Postmodernity Features: 12 Major Features of Postmodernity – Explained! (2022)


Some of the major features of postmodernity are as follows:

Postmodernism is a cultural matter, that is, a matter of changes in arts. In some ways, this distinction between social and cultural is quite artificial. The two can be said to inform each other to such a degree, in reality, that they cannot be separated. What we do here is to enumerate some of the major features of postmodernity in this article.

1. Cultural relations or the politics of culture:


Postmodern thought is against modern art and architecture. The modern art is considered to be highly influenced by elitism. It indicates a decline in standards. The postmodern architecture dwells in populism; it is a manifestation of cheap populism. Characterizing postmodern architecture, it is argued that it is regressive rather than progressive, reactionary rather than radical; a sell-out of all that architecture should stand for.

However, some of these criticisms of modern art, not only in architecture, music and entertainment programmes, but in media too, are defended by postmodernists. It must be accepted that the new art has reached to the grass roots and common people. It is closer to the ground reality.

Glen Ward (1997) makes the following observations in characterizing the cultural aspects of postmodernity:

When the postmodernists do the same they are said to be welcoming the plurality of contemporary cultural life with open arms. On radio, television, video and home computer the whole of world culture seems to be at your finger tips. The media, it has been argued are placeless imagery spaces which refuse to make clear distinctions between things.


Adverts for ice cream and sun block interrupt an art history programme. Moving into different realities can be done at the push of a button. Everywhere you look, different; perhaps contradictory, messages, images and ideas jostle for attention. In this new media domain anything can go with anything like a game without rules.

Or, at least you can make up your own rules; culture can no longer be administered, there is no legislation about what can and cannot be consumed. Modernists would bemoan this as a slackening of aesthetic criteria. Postmodernists would agree but would say ‘good thing too’. They would ask, exactly whose criteria were they in the first place? And why should anybody have taken notice of them?

Postmodernity actually came to the field of art sometime in 1980s. It was during this period that huge, splashy things became fashion of the day. Postmodern art soon got associated with a pluralist, ‘anything goes’ attitude and an obsession with the past. Old styles and techniques were reshaped.

At a later stage, it took to political postmodernism. Thus, considering all the forms of postmodernism, it could be said that one of its prime dimensions has been the field of art in all its variations.


2. The end of reality: Baudrillard says it is a society of simulations:

It is sometimes said that theories of postmodernism proclaim the “end of the real”. This era of postmodernism has developed communications and the electronic reproduction of sound, image, and text. Television has often been central in this area. What is worse in this postmodern development of communications is that there have emerged doubts about the relationship between reality and representation.

(Video) What is Postmodernism? (See links below for "What is Modernism?" and "What is Postmodernity?")

Baudrillard has developed a theory which says that there is nothing real in this world. Instead, there are simulations, that is, carbon copies of reality and worse enough, there is no original copy. Signs and images float. Through the media, we do not purchase commodities, we purchase signs and images. And, interestingly enough, we consume these signs and images.

Baudrillard says that the things available in the market are heavily charged by signs and images. The two combined constitute the representation. These representations have no solid ground of facts, reality or history. Consider the example given by Baudrillard:


You are watching on a video tape of a contemporary film, an image of a woman smoking a cigarette. She looks cool, seductive, and fairly dangerous. Her smoking gives her this sort of aura. This is something about the way she lights her cigarette…. You find this an alternative image. Perhaps you would quite like to look like that yourself.

Simulations, therefore, are the fake, counterfeit and unauthentic reality of society. In such a situation we might assume simulations either duplicates or are emitted by a pre-given real. In a sense we might think that simulations and reality have a necessary attachment. But, for Baudrillard, this connection has long since swapped, so that simulation can no longer be taken either as imitation or distortion of reality or as a copy of the original.

3. Postmodern society is multicultural and incoherent:

One of the differentiating characteristics of postmodern society is its multiculturalism. Our national leaders, when make a public speech, often start with the phrase: “We the people of this community…” By the term ‘we’ they convey the notion that we are common people, have common lifestyle and common values.


But such a phrasing would not be acceptable to postmodernists. They argue that the community is never ‘one’. It has varying ethnicities, feelings, religious followings and linguistic learning’s. It is never possible to think of a community as a large family. There is enough fragmentation in a society.

Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1984), report commissioned by Qubec’s Counseil des Universities, is a wonderful document on the state of scientific knowledge and information. Lyotard finds out the grounds of knowledge and informs us how it controls the society. He says that science is never a superior form of knowledge. It cannot find permanent answers to everything; it only comes up with temporarily valid opinions, and seeks to solve merely immediate, local problems.

There is splintering of knowledge because human beings in a society are never uniform. They are multicultural, multi-ethnic. Thus, the science which is developed and created in postmodern society is not coherent. It can no longer be valued for the contribution it makes towards human progress.

Postmodern science has given up the idea that one day the sum of all knowledge will add up to a state of perfect information. Lyotard strongly believes that postmodern science has become a mass of incompatible little things with no goal other than to generate further research.


4. Rejection of metanarratives:

Postmodernists have no love left for the past. In the Indian situation, postmodernity if it is there, it would at once, as Yogendra Singh would agree, abandon indologists who make all sorts of generalization on the basis of scriptures and epics. As the postmodernists in Europe and U.S. reject metanarratives, so will the coming postmodernists in India reject G.S. Ghurye, M.N. Srinivas and other sociologists of this category.

As a matter of fact, when we are entering a postmodern age, one of its most distinctive characteristics is a loss of rational and social coherence in favour of cultural images and social reforms and identities marked by fragmentation, multiplicity, plurality and indeterminacy.

Viewed from this perspective postmodernism totally rejects metanarratives. When postmodernism represents fragmented culture, how difficult it is for such metanarratives to survive in contemporary society. Postmodernists have explained the concept of metanarratives.

(Video) Postmodernism: WTF? An introduction to Postmodernist Theory | Tom Nicholas


The foundational thinkers have developed their theories which are universal and can be applied to all the societies of the world. For instance, Durkheim’s theory of suicide has general application for India and also Europe. Similarly, capitalism is the byproduct of religious ethics as propounded by Max Weber.

Marxian economic determinism has universal application. And, with the same logic, functional theory and methods have uniform applications notwithstanding the specificity of social. These theories are, therefore, labelled as totalizing.

When the society is plural, multi-ethnic and fragmented, how metanarratives can explain its structure and function. These narratives miserably fail to identify any fundamental truth underpinning human society. They have anti-foundational attitude in their approach.

5. Postmodernity is deconstruction: Derrida’s post-structuralism:

Postmodernity is multi-dimensional. Each author has defined it from his own theoretical perspective. Jacques Derrida is a poststructuralist and is, therefore, postmodernist also. He characterized postmodernity by the concept of deconstruction and difference.

Derrida actually initiated the movement of deconstruction after reading Martin Heidegger in 1960s. This has influenced postmodernist way of thinking: “Deconstructionism is less a philosophical position than a way of thinking about and reading texts: writers who create texts or use words on the basis of all the other texts and words they have encountered, while readers deal with them in the same way. Cultural life is thus viewed as a series of texts intersecting with other texts producing more texts. This inter-textual weaving has a life of its own.


Whatever we write conveys meanings we do not or could not possibly intend, and our words cannot say what we mean. It is vain to try and master a text because the perpetual interweaving of texts and meaning is beyond our control. Language works through us. Recognizing that, the deconstructionist impulse is to look inside one text for another, dissolve one text into another, or build one text into another.”

Derrida is basically a poststructuralist and his postulate of deconstruction is therefore structural construction. He argues that though deconstruction digs up the hidden suppressions and exclusions upon which texts are constructed, it is far from being an act of interpretation in the normal sense.

Deconstruction does not mean trying to root out what a text is ‘really saying’. On the contrary, it tries to show that the grounds from which texts and theories seem to proceed are always shifting and unstable. One way it achieves this is by recognizing the active role played by the invisible or marginalized in any text. Another is by exposing a text’s system of imaginary oppositions.

6. Postmodern social identity is constructed by images:

In the present era where we have reached postmodernity, the problem of the identity of individual is passing through a severe crisis. The identity of the individual has gone through a serious transformation. In ancient Indian society, the individual identity was fixed or ascribed.

One is born as a Brahmin, he is a vegetarian for being a Brahmin, he is also assumed to be a learned person, his position in his kin group was predetermined. His enemy ties were also largely of his past. The traditional identity elsewhere as in India also witnessed change during the modern period.


The possibilities of expanding identity witnessed within this period. Modernity involved the belief that rejecting the shackles of tradition was a step forward towards human emancipation.

Postmodernism gave a new dimension to the expansion of individual identity. During this period, social life is faster and more complex than it was in modernity. More and more demands are placed on the individuals, more and more identities are paraded before individuals and they have to juggle hard with the rapidly expanding number of roles as society starts to fragment.

(Video) Seven Features of Postmodernism by Adrian Otoiu

Identity has now become an issue. In place of the serious modernist search for the deep, authentic self, the individuals have a recognition, and sometimes a celebration, of disintegration, fragmented desires, superficiality, and identity as something you shop for image is now all that matters. One of the major characteristics of postmodernity is, therefore, to win over the crisis of self-identity formation.

7. Foucault: Knowledge-power relationships are major attributes of post-modernity:

Michel Foucault is known for giving postmodernity a distinct identity. If Lyotard characterized it by the rejection of metanarratives, Baudrillard identified it with simulations, i.e., signs and images and Derrida introduced it with deconstruction. Foucault attributed it with knowledge and power.

He argued that there are several social institutions in the society including penal system, psychiatry which deals with the activities of men. Foucault believed that none of these institutions is neutral or independent. All these are tied up in the complex of power in our society.


The power, all through the history of mankind, is exercised through surveillance, monitoring and other forms of regulation of people’s lives. For Foucault, the modern-day notion of the self is bound up with, and inseparable from, the workings of such institutions, and so none of us can claim to stand apart from the exercise of power.

He does not provide a theory of how naturally free human individuals are oppressed from above the laws of any one dominant class or group. Instead, he proposes that humanity is simply an idea and, that, like any other idea, it has a history.

The history of all social institutions is the history of power relations. And, where does power come from? Power originates from knowledge, that is, expertise. In the postmodern period it is the knowledge-power relationship which controls and governs the society.

8. “The Death of the Author”: The slogan is the idiom of postmodernity:

The postmodern society, which is known for its plurality, diversity, multi-ethnicity and fragmentation, is also understood for having varying interpretations of the writings of authors. Take an instance from Indian Hindi fiction writer Munshi Premchand. Premchand all through his stories and fictions wrote about the Indian peasantry, which lived in poverty and died in poverty.

Today, there is no reason to assume that Premchand is exactly interpreted in this way. The present peasantry is the outcome of green revolution and benefits from agricultural development programmes. The postmodernists argue that a text (and for that matter, a novel, story or a poem) moves form history, geography, and culture. It is in this context that there is death of an author in postmodern period. But this requires a little elaboration.


In 1968, Barthes published a short essay called The Death of the Author in an obscure Parisian literary journal. In 1977, the essay resurfaced in an English translation in the collection of Barthes’ essays called Image-Music-Text. Its original publication in French journal went unnoticed but its translation reached to wider public.

It triggered a tidal wave of comment. Overnight it became a slogan of postmodernity. Barthes wants to convey through his slogan that it is the language which speaks, and not the author. There exists in individual author an idea, experience, sensation, or mental state. This occurs in the author independently of any verbal or visual language.

It does not signify anything yet. It just is. Now, the author expresses his ideas by manipulating language. In other words, his ideas are put into signs, words, images, etc. At the third stage, the readers get the meaning of the author. The meaning is interpreted differently by the readers as they are themselves fragmented.

In this process, the real meaning of the author fades and it is his death. The lesson of Barthes’ essay is that you cannot have an idea without any already existing signs in the form of language. In other words, we cannot have a language less thought. Our ideas are restricted to what our language has made available to us. Postmodernity is very much influenced by linguistics. It is the language which speaks, and not the author.

9. The transformation of Marxism in postmodernity:

Postmodernists in a larger way have established that the present world has come to such a stage where there seems to be no alternate to capitalism. Marxism died in 1989 with the disintegration of Soviet Russia. Marxists have tended to see social class as the key site of oppression, and the resulting conflict between dominant and subordinate classes as the basis for future revolution. In this view faith is put in the proletariat as the universal class (workers of the world unite) which will lead the way to socialism. Marx also advocated the theory that “the economic structure determines the social and cultural life”.

(Video) Postmodernism: major trends and chief characteristic features


The whole Marxian thesis of the revolution for socialism has been transformed by the Marxist postmodernists. They have challenged the idea that any one class, structure or factor can single-handedly explain history or bring about change. The ideas of Foucault, Baudrillard and others reject Marx.

The post-Marxist tendency of these authors seeks a less reductive view of history and society and try to formulate a more radical version of democracy than Marxism has often provided. It aims to address political theory to a more chaotic social landscape full of fluid identities and diverse social groups. It asks whether revolution is still possible in an age apparently without agreed values, and whether radical gestures can have any effect in a world which seems able to absorb all attempts at subversion.

10. Farewell to class war:

Social formations have undergone massive change due to modes of production. The society has gone through Fordism to post-Fordism and mass production to flexible production. It has become a consumer society. It is more capital-intensive than labour-intensive. Peter Berger argues that in the postmodern society, the place of industrial labour has been taken over by the knowledge class.

This class is highly paid and occupies a place of status in this society. It is said that such a development in industry has ended the primacy of class-based politics. Add to it the increase in social pluralism and multi-polity of social groups. Jameson, a Marxist, also admits that one of the most profoundly social phenomena is the emergence of a whole range of small-group, non-class political practices – micro-politics.

These groups give rise to new social movements such as that of women, ecologists, regional autonomists which take the role of class war. And, here is the farewell to class conflicts. The days of labour unrest have now become the thing of the past.

11. Goodbye to systemic approach:

Foundational theories of Durkheim, Marx and Weber have their boundaries limited to system. Parsons’ theory of system is a typical example of boundary maintenance. A system is a complex unit of some kind, with boundaries within which the parts are connected, and within which something takes place. Parsons distinguishes three systems: the cultural, the personality, and the social.

The cultural system includes the values and norms which influence the individual’s choices. The personality system involves individual’s motivations and need-dispositions that govern, along with the norms, the choice they make. The social system is based on the interrelations between actors. With the social system Parsons looked at roles, equilibrium and the pattern variables.

System has least possibility of change outside it. It has a strong tendency to pattern maintenance. This approach, that is, the whole system theory is rejected by postmodernists. Its inherent tendency is flexibility. And, flexibility is against system. What is this postmodern flexibility? Postmodernity made a shift from mass consumption of Fordian type to flexible production.

In this shift, there is a new pluralism of products, and a new importance for innovation. In postmodern society flexible manufacture is linked with innovative organization. In this shift the focus is on the needs of the customers. And, the customer’s needs are ever changing. The production changes with the needs of the customers.

For example, General Motors took nine hours to change the dyes on its presses in the early 1980s. The Toyota have lowered the time to two minutes. The history of demand flexibility and innovation in production clearly states that the postmodernity is against any theory of system.

Add to it, the rejection of metanarratives. Metanarratives are based on system theory. Functionalism and conflict theory are, in fact, system narratives. Postmodernity, at least, negatively has vehemently rejected system approach to society.

Its efforts to theorize the present broken world, on the other hand, has yet not yielded any hopeful result. But, the battle is ongoing. Whether postmodernity succeeds to build a new social theory or not, it is certain it has made a goodbye to system approach

12. Postmodern science is little science:

During the postmodern period, once upon a time, big science has become little science. Around 18th century onwards, i.e., modern times, faith was placed in science as the source of enlightenment. For instance, instead of answering to religion as the guarantee of truth, political and economic fields claimed to have the standing of science.

In sociology, all the founding fathers, Comte to Merton, tried to develop and establish it as a discipline. It was assumed that scientific knowledge could (1) get behind mystification, and superstition; (2) reveal the facts about the world, and (3) lead human beings to a brighter day. It was further belied that science is progressive and universal.

Lyotard and a few other postmodernists demystified some of these assumptions of science. Lyotard was, in fact, officially appointed to find out the state of knowledge of science. He claims that around the end of the Second World War, these myths had collapsed.

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It is the science which is responsible for the destruction of our environment; it is science which has created chemical weapons and this leads us to believe that science may be anything, but surely not progressive. Approaches like ‘chaos theory’, quantum mechanics have highlighted uncertainty in measure. Because of these it has become harder to see science “as the activity of a rational mind confronting a concrete reality”.

A new development has taken place in the post-industrial production. Research has made a place in commercial enterprise as a result of which there has been rapid growth of computerized means of information processing.

The outcome of this has been that theories and discoveries are now judged on the basis of performance and efficiency rather than truth or purpose. Scientists are now primarily interested in putting out work which will both generate further research finding and add to their own power and prestige within the academic ‘market place’.


What are the major 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 main features of modernism and post modernism? ›

Comparison of Modernism and Postmodernism
Unreliable narratorIronic narrator
Rejection of realismAmbivalence towards realism
Literature is self-containedLiterature is open and intertextual
High-brow genresMixing of high- and low-brow genres
7 more rows
Jul 5, 2022

What is an example of postmodernity? ›

Postmodern movies aim to subvert highly-regarded expectations, which can be in the form of blending genres or messing with the narrative nature of a film. For example, Pulp Fiction is a Postmodern film for the way it tells the story out of the ordinary, upending our expectations of film structure.

What does postmodernity mean? ›

In philosophy and critical theory postmodernity refers to the state or condition of society which is said to exist after modernity, a historical condition that marks the reasons for the end of modernity. This usage is ascribed to the philosophers Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard.

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'.

Which of the following is a key feature of postmodernity quizlet? ›

A key feature of postmodernism in that - because meanings are no longer fixed - witty, ironic, parodic, self-referential new meanings that play with/subvert audience expectations, or knowingly refer to & undermine traditional meanings creating 'in jokes,' are possible.

What are the characteristics of modernism in literature? ›

Literary modernism allowed writers to express themselves in more experimental ways than in the past. Modernist works often contain non-linear narratives and free-flowing interior monologues that emphasize the experiences and emotions of the individual.

What are the main characteristics of modernism PDF? ›

The Main Characteristics of Modernist Literature
  • Individualism. In Modernist literature, the individual is more interesting than society. ...
  • Experimentation. Modernist writers broke free of old forms and techniques. ...
  • Absurdity. The carnage of two World Wars profoundly affected writers of the period. ...
  • Symbolism. ...
  • Formalism.

What according to Eagleton are the features that distinguish postmodernism from modernism? ›

The modern, Eagleton explains, “In bracketing off the real social world, establish[es] a critical, negating distance between itself and the ruling social order”, while postmodern works accepts the fact that it is a commodity and thus conflicts between its material reality and its aesthetic structure.

Who is the father of postmodernism? ›

FOLLOWING the great American modernist poets of the first decades of the 20th century -- Pound, Eliot, Williams -- Charles Olson is the father of the "postmodernists" of the second half of the century, bridging Pound & Co. to such major poets as Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley.

What is the difference between modernity and postmodernity? ›

Post-Modernity refers to the view that the institutions and ways of living characteristic of Modernity have been replaced to such a profound extent that our society is fundamentally different to the 'modern' society. In contrast post-modernism is a term that refers to new ways of thinking about thought.

Why is it called postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism is "post" because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody - a characterisitic of the so-called "modern" mind.

What is the importance of postmodernism in 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 is the central message of postmodernism? ›

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 theory of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism relies on critical theory, which considers the effects of ideology, society, and history on culture. Postmodernism and critical theory commonly criticize universalist ideas of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, language, and social progress.

What are the characteristics of postmodern architecture? ›

Postmodern buildings had curved forms, decorative elements, asymmetry, bright colours, and features often borrowed from earlier periods. Colours and textures were unrelated to the structure or function of the building.

What is the difference 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.


1. POSTMODERNISM AND POPULAR CULTURE | Angela McRobbie |A brief summary |Culture Studies| HSST English
(Pradeep Hariharan)
2. Postmodernism Explained
(Joelle Phua)
3. Chapter 12 "Postmodernism and Postmodern Anthropologies"
(Keith Eppich, PhD)
4. A Lecture on Postmodernism in Art and Poetry
(John Pistelli)
5. Postmodernism & English Literature
(Flippin' English)
6. Postmodernism in a nutshell - Jordan Peterson
(Dose of Truth)

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