GRIN - How to conceptualise a postmodern unterstanding of identity in relation to "Race" (2022)

Table of Contents

Introduction

Definition of terms
Postmodernism
Identity
Race

Two Perspectives – Constructionism versus Essentialism

Race as a social construct

The Structure of Identity

Racialisation
Two Sorts of Racism
Whiteness

(Video) Personal Identity: Crash Course Philosophy #19

Characteristics of a postmodern Understanding of Identity in relation to “Race”

A contemporary example

Bibliography

Introduction

The issue about “race” is still of great significance in today’s societies. Recent incidents like racist behaviour in football[1] show how deep racist tendencies are still embedded in people’s minds – in spite of consistent enlightenment. But these examples only show the peak of racist tendencies. Racial imagery in media and arts is central to the organisation of the modern world (Dyer 1997: 1), as we will also see in an example from the Guardian Student later on. Furthermore, the scientific “foundation” of theories of “race” continues to be a disputed question for biology as well as for the social sciences (Lang 2000: x).

This essay is about what the term “race” implies, about the coherence of “race” and identity and implements a postmodern approach to the understanding of identity. Before these terms are analyzed, defining them might be helpful. One thing should be beard in mind during the reading process: the abstractions of types of “race”, class, gender, and sexuality do not take individual difference into account (Zack 1998: 7). However, they have moral importance and take influence on how human beings treat one another.

Definition of terms

Postmodernism

There are numerous, varying definitions of the term “postmodernism”. However, most of them agree upon some general terms and one central idea. According to these definitions, postmodernism is a broad intellectual trend or movement in culture, arts, architecture and way of thinking. It is

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characterized by emphasis on the ideas of the de-centeredness of meaning, the value and autonomy of the local and the particular, the infinite possibilities of the human existence, and the coexistence, in a kind of collage or pastiche, of different cultures, perspectives, time periods, and ways of thinking. (Glossary of Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta’s World Literature Website[2] ).

Academics still discuss about what postmodernism means and whether it even exists or not. Proponents of this concept argue that this era is a discrete progression of “modernism”, because it inhibits new qualities. Postmodernism rejects certain features of Cartesian modern thought, such as universalizing tendencies of philosophy, and stresses the priority of the social to the indivual.[3] Postmodernists argue that individuals are merely constructs of social forces and neglect the existence of a unique transcendental, objective truth. Compared to modernism, postmodernism is characterized as less geometric, less functional, less austere, more playful, and more willing to include elements from diverse times and cultures.[4] The model is accompanied by certain theories about the determination of knowledge, such as Donna Harraway’s work about “situated knowledge” (Harraway 1990).

The emergence of these developments labelled as postmodernism also made new demands on sociology. The perspective of the absence of a single objective truth required new approaches to investigate social relationships (and the subject) and made up fundamentally new approaches. Many sociological works are based on the work of Derrida and Foucault. Foucault taught literature and invented a method to analyse historical texts for power structures and the discursive background of texts. The deconstructive approach is widely common in nowadays sociology. Among other authors, Baumann, Laclau, Giddens, Butler, Hekman, Said, Hall, Bhabha and Rattansi have contributed to this field of study.

Postmodernist writers challenge scientific discourses as elitist and advance a democratic perspective. The argument they are bringing forward is that science is linked to the production of knowledge, another discourse controlled by particular power structures. Particular people are excluded from this discourse. Foucault made various attempts to explain the structures of power, which work on a very abstract level and are almost impossible to recognize. Nevertheless, power exists in form of relationality in which the dominance of one is never complete (Prakash 1995: 93). Prakash (1995: 88) mentions the example of Subaltern Studies, a collective of historians writing from India, Britain and Australia, who read colonialist and nationalist archives against their grain. “The aim of such studies is not to unmask dominant discourses but to explore their fault-lines in order to provide different accounts […]” (Prakash 1995: 89).

The problem about postmodernist approaches is that they are often abstract and difficult to apply to processes in reality. However, they can be a powerful instrument in deconstructing and questioning traditions, points of views and habitual manners.

Identity

According to a definition of Wordreference.com Dictionary[5], identity is:

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1. the distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity
2. the individual characteristics by which a thing or person is recognized or known
3. an operator that leaves unchanged the element on which it operates
4. exact sameness

As we can see, identity has different meanings, although most of them are related to each other. Also in other dictionaries, identity is often described as the state or quality of being identical, or the same (‘sameness’). In sociological terms, identity has to do with the attempt to make up a homogeneous, identical concept of the subject and its representation.

The labelling of a new movement as “postmodernism” is linked to changing qualities of what the individual’s identity is all about. While modern identity was more open and dynamic, and it had been argued that it is achieved or learned, postmodern identity is often described as uncertain and anxious, fluid and multiple. This is a consequence of changes in our lives in terms of community, workplace, nation, and globalisation (see Woodward 2000: 39, Rattansi 1995: 257).

You could argue that every attempt to make such broadening statements has to fail, because the processes going on in Western societies are too complex to summarize under a simple argument like that. Nevertheless, surveys reveal that many people in Western societies seem to feel more uncertain nowadays than former generations did.

Aapiah (1995: 105) defines identity as “a coalescence of mutually responsive (if sometimes conflicting) modes of conduct, habits of thought, and patterns of evaluation; in short, a coherent kind of human social psychology”, and claims that every human identity is constructed. Recent sociologists like Sherry Turkle (1995) describe identity as fragmented. She analyzed virtual identities created by users of the world wide web. And also Anselmi (2000: 46) argues that the individual’s sense of identity should be viewed as a dynamic entity that is capable of change: it is shaped by the responses of others to the individual. According to Zack (1998: 5), individual identities are the results of combinations of categories (“race”, class, gender, sexuality) in specific historical contexts. At this point I would like to mention the intersection of concepts of “race”, gender and sexuality. Certainly, the individual’s identity is not only about these qualities. Nevertheless, these concepts can help to analyze society’s realities. The dynamic entity theory for example, is derived from contemporary feminist perspective (Anselmi 2000: 46), but can be helpful when conveyed on the concept of “race”, too.

Race

To begin with, there are no definitions of “race” that everyone would accept without qualification (Zack 1998: 3). Although some biologists doubt that there are important biological differences between “races” of human beings, it is often described as “people who are believed to belong to the same genetic stock” or a similar description[6]. Different classifications have been made throughout history, ranging from four different races (Zack 1998: 3) to 34 or even 63 (Blackburn 2000: 4). Nevertheless, the use of the term “race” is often controversial, because the division of human beings into multiple races is a matter of political and sociological implications[7]. The adjectives “black” and “white” for example, reify a spurious dichotomy, leading to preoccupation with physical distinctions that often are small to nonexistent (Blackburn 2000: 7). As Blackburn (2000: 3) puts it, biological notions of race deserve to be repudiated as typological, subjective and based on misconceptions about genetics, human variation, and human history: “Biologically, there is one race – the human race – in its modest variety and overwhelming commonality.” (Blackburn 2000: 19).

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[...]

[1] http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,1563,1361986,00.html (accessed 04/12/04)

[2] http://fajardo-acosta.com/worldlit/glossary.htm (accessed 22/11/04)

[3] Glossary of Philosophical Terms, University of Hong Kong http://www.hku.hk/philodep/ugrad/glossary.htm (accessed 22/11/04)

[4] Conrad P. Kottak: Glossary of Anthropology http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072426527/student_view0/chapter23/key_terms.html (accessed 22/11/04)

[5] http://www.wordreference.com/definition/identity (accessed 22/11/04)

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[6] http://www.hyperdictionary.com/dictionary/race; http://www.wordreference.com/definition/race (accessed 23/11/04)

[7] http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Race (accessed 23/11/04)

FAQs

How does postmodernism define human identity? ›

Postmodernism rejects the common origin of humans just as it rejects any constant and definite truth in ontology topics. They believe that human identity is constructed by national and local culture and is specifically influenced by three key cultural features of gender, social class, and race.

What is the concept of postmodern theory? ›

postmodernism, also spelled post-modernism, in Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.

What does postmodernism say about inequality? ›

Unlike functionalists and Marxists who both argue that inequality is in-built into the structures of society; post-modernists argue that inequality is an individual experience.

What does postmodernism say about culture? ›

Postmodernism is best understood as a questioning of the ideas and values associated with a form of modernism that believes in progress and innovation. Modernism insists on a clear divide between art and popular culture. But like modernism, postmodernism does not designate any one style of art or culture.

What are examples of postmodernism? ›

The clearest example would be the death bunny scene where a rabbit slaughters men. Intentional or not, these works of art belong on the Postmodern film list because they subverted expectations and gave audiences something they couldn't have anticipated long before that was more en vogue.

What is the importance of postmodernism? ›

It collapsed the distinction between high culture and mass or popular culture, between art and everyday life. Because postmodernism broke the established rules about style, it introduced a new era of freedom and a sense that 'anything goes'.

What are the key features of postmodernism? ›

Its main characteristics include anti-authoritarianism, or refusal to recognize the authority of any single style or definition of what art should be; and the collapsing of the distinction between high culture and mass or popular culture, and between art and everyday life.

What is a simple definition of postmodernism? ›

American Heritage Dictionary: "Of or relating to art, architecture, or literature that reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes: 'It [a roadhouse] is so architecturally interesting ... with its ...

How does postmodernism affect society? ›

Postmodernism affects views and lifestyles, which in turn affects the young adult's performance of roles and his interactions within all his different social systems. A strong attachment to family and home, as well as the importance of roles as sons/daughters were found.

What do postmodernists say about society? ›

Postmodernists believe that in contemporary global society people's identities are chosen rather than ascribed (given). In the past identity tended to be more simple and fixed, being defined by class, gender and age in a more straightforward way.

What do postmodernists say about family diversity? ›

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.

What is a postmodernist view on social class? ›

A more recent argument has been put forward by Paluski and Waters (1996) who believe that class is dead. This view is called Postmodernism and they believe that profound social changes such as globalisation means that class divisions are now actually status divisions. This is a very different way of defining society.

How does postmodernism affect culture? ›

In contrast to modern culture, with its emphasis on social progress, coherence, and universality, postmodern culture represents instances of dramatic historical and ideological change in which modernist narratives of progress and social holism are viewed as incomplete, elastic, and contradictory.

What influenced postmodernism? ›

Radical movements and trends regarded as influential and potentially as precursors to postmodernism emerged around World War I and particularly in its aftermath.

How do you differentiate modern culture from postmodern culture? ›

  1. “Modern” is the term that describes the period from the 1890s to 1945, and “post-modern” refers to the period after the Second World War, mainly after 1968.
  2. While the modern approach was theoretical, objective and analytical, the post-modern approach was subjective.

What is the difference between modern and postmodern society? ›

According to post-modernists one Fundamental difference between the post-modern society and modern society is that our society is consumer oriented, rather than work oriented. This means that consuming things, and leisure activities are more important today than work.

What elements are present in a postmodernist society? ›

The main characteristics of postmodern society are subjectivity, diversity, skepticism, and innovation.

Is postmodernism still relevant today? ›

Indeed in the previous decades before us, postmodernism was in vogue in the academic settings of our country and in the Western world. It's not necessarily that way today. You still find it in literary departments. You still find it, unfortunately, sometimes in theology departments.

What are the benefits of postmodernism in education? ›

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. ...
  • Education has become more individualized. ...
  • Education is more diverse. ...
  • Increasing Fragmentation. ...
  • Education is more 'Hyperreal'
25 Sept 2019

Where did postmodernism come from? ›

The term “postmodern” came into the philosophical lexicon with the publication of Jean-François Lyotard's La Condition Postmoderne in 1979 (in English: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, 1984), where he employs Wittgenstein's model of language games (see Wittgenstein 1953) and concepts taken from speech ...

Who is the father of postmodernism? ›

French post-structuralist philosopher, best known for his highly influential formulation of postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition. Despite its popularity, however, this book is in fact one of his more minor works.

What are the challenges of postmodernism? ›

Displaying incredulity toward grand narratives, postmodernism not only questions but also challenges modernism's claims to universal reason, objectivity, neutrality, superiority of science, and the belief in progressive emancipation or human betterment through its anti-essentialist and anti-foundationalist character.

What are postmodern techniques? ›

TECHNIQUES IN POSTMODERN LITERATURE. Techniques in Postmodern Literature. Language creates meaning—language is seen as having power to create truth; somehow what is said matters more than how we might usually define "reality." A postmodern approach often emphasizes language over transcendent “truth.”

What are the seven assumptions on which postmodernism rests? ›

  • Universal truth can't be known.
  • Reason is subjective.
  • Objective knowledge is a myth.
  • The world is too complex to be explained by any worldview claiming to have objective knowledge of absolute truth.
  • There is no God to give meaning to the world.
  • Societies, like humans, are biased.
  • No one is neutral.

What is another name for postmodernism? ›

In this page you can discover 16 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for postmodernism, like: post-modernism, post-structuralism, postmodernity, poststructuralism, postmodern, postmodernist, modernism, structuralism, primitivism, and relativism.

Why is postmodernism hard to define? ›

Postmodernism is hard to define, because it is a concept that appears in a wide variety of disciplines or areas of study, including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, and technology.

How is postmodernism different from modernism? ›

Main Difference – Modernism vs Postmodernism

The main difference between modernism and postmodernism is that modernism is characterized by the radical break from the traditional forms of prose and verse whereas postmodernism is characterized by the self-conscious use of earlier styles and conventions.

Is postmodernism a social action theory? ›

Postmodernists would suggest that social action theory is the same as any other theory that claims to provide a full explanation of social life. It is one competing view point, all of which provide equally valid insights into society.

Are we in the modern or postmodern era? ›

While the modern movement lasted 50 years, we have been in Postmodernism for at least 46 years. Most of the postmodern thinkers have passed away, and the "star system" architects are at retirement age.

What is the definition of postmodern family? ›

Postmodern family theory can be defined as a rejection of the ideas that there is universal progress in human history, that rules and norms are static (apply to everyone in the same way) and that family is the basis for learning about self.

What is the criticism of postmodernism? ›

Criticism of more artistic post-modern movement such as post-modern art or literature may include objections to a departure from beauty, lack of coherence or comprehensibility, deviating from clear structure and the consistent use of dark and negative themes.

What is the postmodern image of a child? ›

In the postmodern era we have moved away from the notion of roles as too general to account for the multiplicity of behavior patterns that make up social life. Today we believe that children become socialized not so much by learning social roles, as by acquiring societal frames and familial scripts.

What do postmodernists say about education? ›

Regarding postmodernist, the aims of education are teaching critical thinking, production of knowledge, development of individual and social identity, self creation. In postmodern education teachers just lead students to discover new things.

What are the main differences between modernism and postmodernism? ›

The main difference between modernism and postmodernism is that modernism is characterized by the radical break from the traditional forms of prose and verse whereas postmodernism is characterized by the self-conscious use of earlier styles and conventions.

What is the relationship between Globalisation and postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism, which is inspired by post-structuralism, means changing modern policies and functions into more developed ones. But, globalization is moving ahead, inspired by modernism and postmodernism toward fundamental changes in social life.

What is postmodernism essay? ›

Initially, postmodernism was a mode of discourse on literature and literary criticism, commenting on the nature of literary text, meaning, author and reader, writing, and reading. Postmodernism developed in the mid- to late-twentieth century across many scholarly disciplines as a departure or rejection of modernism.

What is Post modernism in English literature? ›

Postmodernism is a reaction to the modernist view. In terms of literature, it is characterised by the idea of experimentation and a rejection of conventional forms of literature. Postmodernists believe that there is no “high” art; some works of creativity are not more valuable or artistic than others.

Who is the father of postmodernism? ›

French post-structuralist philosopher, best known for his highly influential formulation of postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition. Despite its popularity, however, this book is in fact one of his more minor works.

What are the seven assumptions on which postmodernism rests? ›

  • Universal truth can't be known.
  • Reason is subjective.
  • Objective knowledge is a myth.
  • The world is too complex to be explained by any worldview claiming to have objective knowledge of absolute truth.
  • There is no God to give meaning to the world.
  • Societies, like humans, are biased.
  • No one is neutral.

What are the common characteristics between modernism and postmodernism? ›

Comparison of Modernism and Postmodernism
ModernismPostmodernism
Rejection of realismAmbivalence towards realism
Literature is self-containedLiterature is open and intertextual
High-brow genresMixing of high- and low-brow genres
Rejection of literary conventionsParody of literary conventions
7 more rows
5 Jul 2022

What do postmodernists believe about media? ›

Postmodernists argue that the media is an integral part of postmodern society. Individuals actively use the media to construct their identities, and there is a sense of playfulness, creativity and unpredictability about how they go about doing this.

What are the 8 theories of globalization? ›

All theories of globalization have been put hereunder in eight categories: liberalism, political realism, Marxism, constructivism, postmodernism, feminism , Trans-formationalism and eclecticism.

How has globalisation affected popular culture sociology? ›

Globalisation of popular culture

Some sociologists suggest that the globalisation of culture has led to its homogenisation. This is when there is a reduction in cultural diversity because of the abandoning of folk cultures in favour of a global popular culture.

How does postmodernism affect society? ›

Postmodernism affects views and lifestyles, which in turn affects the young adult's performance of roles and his interactions within all his different social systems. A strong attachment to family and home, as well as the importance of roles as sons/daughters were found.

What influenced postmodernism? ›

Radical movements and trends regarded as influential and potentially as precursors to postmodernism emerged around World War I and particularly in its aftermath.

Is postmodernism still relevant today? ›

Indeed in the previous decades before us, postmodernism was in vogue in the academic settings of our country and in the Western world. It's not necessarily that way today. You still find it in literary departments. You still find it, unfortunately, sometimes in theology departments.

What are the key features of postmodernism? ›

Its main characteristics include anti-authoritarianism, or refusal to recognize the authority of any single style or definition of what art should be; and the collapsing of the distinction between high culture and mass or popular culture, and between art and everyday life.

What are the three elements of postmodern literature? ›

The Key Elements of Postmodern Literature

The notable literary devices of postmodern literature are paradox, unreliable narrators, unrealistic narratives, parody and dark humor.

What are some general characteristics of postmodernism? ›

5 Characteristics of Postmodern Literature
  • Embrace of randomness. Postmodern works reject the idea of absolute meaning and instead embrace randomness and disorder. ...
  • Playfulness. ...
  • Fragmentation. ...
  • Metafiction. ...
  • Intertextuality.
7 Jun 2021

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