Postmodernism: Myths and Realities
A number of theorists and scholars have proclaimed that we now live in a postmodern world--a world better explained by theories and concepts different from those of the modern world dating from the Enlightenment and before. The theories and concepts of postmodernism are widely and prominently applied in adult education. So, how do postmodernists characterize postmodernism? What are the critics' critiques? Do proponents and critics agree on anything?
Discussing postmodernism and continuing education, Leicester (2000) writes that "postmodernism is not a systematic theory or unified movement so much as a loose umbrella term for a perspective" incorporating reactions against "the sovereignty of science, the dominance of 'western traditions' and the assumption of epistemological progress" (p. 73). However, some key features "overlap and criss-cross, appear and disappear in discussions about 'postmodernism' (ibid., p. 74):
•Plurality of Perspectives. Multiple perspectives, accounts, and theories are respected. Eclectic thinking, drawing on and synthesizing multiple cultural traditions is encouraged.
•Antiessentialism. A text (be it an individual word, a message, a concept, or any significant structure) has no inherent, essential meaning--no "one thing in common that makes us use the same word and which would give us the essence of the concept" (ibid., p. 74); rather, it is open to multiple interpretations.
•Antifoundationalism. Truth and knowledge of it are not based on a fixed foundation of objective reality. Instead, truths are located in specific sociocultural contexts, outside of which no vantage point exists.
•Antiscientism. In particular, science is rejected as a foundation; the positivist assumptions that science is uniquely objective and value neutral are considered a language game.
•End of Metaphysics and Ideology. Antifoundationalism represents the end of metaphysics; if there are no fixed foundations of objective reality for truth and knowledge, there is no longer a concern with the fundamental nature of reality and with the limits and validity of our knowledge about it. Likewise, ideology is at an end--no more "grand narratives" to legitimate and provide a correct interpretation of a wide range of events.
Others focus particularly on the discrediting of modernism's grand narrative, the positivist assumption that objectivity is the only truth, that all questions could be answered by a hierarchy of sciences, principles, and beliefs: "Knowledge was equated with science and science was reality" is the summation found in a postmodern perspective on evidence-based nursing (Marks-Maran 1999, p. 4). That grand narrative was discredited in the 1970s and 1980s, according to a postmodern perspective on home economics history, when society discovered that problems like war, poverty, violence, and drug abuse could be neither explained nor solved...