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POSTMODERNISM Postmodernist Communication Theories Introduction to Communication Theory Comm. 1510-01 M R 4-7:50 PM Prof. Matt Rolph.

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Presentation on theme: "POSTMODERNISM Postmodernist Communication Theories Introduction to Communication Theory Comm. 1510-01 M R 4-7:50 PM Prof. Matt Rolph."— Presentation transcript:

1 POSTMODERNISM Postmodernist Communication Theories Introduction to Communication Theory Comm M R 4-7:50 PM Prof. Matt Rolph

2 A buzzword … but what does it mean?

3 Post-atomic uncertainty One conventional explanation of postmodernism suggests that it arose in response to the discovery of the devastating power of the atomic bomb, and the uncertainty about authority thereby created. Between 1945 and 1962, the United States conducted over 300 atmospheric nuclear tests above the ground, in the ocean or in outer space. One government-commissioned publication suggested that wearing a hat might offer some protection from the heat flash of a detonation. The same pamphlet suggests lying down in the furrows of a plowed field. School children experienced ‘duck and cover’ drills. These measures, however, could easily seem to be more about controlling people than actually saving them.

4 Post-atomic uncertainty Without understanding many specifics, public concern grew. Scientists and educated people, aware of more facts, also experienced fear and uncertainty despite measures taken to restrict access to the technology. Views regarding communication and scientific innovation shifted for many. Within a certain radius of the blast, no hat, plowed field, or duck and cover procedure will save you. Even outside that zone, consequences of detonation are devastating and irreversible.

5 Critique While it is accurate to state that postmodernism arose after WW II, the ‘response to the atomic bomb’ hypothesis neglects the cyclical nature of mistrust and uncertainty in human societies. The French Revolution ( ), among others, features many of these concepts. Atomic power may be unprecedented, but any power or innovation can lead to a similar responses irrespective of place and time. Theorists like Jean-François Lyotard, author of La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge), 1979, contend that there has always been « postmodernism » It is more accurate to state that postmodernism is a response to the perceived failings of modernism, which essentially suggests progress and innovation are always good, authorities trustworthy, and quality of life bound to improve without limits

6 Common postmodernist elements Mistrust of established authority and hierarchical structures Uncertainty (about everything) No perfection; heroes and gods are simply lies and misconceptions. Accepting multiple perspectives (all valid, or varying in relative validity) - no single ‘truth’. Everything referential. No objectively superior lifestyles or beliefs. No metanarratives (progress of history, truth, justice, modernity, end of history). Everything is a game, a language game, a power game, a meaning game. Sense of irony and play.---architecture/movies Heavily influenced by French theorists



9 Literary Postmodernism Many postmodern ideas are expressed in literature. Postmodern literature features, for example: –Antiheroes – heroes without heroic characteristics – who cannot be, are not, or are only incompletely heroic. –Unreliable narrators, shifting perspectives. –Multiple, often equally valid perspectives. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon, (1915), made into a famous Akira Kurasawa film (1950), inspired many similar narrative constructions (including a Simpsons episode). Akutagawa was concerned with the absolute faith in Imperial authority, military tradition, and ‘progress’, and expressed his convictions by writing stories in which, for example, samurai, long held up as paragons of honor, were human, imperfect, even foolish or dishonorable.

10 Jorge Luis Borges, Argentine writer, best known in the English speaking world for his short stories and fictional essays, poetry, criticism, translations and "wisdom". Loved the map as an analogy and symbol. In his first book, Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923), he wrote, of his beloved home city, “… the city, now, is like a map of my humiliations and failures; from this door, I have seen the twilights and at this marble pillar I have waited in vain.” Fascinated by the complex relationship between reality and fantasy, the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’

11 Borges Map Analogy Borges created a fictional epigraph, a quote at the beginning of another work, purporting to be a book by a Suarez Miranda from In a single paragraph, Borges creates a story of an empire whose scientists – cartographers – created a life sized map of the empire that covered the land itself. Over time, the science that created it fell into disfavor and was forgotten, and the map decayed into shreds that were still visible in wild places, “inhabited by animals and beggars.”

12 Jean Baudrillard, Elaborating on analogies like Borges’, Baudrillard, a keen observer of a changing world, suggests that our reality is a simulacra, like a life-sized map covering a real territory -- except that underneath it there is no ‘real’ territory. Even if there were, we would prefer the simulacra, which reinforces our preconceptions, to the reality, which might challenge them. "The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth--it is the truth which conceals that there is none.... The simulacrum is true." ~ Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster, Stanford University Press, 1988.

13 Disneyland Baudrillard, Umberto Eco, Louis Marin, and many other 20 th c. theorists, use the example of Disneyland. Reality, they contend, has become more like a theme-park version of itself: hyperreality. The hyperrealistic is ‘authentically fake’ and, though we know it is an illusion, more real that the ‘reality’ it is meant to allude to. Umberto Eco

14 Eco: Adventures in Hyperreality “Disneyland’s Main Street seems the first scene of a fiction whereas it is an extremely shrewd commercial reality. Main Street – like the whole city, for that matter – is presented as at once absolutely realistic and absolutely fantastic, and this is the advantage (in terms of artistic conception) of Disneyland over other toy cities. The houses … are full ‐ sized on the ground floor, and on a two ‐ thirds scale on the floor above, so they give the impression of being inhabitable (and they are) but also of belonging to a fantastic past that we can grasp with our imagination … their interior is always a disguised supermarket, where you buy obsessively, believing that you are still playing. … In this sense, Disneyland is more hyperrealistic than the wax museum, precisely because the latter still tries to make us believe that what we are seeing reproduces reality absolutely, whereas Disneyland makes it clear that within its magic enclosure it is fantasy that is absolutely reproduced … masterpieces of falsification … but genuine merchandise, not reproductions. What is falsified is our will to buy, which we take as real … Disneyland not only produces illusion, but – in confessing it – stimulates the desire for it …” (43 ‐ 44)

15 Main Street USA, Disneyland, CA

16 Questions How are theme-parks ‘more real than real’? What else in contemporary life is like that?

17 THE RHIZOME Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

18 The Rhizome Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari used the term "rhizome" to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non- hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. In A Thousand Plateaus, they offer it as an alternative to an “arborescent” (tree-like) conception of knowledge, which work with dualist categories and binary (right/wrong, black/white) choices. A rhizome works with horizontal and trans-species connections, while an arborescent model works with vertical and linear connections. Their use of the "orchid and the wasp" was taken from the biological concept of mutualism, in which two different species interact together to form a multiplicity (i.e. a unity that is multiple in itself). Horizontal gene transfer would also be a good illustration.

19 HABITUS AND DOXA Pierre Bourdieu

20 Pierre Bourdieu, Bourdieu "was, for many, the leading intellectual of present-day France... a thinker in the same rank as Foucault, Barthes, and Lacan” … an activist for those he believed to be subordinated by society. In 2001, a documentary film about Pierre Bourdieu – “Sociology is a Martial Art” was an unexpected hit in Paris. For Bourdieu, sociology was a combative effort, exposing the un-thought structures beneath the physical (somatic) and thought practices of social agents. He saw sociology as a means of confronting symbolic violence and exposing those unseen areas where one could be free.

21 HABITUS Bourdieu re-elaborated the concept of habitus from Marcel Mauss, Aristotle, Norbert Elias, Max Weber, and Edmund Husserl--and used it, in a systematic way, in an attempt to resolve the question of objectivism vs. subjectivism. \ Habitus can be defined as a system of dispositions (lasting, acquired schemes of perception, thought and action). The individual agent develops these dispositions in response to the objective conditions it encounters. Bourdieu theorizes the inculcation of objective social structures into the subjective, mental experience of agents. The objective social field places requirements on its participants for membership within the field, shaping members’ cognitive and somatic dispositions. Social competence is used to legitimize social distinctions.

22 HABITUS Bourdieu sees habitus as the key to social reproduction because it is central to generating and regulating the practices that make up social life. Individuals learn to want what conditions make possible for them, and not to aspire to what is not available to them. The conditions in which the individual lives generate dispositions compatible with these conditions (including tastes in art, literature, food, and music), and in a sense pre-adapted to their demands. The most improbable practices are therefore excluded, as unthinkable, by a kind of immediate submission to order that inclines agents to make a virtue of necessity, that is, to refuse what is categorically denied and to will the inevitable.

23 DOXA Doxa (another concept derivative of Classical philosophy) are learned, fundamental, deep-founded, unconscious beliefs, and values, taken as self-evident universals, that inform an agent's actions and thoughts within a particular field. Doxa favor the particular social arrangement of the field, thus privileging the dominant and taking their position of dominance as self-evident and universally favorable. Therefore, the categories of understanding and perception that constitute a habitus, being congruous with the objective organization of the field, reproduce the structures of the field.

24 THE PANOPTICON Michel Foucault on Jeremy Bentham’s

25 Michel Foucault, Beginning in the 1960’s when he held a series of professorships in France and often spoke around the world, an important voice of postmodern thinking – criticizing established medical, social, intellectual, and sexual norms, speaking for prison reform and in support of minority groups. In 1975, influential thinker Foucault compared the whole of modern society to Jeremy Betham’s 1791 unrealized prison design, the Panopticon.

26 The Panopticon All prisoners can be viewed from a central location by a warden, but cannot see him or each other – creating a feeling of an invisible, omniscent, judging presence. Designer Bentham called it “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.”

27 The Panopticon Foucault points out many elements of modern society, including media, that create the same illusion of an omnipresent, omniscient, invisible judging presence similar to a god or an Orwellian ‘big brother’ – from which escape is essentially impossible. Though cannot identify one ‘big brother’ who creates, controls, and enforces conformity with many norms, but the norms exist and are perpetuated and it is difficult not to compare ourselves to them. A typical Foucault-style answer involves a call to rebellion against established thinking and the establishment in any form, and commentary to the effect that such rebellion is almost impossible, as even the language and action we use to frame our rebellion are the tools of the establishment.

28 DECONSTRUCTION Jacques Derrida,

29 Deconstruction Derrida’s deconstruction, in a nutshell, has to do with undermining the binary relationships common in Western thinking. We ‘privilege’ some ideas over other associated ideas – labeling, for example, some good and others bad. Deconstruction asks ‘what if these values were reversed? What if the opposite were true? What would be different?’ Criticized as complicated, parasitic (because it is simply an inversion of existing ideas rather than a new set of ideas); and as obfuscating simple ideas with complex language (Chomsky). At its best, though, deconstruction provides insight into values and ideas. As with Baudrillard and Foucault, some of these specific ideas can be traced back to Jorge Luis Borges; as a public figure, however, Derrida gave loud and public intellectual voice to the criticism of the establishment and established thinking.

30 Social Capital J.S. Coleman and Robert Putnam

31 J.S. Coleman, James Samuel Coleman, Sociologist, one of the earliest users of the term ‘social capital’; pioneer of the use of mathematical models in sociology. The 1966 Coleman report on “Equality of Educational Opportunity” was commonly cited to suggest that funding levels have little effect on educational quality; the data from over 150,000 students more likely suggests that student background and socioeconomic status are more influential than per pupil spending. This research also showed the benefits of racially integrated classrooms, but that “white flight” away from high class mixed race schools lead to failures, undermining the intentions of the mass bussing system intended to achieve those benefits.

32 SOCIAL CAPITAL - Coleman “Social capital is defined by its function. It is not a single entity, but a variety of different entities, having two characteristics in common: they all consist of some aspect of a social structure, and they facilitate certain actions of individuals who are within the structure” –(Coleman 1994: 302). Social capital, like real capital, can be used to ‘buy’ various things and gain access to superior opportunities; is not the result of a single factor, but of several kinds of entities that a) consist of a social structure or network, and b) facilitate the relative success of individuals who are members of that social structure.

33 SOCIAL CAPITAL - Putnam “Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called ‘civic virtue.’ The difference is that ‘social capital’ calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital” –(Putnam 2000: 19)

34 Robert Putnam A contemporary sociologist and theorist. Has written extensively regarding social capital. In his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000), Putnam uses large quantities of data (roughly 500,000 interviews) to demonstrate how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures. He warns that our stock of social capital has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities. “Today we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We're even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues.” Putnam shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women's roles and other factors have contributed to this decline.


36 Wittgenstein and Postmodernism Foresaw the end of philosophy (Tractatus Logio- philosophicus, 1921), but became increasingly suspicious even of his own. ‘Transcendent certainty’ is impossible, a conceit (On Certainty) – though so often the goal of human intellectual endeavor.

37 Wittgenstein and Language Language is inextricably woven into the fabric of life, and as part of that fabric it works relatively unproblematically. Philosophical problems arise when language is forced from its proper home and into a metaphysical environment, where all the familiar and necessary landmarks and contextual clues are absent — removed, perhaps, for what appear to be sound philosophical reasons.

38 Wittgenstein and Language In later writings about language and culture we find two important aspects that are related to postmodernism. –The first is, briefly, that 'languages are holistic structures‘ –The second is 'it is one of the most basic parts of our linguistic competence to transgress the boundaries of structures, to move between them, to project them, -- to 'misuse' them creatively and meaningfully.'


40 “A Cyborg Manifesto” Haraway creates what she calls “an ironic political myth” (p. 149) which combines postmodernism with socialist feminism centered on the “cyborg”, which is “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.” (ibid). The cyborg is a metaphor for the postmodernist and political play of identity as well as for a lived reality of new technology. The cyborg stands for shifting political and physical boundaries, which, in its interface with us and the world around us, often wittily pulls the rug out from under what we perceive to be ‘natural’


42 Cyborgs …


44 Fun Get your own ‘Cyborg’ name decoded at

45 The Future Soon A World-of-Warcraft machinima for “The Future Soon”, Jonathan Coulton's “anthem for geeks and nerds everywhere. Those people who make fun of you now will be sorry, because in the future, you'll be running the whole show, and it'll be the future soon...” “Cause it’s gonna be the future soon And I won’t always be this way When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away ”

46 GAYATRI CHAKRAVORTY SPIVAK Can the subaltern speak?

47 G. C. Spivak While she is best known as a postcolonial theorist, Gayatri Spivak describes herself as a "para-disciplinary, ethical philosopher" though her shingle could just as well read: "Applied Deconstruction." Her reputation was first made for her translation and preface to Derrida's Of Grammatology (1976) and she has since applied deconstructive strategies to various theoretical engagements and textual analyses: from Feminism, Marxism, and Literary Criticism to, most recently, Postcolonialism. “My position is generally a reactive one. I am viewed by Marxists as too codic, by feminists as too male-identified, by indigenous theorists as too committed to Western Theory. I am uneasily pleased about this.” (Post-Colonial Critic).

48 Can the Subaltern Speak? Spivak's contribution with "Can the Subaltern Speak" is to politicize Derridean deconstruction in order to elaborate a method for emancipatory readings and cultural interventions. She defines her project as fourfold: –1) Problematize the Western subject and see how it is still operational in poststructuralist theory (Foucault & Deleuze); –2) Re-read Marx to find a more radical decentering of the subject that also more leaves room for the formation of class identifications that are non-essentialist; –3) Argue that Western intellectual production reinforces the logic of Western economic expansion; –4) Perform a close reading of sati to analyze the discourses of the West and the possibilities for speech that the subaltern woman has (or does not have) within that framework.

49 In brief … Can the subaltern speak? –No. Spivak says the Subaltern can’t speak because by having a single “voice” you are being essentialist, reductionist, bipolar (“master and slave dialectic) and not looking at class. –The forces that create subaltern status act on those in that class and on the rest of society, creating complex conditions that both prevent members of this class from speaking for themselves and would keep them from being heard even if they could speak. –“in seeking to learn to speak to (rather than listen to or speak for) the historically muted subject of the subaltern woman, the postcolonial intellectual systematically “unlearns” female privilege.”

50 JUDITH BUTLER Imitation and Gender Subordination

51 Gender is Performative Butler suggests all gender is performative. Although there is no origin, gender still imitates in a manner that produces the notion of an original, standard gender. Heterosexuality constantly needs to uphold an idealization of itself because it fears that it can be undermined by homosexuality or transexuality. Butler states that drag inverts the notions of imitated and imitation and effectively exposes the supposed "norms" of heterosexuality.

52 Theatrics, not biology Butler does not deny that "male" and "female" are biological truths, but she sees "masculine" and "feminine" as acts, theatrics. People, she argues, have a "predisposition to think of sexuality and gender as 'expressing' in some indirect or direct way a psychic reality that precedes it" (Butler 725). For example, a male perceives his masculinity as a natural result of his physical maleness. A man expresses his maleness through such masculine traits as rugged looks, plain decor, and aversion to stylish, trendy fashion. Butler, rather, proposes that gender "performance constitutes the appearance of a 'subject' as its effect" (Butler 725). In other words, masculinity makes the male subject. Men mistakenly rely on "masculine" behavior in order to show society that they are indeed men.

53 CHARLES LEMERT “After Modernity, Since 1979”

54 Social Theory “Social theory is what we do when we find ourselves able to put into words what nobody seems to want to talk about. When we find those words, and say them, we begin to survive. For some, learning to survive leads to uncommon and exhilarating pleasures. For others, perhaps the greater number of us, it leads at least to the common pleasure – a pleasure rubbed raw with what is: the simple but necessary power of knowing that one knows what is there because one can say it. This, whatever else, is what makes social theory worth reading.” ~Charles Lemert (1999: 20)

55 Talking about it Lemert notes that one of the most important events in recent history – the end of modernity itself or, at least, the beginning of a serious conversation about postmodernity – slipped by without much note. Modernity is concerned with progress, must always look forward to a next stage. Lemert situates many of the other theorists we have considered in a metanarrative of social theory across disciplines since 1979 (a clue that he himself may be more modernist or radicalized modernist, to use Giddens term, than postmodernist). Uses architectural examples to explain how many influences, forces, and considerations collide in contemporary existence.

56 JEFFERY ALEXANDER “Postpositivist Case for the Classics”

57 J. Alexander “The ratio between exemplars and classics is so much different in social science because in its social application science produces so much more disagreement … [so] the more general background assumptions which remain implicit and relatively invisible in natural science here come vividly into play.” “Conditions of social science make agreement about the precise nature of empirical knowledge … [and] explanatory covering laws … highly unlikely.” Lemert contends that ‘classic’ works alleviate this “paradigm crisis” in particular ways – briefly, that there are several specific reasons a common foundation is important and useful.

58 JÜRGEN HABERMAS Emancipatory knowledge (p. 380) & Social analysis and communicative competence (p )

59 Realization of Human Potential In the traditions of Kant and the Enlightenment and of democratic socialism, emphasis on the potential for transforming the world and arriving at a more humane, just, and egalitarian society through the realization of the human potential for reason, in part through discourse ethics. While Habermas conceded that the Enlightenment is an "unfinished project," he argued it should be corrected and complemented, not discarded. In this he distanced himself from the Frankfurt School, criticizing it, as well as much of postmodernist thought, for excessive pessimism, misdirected radicalism and exaggerations.

60 Theory of Communicative Action Challenges the Marxist focus on economics (or alienated labor) as the main or sole determining factor of oppression. Habermas argues that the key to liberation is rather to be found in language and communication between people. Theory of communicative action: communicative action serves to transmit and renew cultural knowledge, in a process of achieving mutual understandings. It then coordinates action towards social integration and solidarity. Finally, communicative action is the process through which people form their identities.

61 Lifeworlds This gives rise to a dual concept of modern society; the internal subjective viewpoint of the "lifeworld" and the external viewpoint of the "system". Distinguish system rationality from action rationality. Lifeworlds become colonised by steering media when four things happen: –1. Traditional forms of life are dismantled. ---diasporsa/social upheaval –2. Social roles are sufficiently differentiated. --experts –3. There are adequate rewards of leisure and money for the alienated labour. –frankfurt school –4. Hopes and dreams become individuated by state canalization of welfare and culture. –subsumed by the state

62 Communicative Rationality Ideal speech situation: "The structure of the ideal speech situation (which means that the discourse is) immunised against repression and inequality in a special way… The structures of a ritualised competition for the better arguments… The structures that determine the construction of individual arguments and their interrelations". Argument of some kind is central to the process of achieving a rational result.


64 Alan Kirby Kirby associates pseudo- modernism with the triteness and shallowness resulting from the instantaneous, direct, and superficial participation in culture made possible by the internet, mobile phones, interactive television and similar means: participating in events that mean nothing…trancelike.

65 MEDIA ECOLOGY Communication Theory

66 MEDIA ECOLOGY Media ecology looks into the matter of how media of communication affect human perception, understanding, feeling, and value; and how our interaction with media facilitates or impedes our chances of survival. The word ecology implies the study of environments: their structure, content, and impact on people.

67 The Water Cycle This ecological model shows how water is used, transformed, and reused on our planet. Can you think of comparable structures in media ecologies?

68 The Food Chain This ‘food chain’ shows the interrelation of life. Again, can you think of comparable structures in media ecologies?

69 Christine Nystrom Media ecologists know, generally, what it is they are interested in— the interactions of communications media, technology, technique, and processes with human feeling, thought, value, and behavior—and they know, too, the kinds of questions about those interactions they are concerned to ask. But media ecologists do not, as yet, have a coherent framework in which to organize their subject matter or their questions. Media ecology is, in short, a preparadigmatic science. —Christine Nystrom, Towards a Science of Media Ecology: The Formulation of Integrated Conceptual Paradigms for the Study of Human Communication Systems, Doctoral Dissertation, New York University (1973).

70 Neil Postman Media ecology looks into the matter of how media of communication affect human perception, understanding, feeling, and value; and how our interaction with media facilitates or impedes our chances of survival. The word ecology implies the study of environments: their structure, content, and impact on people. An environment is, after all, a complex message system which imposes on human beings certain ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. –It structures what we can see and say and, therefore, do. –It assigns roles to us and insists on our playing them. –It specifies what we are permitted to do and what we are not. Sometimes, as in the case of a courtroom, or classroom, or business office, the specifications are explicit and formal.

71 Neil Postman: Media Ecology In the case of media environments (e.g., books, radio, film, television, etc.), the specifications are more often implicit and informal, half concealed by our assumption that what we are dealing with is not an environment but merely a machine. Media ecology tries to make these specifications explicit. It tries to find out what roles media force us to play, how media structure what we are seeing, why media make us feel and act as we do. Media ecology is the study of media as environments.

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