Comparative Sociology

This paper is an attempt to do something that is probably not a good idea. I am going to try and take the ideas of some of the most prominent postmodern Sociological thinkers and mesh them together in some sort of coherent format. The purpose of this paper is to provide a starting place for people interested in postmodern Sociological thought. There really is no one all-encompassing postmodern theory, or a group of like-minded postmodern theorists. In fact this notion is antithetical to much of what postmodern literature maintains. At the same time, there has to be similar themes that run through postmodern theories, or it wouldn’t have the label it does. So, lets take a look at some of the similarities as a starting point. One of the most startling similarities of some of the most prominent postmodern Sociological theorists is their reliance on modern Sociological theorists, specifically, Karl Marx. At first this may seem strange, after all Marx is the ultimate modern theorist. How can theory that is often so radically opposed to modernity rely on Marx? One of the problems that has haunted Sociology in recent years is its theories feel like they have grown stale, much of today’s Sociological theory is really a cover of another theory. Regurgitations of Marx, Max Weber, or Emile Durkheim. Theorists we label postmodern have formulated their ideas in this type of environment. Therefore, they have a modern base, they have rejected this modern base to give us something new, and often insightful, for most. Others consider it a waste of time. Post modernity relies heavily on theory, largely because most of the Sociological postmodern thinkers were schooled in this tradition it is going to affect the way they do theory, and what type of theory they do. Jean Baudrillard is an excellent example. He began his career as a Marxist. In particular, the Political Economy of the sign ,and Consumer Society are excellent extensions/critiques of Marx’s ideas. But even in Baudrillard’s later works, the specter of Marx lingers. In Fatal Strategies Baudrillard talks about a revolution. This revolution, while distinct from Marx, still relies heavily on Marxian ideas. What is loosely referred to as postmodern theory has been around, in various forms for a while. There are theorists whose body of work would largely be classified as modernists, who actually have a postmodern bent to some of their ideas. People like Talcott Parsons, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, and Nietzsche. All have traces of postmodern ideas in their work. In fact many would consider people like Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, precursors to postmodern theory. So, we get to the big question, what makes a theory postmodern? This is a tough question and one that really shouldn’t be answered in the limited space available in this paper.. But, I am going to attempt to do it anyway. The quickest answer is that postmodern theories/theorists are those that are labeled by modernists. Most of the people that we associate closely with postmodern theory, in Sociology, would reject the label for themselves, including Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Baudrillard. Modernists are the ones who assign the labels. However, there must be a reason for the assignation. What do these theorists have in common that makes them susceptible to the label of postmodernist? Well, there seem to be some common themes that run through postmodern literature (aside from often thinly veiled ties to modern theory). These are very generic, but it should give you an idea of what to expect. Rejection of the Grand Narrative, an idea which runs through most modern literature. Critique of Modernity. While there is interest in critiquing modernity, seldom is an alternative offered. Interest in low-culture (television, movies, sex). Obsession with text (Lyotard’s term, Foucault uses the term gaze). There are three perspectives that attempt to define the phenomenon of post modernity in relation to modernity. That is a next stage, one that has replaced modernity. That it is the only stage, and modernity was just an attempt to force history into a pattern that didn’t exist. That it is a theoretical perspective, like modernity, that can be used to examine social phenomenon. The third perspective, I think, proves to be the most useful. There are many things that modern theories explain