect the same from others. In other words, civility is based on the mutual withdrawal of the ‘true self’ – we don’t expect to be cajoled into expressing our inner most feelings to others in public spaces, instead we put on a ‘public persona’ and expect others to do the same and this is what enables us to share space with masses of other people. This, in short is civility, which the city requires. Something else Bauman says later in the chapter (to my mind this is the important bit, obscured by his artistic efforts to define the concept) is that civility is hard-work – it involves making the effort to get on (and I assume work with) people that are not like you! In order to work effectively, the city requires civility.
Bauman doesn’t go into too much depth here about what ‘civility’ actually is btw, but crucially it clearly doesn’t involve just doing whatever you want, it involves restraint, and not just of your actions, but of your ‘true’ self-expression
BC – I’m not at all comfortable with the analytical divisions stopping with the distinction between ‘public-persona’ and ‘true (private?) self’ – I’d me much happier with a distinction between ‘public-persona’ and ‘that confluence of aggregates which people in their ignorance label their true-selves’
Bauman then argues that there are two general types public space which are removed from the above ideal-type model of civility –
The first of these categories of public-yet-not-civil spaces are public squares such as La Defense on the right bank of the Seine which are designed to be kept empty by their inhospitable architecture.
The second category is meant to serve the consumer – the most obvious example of which is the shopping mall in which the primary task to be performed is individualised consumption with a minimum of human interaction. In such spaces, encounters are kept shallow and strangers are kept out to minimise the disruption to consumptive acts
On this note, something interesting to explore further are how successfully counter-movements devoted to subvert the logic of such consumer-spaces. Reverend Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping is the most obvious example of this, and some aspects of the UK Uncut protests here in Britain might also be read in the same way.
Our consumer spaces, such as shopping malls, are completely ‘other spaces’ – the temples of consumption may be in the city, but they are not of the city. The temple of consumption, like ‘Foucault’s boat’ maintains a distance from daily life, it is anchored out at sea. Temples of consumption are also purified spaces in that diversity and difference are cleansed of all threats to us, unlike the more threatening and potentially disruptive differences in daily life (such as the increasing likely threat of losing your job!), and so these unreal spaces offer us the near perfect balance between freedom and security.
I’m reminded of two things – the contrast to the relative lack of purity and increased uncertainty when shopping in markets in developing countries, and the attendant requirement to pay close attention to the dynamics (and it is more dynamic) of barter – this contrast is useful for criticising western notions of development; secondly, the fact that such purity really is lulling consumers into a very false sense of security because the ‘security’ gained through the act of shopping is so very short-lived.
In such places as shopping malls we also find a sense of belonging, in that we are all there for the same purpose, and so it is here that we find (a very limited idea of) community. The problem with this, as Sennet points out, is that any idea of community, of sameness is a fantasy… it is only achieved through ignoring differences. However, inside the temples of consumption, fantasy becomes reality and we find a sense of belonging for a few hours in a ‘community’ of shoppers. In these ‘egic’ spaces, for a short-time we can ignore differences because we are all united by the urge to shop, we all share a common purpose. The problem is that this is a shallow community that does not require empathy, understanding, bargaining or compromising.
From personal experience, he may as well be describing every sit-down cup of coffee I’ve ever had in a Cafe Nero or Costa Coffee… Such an EASY feeling of non-community. At some point I must try and work out the average cost per hour per table, I’d like to put a figure on the cost of non-community.
Bauman now turns to Claude Levi-Strauss, who suggested that just two strategies were deployed in human history whenever the need arose to cope with the otherness of others:
Anthropoemic strategies – which traditionally involves vomiting out strangers, which today takes the form of deportation and incarceration.
Anthropophagic strategies – ingesting strangers, which traditionally takes the form of cannibalism, but today takes the form of enforced assimilation.
The first strategy was aimed at the exile or annihilation of the others, the second aimed at the suspension or annihilation of their otherness.
Bauman now brings the above threads together to argue that the public square is the emic stratgey, the shopping mall the egic straegy, both are a response to our having to live with strangers combined with our lack of skills with civility. Rather than learn the skills, our urban spaces are designed to either exclude others or nullify otherness.
Quick Commentary – I think Bauman might be the world master in dualistic constructions (no wonder he likes Levi-Strauss.)
Bauman rounds off this section by (much more briefly) outlining two other types of space found in cities (I think the idea is that they also prevent the development of civility, although I’m not sure what his opinion is on the later)
Non-spaces, such as airports and hotel rooms, are those which discourage settling in, and share some features of the first kind of space. These are uncolonised, free of all identity markers.
This is an eerily accurate description of my one (and never to be repeated) experience in a Travel-lodge. As if the sterility of the room wasn’t enough, the final straw was having to pay for breakfast first and then showing the receipt to collect a plate, bowl and cutlery set, although they did give us unrestricted access to the plastic cups.
Finally, there are empty spaces – Those which are unmapped, to which no meaning is ascribed. These are basically the poorer and unknown bits of the city.
(104) Don’t Talk to Strangers
The main point about civility is the ability to interact with strangers without holding their strangeness against them and without pressing them to surrender it or to renounce some or all of the traits that made them strangers in the first place.
All of the above four places are designed to strip out any of the challenges of togetherness by rendering strangers as invisible as possible and minimising interaction with them.
However, even though we have arranged our public places so we minimise the risk of having any meaningful interaction with them, they are still full of strangers. (Bauman argues that our preferred is to try and organise our lives so we do not have to interact with them at all, but for most of us this is simply not possible.)
And so, following Sennet again, we have arranged our cities into ethnic enclaves where we mix with people ‘just like us’ and we end up with little islands of people bound together by a shared sense of ‘being like these people, but not like other people’ – We have avoided the difficulties of forging relationships with and negotiating how to live with people who are different to us, and this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy – because we avoid dealing with people ‘not like us’, those people are more distant, so they appear more dangerous, and the idea of constructing an ‘ideal-society’ of shared interest in the midst of cultural difference becomes ever more fanciful. Or, to summarise all of this succinctly in the words of Sharon Zukin (again) – ‘No one knows how to talk to anyone anyone else’.
Ethnicity is the first and foremost way we retreat from the difficult realm of the heterogeneous society out there, the society which requires negotiating and effort to get along in. In ethnic groupings, we don’t need to talk to people, we just feel the same, our sameness is heteronomous, it is given, our right. Identity is about who you are, not about what you do.
Note to self – or question to self – how does this square with the Buddhist notion of transcending the self through ‘non-doing’ and non-identification. What is the difference between ‘doingness’ in Buddhism (ethics) and doingness in Bauman? Also, is Bauman saying that part of being ethical (being responsible) is ‘doing’ in the sense of making the effort to forge meaningful bonds with people who are not like us (in which case this could be a very noble, ideal reading of Habermas’ communicative utopia)… More to come on this…
Bauman sees such a carving out of ethnic niches as a rational response to a legitimately perceived crisis of public life, where the public realm (this is from the last chapter, remember?!) has been narrowed down to private confessions. Politicians in fact give the message that identity matters above all else, it is who you are, not what you are doing that truly matters. Once you have ‘identity’ as the central logic of existence, purging others not like me needs no further rationale.
Bauman now casts our obsession with purity and purging of strangers perceived to be dangerous as a public pathology – a pathology of public space resulting in a pathology of politics: the wilting and waning of the art of dialogue and negotiation, the substitution of the techniques of escape and elision for engagement and mutual commitment.
He finishes by saying…. ‘Do not talk to strangers has now become the strategic precept of adult normality.’ and providing the basic problem with the premise of the gated community…. George Hazeldon Heritage Park (the gated community mentioned at the beginning) would be a place where, at long last, all passers-by could talk freely to each other. They would be free to talk since they would have very little to talk about – except exchanging the routine and familiar phrases entailing no controversy, but no commitment either. The dreamt-of purity of the Heritage Park community could be gained only at the price of disengagement and broken bonds.
By way of commentary on this section – look at the picture below… from my local paper commenting on travellers using a piece of local grassland to graze their horses on. Odd how this is on my regular running route, and I’ve regularly run across this field, people, horses and all, and never felt particularly threatened by any of them.
(110) Modernity as History of Time
Today, if asked how long it will take to get from a to b, we will be asked about what method of transport, because the amount of space we can cross in a given amount of time is very much dependent on the mode of transport we use to get there. It is normal for us today to try to calculate how long tasks will take us given the technology we are using. We are normatively very time-conscious.
However, it has not always been thus. In pre-modern times, people did not think very much about time and space because such thinking was not required given the nature of their lifeworlds. If people were pressed hard to explain what they meant by space and time, they may have said that space is what you can pass in a given time, while time is what you need pass it, but they didn’t think to much about either because their conception of both was limited because their transportation and work techniques (what Bauman calls ‘wetware’) – humans muscle, oxen or horses – which made the effort and set the limits of what amount of space could be travelled in what time.
He now seems to celebrate the efforts of Enlightenment thinkers such as Newton and Kant (who he calls the ‘valiant knights of reason’) for their efforts in setting apart time and space in human thought and practise – or as he puts it, their efforts in ‘casting time and space as two transcendentally separate and mutually independent categories of human cognition’ – the distinction between which provides us with the ‘epistemological ground for philosophical and scientific reflection’ and the ’empirical stuff that can be kneaded into timeless truths’.
Bauman seems to be arguing here that the development of the basic conceptions of time and space have been historically useful, illustrating his modernist roots.
He then argues that it was the construction of such things as vehicles (hardware) that enabled us to travel faster and technologies more generally that enable us to do more in less time that gave rise to this widespread perception of time and space being separate fields of thought.
In Modernity, time came to be seen as something which could be manipulated and controlled, it became a factor of destruction, the dynamic partner in the time-space wedlock, and thus controlling time became crucial to controlling space – Whoever could travel faster could claim more territory. In a nice evocative phrase Bauman says that ‘modernity was born under the stars of acceleration’.
As modernity progressed, time became its central logic: rationalisation was essentially a process designed to make us more productive, to cajole us to do more in less time.
Bauman finishes off this section by saying that the main focus of what the powerful do with time (use their time for?) in modernity is to conquer space. Bauman casts the powerful as those who invade and redraw boundaries, and the faster they can do this, the better, whereas the the weak are those who must defend their territory, for them and their world, time is experienced as something which is ‘running out’. (The very last line is my interpretation, but I’m 99% sure it’s accurate.)
I’m not sure how far Bauman takes his analysis of the differential experience of time in his later works, but one fairly obvious interpretation is that the wealthy, have time on their side, most obviously in the form of privileged access to high speed rail and air networks, the fastest broadband, and also their ability to employ people to do things for them. In contrast, middling people experience time as something that is scarce, and frequently have too much to do in the limited time available, especially where family and work need to be balanced. In addition, it is worth noting that those on the margins have ‘all the time in the world’ and are free to use this time as they see fit, according to their limited means, but if they are hooked on the synopticon, then much of that time will be spent watching the money-rich, time-rich worlds of the elite who take up such a disproportionate amount of media air-time.
I’m further reminded here of another two things – Firstly the 1960s futurologists such as Toffler who predicted a 4 hour working day once we were properly ‘teched up’ (whatever happened to that?!) and secondly I think there’s utility in developing a methodology for calculating how much of our time we give away in surplus value, most horrifyingly in the form of interest payments on our mortgages. The utility of this would lie in being able to calculate how much time we would gain if gave up these things.
NB – At some point in this section Bauman also makes the point that the conception of our place in physical space seems to have ontological significance in modernity – when he suggests that at the individual level we could replace Descartes’ well known ‘I think for I am’ with ‘I occupy space therefore I exist’ and the meaning would remain the same. This didn’t seem to flow with the rest of his argument but I quite liked the point so I thought I’d make a note of it!
(p113) From Heavy to Light Modernity
This section deals with one of Bauman’s most well-known dualisms
The term Heavy Modernity refers to the era of hardware, or bulk obsessed modernity, where size is power and volume is success. This is the era of ponderous rail engines and gigantic ocean liners. To conquer as much space as one could hold,and then guarding the boundaries was the goal.
In heavy modernity wealth and power were firmly rooted or deposited deep inside the land, empty space was seen as a threat, and heroes were made of those who penetrated the hearts of darkness.
In terms of production Modernity meant the factory, and the bigger, more routinised, more homogeneous the logic of control and the clearer the boundaries in many respects of the word, the better. Daniel Bell described the General Motors Willow Run plant in Michegan as one of the best examples.
Heavy modernity also involved the neutralising and co-ordination of time; in this eara, time, and what one could achieve in a given amount of time, became the measure of progress.
The relationship between labour and capital was like a marriage, until death do us part, because the factory tied both labour and capital to the ground. Neither could survive without the other which meant conflict, but a conflict born of the rootedness.
This is now changed, as evidenced by Daniel Cohen in the example of Microsoft: whoever begins a career there has not the slightest idea where they’ll end up. Today’s management is concerned with loser organisational forms, with adaptability, and as a result of thisthe idea of a ‘career’ seems out of place.
Behind this watershed change is the new irrelevance of space, masquerading as the annihilation of time. Space no more sets limits to action because of the instantaneity of communications. The instantaneity of time devalues space. Since all parts of space can be reached in an instant, no space has special value, and thus there is less reason to bear the cost of perpetual supervision of such spaces, given that they can be abandoned and revisited in an instant.
This might make sense when we are talking about software development, but in many other areas of work this just doesn’t apply. Surely we still have heavy modernity in places? The mining sector for example, and even supermarkets, which are at the centre of our nexus of consumption, are rooted physically to one place.
(p118) The Seductive Lightness of Being
In this section Bauman contrasts power in heavy modernity with power in liquid modernity.
He uses Muchel Crozier’s Bureaucratic Phenomenon to illustrate how power worked in the heavy period. Crozier pointed out that people who manage to keep their own actions unbound, norm-free and so unpredictable, while normatively regulating the actions of their protagonists rule: the freedom of the first is the main cause of the unfreedom of the second, while the undfreedom of the second is the ultimate meaning of the freedom of the first.
In Liquid modernity, while this basic relationship remains the same, it is those who come closest to the momentariness of time rule. Today Capital does not concern itself with managing labour; surveillance and drill are no longer necessary. Labour (because it either has little interest or choice in the matter, dealt with at more length in the next chapter) allows capital to travel light and engage only in short term contracts, in hopeful search of opportunity, of which there appear to be many. In Liquid Modernity, domination consists in one’s capacity to escape, to disengage, to be ‘elsewhere’ and the right to decide the speed with which all this is done, stripping the people on the dominated side of their ability to resist their moves or slow them down. The contemporary battled of domination is waged with the weapons of acceleration and procastination.
The bit below is actually at the beginning of this section in the book, but I thought it made much more sense at the end…where he deals with how we are possibly beginning to view time differently.
In the extreme case of the liquid modern, the software world, time appears as Insubstantial and instantaneous, and so Bauman argues this is also an inconsequential time, in which we demand on the spot fulfilment , but which is also characterised by immediate fading of interest. Today, given that space and time are closer together, we have only ‘moments’ – points without dimensions.
Bauman provides two qualifications to the above –
Firstly, he questions whether this way of conceiving time (time with the morphology of an aggregate of moments) is still time as we know it.
Secondly, he says that the above only describes the developmental horizon of late modernity – the ever to be pursued yet never to be reached in full ideal of its major operators. It is a tendency towards rather than a state reached.
(p123) Instant Living
Bauman starts with Sennet’s observation that Bill Gate’s is very willing to destroy that which he had created in order to bring into being the next best thing, representing the trend for Liquid modernity to devalues the long term, (possibly because instanteity makes every moment infinite?)
Bauman next spends another couple of pages outlining how, in modern society, we valued the long-term more, and there was basically a balance between stability and change.
Today the balance has shifted towards an incredulity towards the value of stability/ immortality and there has been a culture shift towards constant revolutionising of many aspects of life.
Rational choice in this culture means to pursue instant gratification while seeking to avoid the consequences. This ushers both culture and ethics into unexplored territory. Today’s generation is living in a present that wants to forget the past and no longer seems to believe in the future…. but the memory of the past and trust in the future have been thus far the two pillars on which the cultural and moral bridges between transience and durability, human mortality and the immortality of human accomplishments, as well as taking responsibility and living moment by moment, all rested.
Louis Theroux documentaries are a great example of ‘postmodern’ research methods.
I say this for the following reasons:
Firstly, these documentaries select unusual, deviant case studies to focus on, which is especially true of the latest series – ‘Dark States’ which consists of three episodes about heroin users, sex trafficking and murder.
Secondly, they tend to have a narrative style, focusing on people’s stories.
Thirdly, there’s a lack of structure about the documentaries… Theroux makes a connection with people and sees where that leads.
Fourthly – there’s no real attempt to be critical, or provide any analyses of the role of economic and political structures which lie behind these stories. In short, they are not properly sociological!
Finally, these documentaries seem to be produced for entertainment purposes only – they simply invite us to marvel or gawp at the ‘messed up’ individuals before us, without offering any real solutions as to how they might sort their lives out, or how society should deal with them.
A brief analysis of two episodes of ‘Dark States’ demonstrates the postmodern nature of these documentaries:
In the first episode in the series, H****n Town, Theroux looks at how the over-prescription of painkillers has unleashed a heroin epidemic. Theroux says that he largely steered clear of the pharmaceutical companies, regulators and politicians who permitted the disaster…. Instead, he hung out on streets where heroin and opioid addiction is “off the scale, unlike anything I’d ever seen before” and made addicts the stars, giving them space to express themselves and showing how many are beguiled by the romance of being outlaws.
The third episode, on Sex Trafficking in Houston, focuses on the relationships between sex workers and pimps, also shows the ‘postmodern documentary method – in which Theroux deliberately avoided making any value judgments:
Theroux says that he avoided the term “sex slave”: “If you overdo the abusive dimension, you strip the women of agency – it’s oddly disempowering and kind of neo-Victorian. The women are getting a kind of emotional fulfilment in their relationship with the pimps, even though it is poisonous and often damaging.” The pimps tended to be stylish, eloquent and intelligent. “These guys are, in their own way, deeply damaged, often the children of prostitutes, who may have had dads or family friends who were pimps. The closest analogy I have is that they are living in semi-apocalyptic conditions where the police are just not an option.”
Of course there are both strengths and limitations of these postmodern methods… I guess the biggest strength is that they allow the respondents to speak for themselves, and it’s down to the viewer to interpret the information as they will, and analyse deeper if they feel the need!
Given that ‘society’ is complex and multi-layered, a key aspect of studying A-Level Sociology is being able to view society and social action through a number of different sociological perspectives, or lenses, because different sociologists (and different people in general) look upon the same society and see different realities.
For example, consider a busy street and imagine different people looking at that same street: a shopkeeper, a thief and a consumer. The shopkeeper sees profit, the thief victims and the consumer sees products to buy.
Sociology consists of various different perspectives, all of which look at society in different ways. All sociological perspectives have something valuable to offer to the individual who wishes to understand society and no one perspective is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It is up to the individual student to present positive and negative criticisms of sociological perspectives throughout the course.
Key Dividing Lines in Sociological Perspectives
1. Social Structure versus Social Action perspectives
Some Sociologists, known as structural theorists, emphasise the importance of institutions in providing social stability and regulating social action. They argue that such institutions form a structure that shapes human action and makes it predictable.
Other Sociologists, known as social-action theorists, argue that individuals have more freedom than structural theorists suggest. They also argue that society is more fluid and some interactionists go as far as saying that there is no such thing as society, just billions of individual level interactions.
2. Consensus versus Conflict Perspectives
Sociological Perspectives are also divided into Consensus perspectives which argue that, generally speaking, society is characterised by harmony and agreement, and Conflict perspectives, which argue that society is better seen as being made up of competing groups, with the powerful controlling institutions in society and oppressing the powerless.
3. Modern versus Post-Modern Perspectives
Modernist perspectives include Functionalism, The New Right, Marxism and Feminism and believe in ‘social progress’. They believe that social research can reveal the truth about which types of societies are best and actively work to construct a better society through social policy and more radical means. Postmodernists and to an extent Interactionists reject the idea of truth and the idea social progress is possible.
Sociological Perspectives very brief summary grid.
Unfortunately it didn’t cut and past very well from the word-processor, it looks much better in (evil) Microsoft Word or (good) Open Source word processor of your preference. At least the columns lined up properly, that’s the important thing!
Norms and Values
Positive Functions of Institutions
Capitalism and Private Property
· Sex and Gender
· Public-Private Divide
· Gender Scripts
· Liberal/ Marxist and Radical Feminism
· The I and the Me
· The looking glass self
· Social identity
· Backstage and Front Stage
· The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
· Service Sector Economy
· Consumer culture
· Individual Freedom and identity
· Social Fragmentation
Core Themes emphasised by these perspectives
Power and stratification
Culture and differentiation
Research Methods generally preferred
Later on – you’ll need to add in Late Modernism and other perspectives from other modules!
Postmodernists argue that recent social changes such as increasing social fragmentation and diversity have made family more a matter of personal choice and as a result families have become more unstable and more diverse.
Before reading this post you might like to review the topic of postmodernity more generally.
Postmodernity, Social Change and the Family
Postmodernists argue that we no longer live in the modern world with predictable orderly structures, such as the nuclear family. Instead society has entered a new, chaotic postmodern stage.
In postmodern society, family structures are incredibly varied and individuals have much more freedom of choice in aspects of their lives which would have been relatively constrained in the past i.e. lifestyles, personal relationships ad family arrangements.
Two social changes associated with postmodernity are of particular interest when considering effects on the family….
Diversity and fragmentation – Society is increasingly fragmented, with a broad diversity of subcultures rather than one shared culture. People create their identity from a wide range of choices, such as youth subcultures, sexual preferences and social movements such as environmentalism.
Rapid social change – New technology such as the internet, email and electronic communication have transformed our lives by dissolving barriers of time and space, transforming patterns of work and leisure and accelerated pace of change making life less predictable.
As a result of these social changes, family life has become very diverse and there is no longer one dominant family type (such as the nuclear family). This means that it is no longer possible to make generalisations about society in the same way that modernist theorists such as Parsons or Marx did in the past.
The rest of this post now considers two specific post-modern thinkers about the family – Judith Stacey and Tamara Hareven.
Stacey (1998) “The Divorce-Extended Family”
Judith Stacey argues that women have more freedom than ever before to shape their family arrangement to meet their needs and free themselves from patriarchal oppression. Through case studies conducted in Silicon Valley, California she found that women rather than men are the driving force behind changes in the family.
She discovered that many women rejected the traditional housewife role and had chosen extremely varied life paths (some choosing to return to education, becoming career women, divorcing and remarrying). Stacey identified a new type of family “the divorce-extended family” – members are connected by divorce rather than marriage, for example ex in laws, or former husband’s new partners.
Hareven (1978) “Life Course Analysis”
Tamara Hareven advocates the approach of life course analysis, that is that sociologists should be concerned with focus on individual family members and the choices that they make throughout life regarding family arrangements. This approach recognises that there is flexibility and variation in people’s lives, for example the choices and decisions they make and when they make them. For example, when they decide to raise children, choosing sexuality or moving into sheltered accommodation in old age.
Criticisms of Postmodern Views on the Family
Late-Modernists such as Anthony Giddens suggest that even though people have more freedom, there is a still a structure which shapes people’s decisions
Contemporary Feminists disagree with Postmodernism, pointing out that in most cases traditional gender roles which disadvantage women remain the norm.
Signposting and Related Posts
This post has been written primarily for students studying the families and households option in their first year of A-level sociology.
Both of the above criticise the Postmodern perspective for over-emphasising the degree of personal choice individuals have, while still recognising that social changes have indeed made family life more chaotic!
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