Postmodern and Late Modern Sociological Thought

A brief summary of post and late modern thought, for A Level Sociology.

Postmodern Thought

Late Modern Responses to Postmodern Thought

Ideas about the economy, politics and society

  • Post-Industrial, service sector, portfolio workers and consumption is central

  • Declining power of the Nation State

  • Disorganised Capitalism/ Liquid Capitalism (Bauman)

  • Culture is free from structure – it is more Diverse and Fragmented

  • Relationships more diverse

  • More Individual Freedom to shape identities

  • Media – more global, two- way, hyper reality (Baudrillard)


  • There is a clear global, modernist institutional structure -Heavy Capitalism still exists, in the developing world, service sector economies are dependent on it.

  • Against postmodernists, Giddens argues that Nation States remain powerful -Nation states are more ‘reflexive’ today – they try to ‘steer’ events in the future in the light of existing and continually updating (imperfect) knowledge.

  • Against Postmodernists Giddens argues that In Late Modern (not Post-modern) Society, there is a ‘duality of structure’- people are not just ‘free’ to do whatever they want – their freedom comes from existing structures

  • In terms of the self – Identity is no longer a given –identity becomes a task

  • Giddens rejects the concept of hyperreality – the main significance of the media is that it makes us more aware of diversity and of the fact that there are many different ways of living.

Ideas about Knowledge

  • Critique of the Enlightenment (Foucault)

  • Incredulity towards Metanarratives (Lyotard)

We need scientific and sociological knowledge to ‘colonise the future’ – to reduce risks from things such as global warming and terrorism for example –

however, knowledge can never be perfect, but we still need to use knowledge in order to ‘steer society’ forwards, thus we just have to do our best to be as objective as possible when doing social and scientific research and to use the most reliable, valid, and representative data there is to try and address social problems.

Research Methods Implications

  • Criticise Positivist research which aims to be objective

  • Deconstruction and Destabilising Theory

  • Foucault researched the history of deviance (transgression) to highlight the arbitrary nature of ‘normal’ and ‘deviant’ categories –

  • Foucault argued that research should be about ‘mining’ history to find ideas which are useful to you personally, and which help you to choose how to live now.

  • Research topics and methods should be diverse and experimental

  • No one is in a position to claim one research topic or method is more valid than any other can be anything the researcher wants or finds personally useful.

  • Research should not attempt to generalise.

There are significant global problems (manufactured risks) which we all face and none of us can escape – e.g. Global Warming. These are real, objectively existing problems, not hyperreal, and they bind us together, even if many of us fail to accept this. The role of Sociology could involve –

  • Doing research to help solve complex global problems (links to Positivism, also see Beck’s Risk Society)

  • Helping people to realise that they are still dependent on ‘structures’ and dispelling the ‘myth of total individual freedom’ (links to Functionalism)

  • – Encouraging people to get more involved with identity politics – (links to Marxism/ Feminism)

Unfortunately grids don’t cut and past that well into WordPress. A much neater version of the above grid can be found in my Theory and Methods Revision Notes, along with summaries of all the other perspectives too…

Functionalism notes

The notes cover the following sub-topics:

  1. Functionalism
  2. Marxism
  3. Feminism
  4. Social Action Theory
  5. Postmodernism
  6. Late Modernism
  7. Sociology and Social Policy