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Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences

Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions

Pauline Marie Rosenau
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7shqp
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  • Book Info
    Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences
    Book Description:

    Post-modernism offers a revolutionary approach to the study of society: in questioning the validity of modern science and the notion of objective knowledge, this movement discards history, rejects humanism, and resists any truth claims. In this comprehensive assessment of post-modernism, Pauline Rosenau traces its origins in the humanities and describes how its key concepts are today being applied to, and are restructuring, the social sciences. Serving as neither an opponent nor an apologist for the movement, she cuts through post-modernism's often incomprehensible jargon in order to offer all readers a lucid exposition of its propositions. Rosenau shows how the post-modern challenge to reason and rational organization radiates across academic fields. For example, in psychology it questions the conscious, logical, coherent subject; in public administration it encourages a retreat from central planning and from reliance on specialists; in political science it calls into question the authority of hierarchical, bureaucratic decision-making structures that function in carefully defined spheres; in anthropology it inspires the protection of local, primitive cultures from First World attempts to reorganize them. In all of the social sciences, she argues, post-modernism repudiates representative democracy and plays havoc with the very meaning of "left-wing" and "right-wing." Rosenau also highlights how post-modernism has inspired a new generation of social movements, ranging from New Age sensitivities to Third World fundamentalism. In weighing its strengths and weaknesses, the author examines two major tendencies within post-modernism, the largely European, skeptical form and the predominantly Anglo-North-American form, which suggests alternative political, social, and cultural projects. She draws examples from anthropology, economics, geography, history, international relations, law, planning, political science, psychology, sociology, urban studies, and women's studies, and provides a glossary of post-modern terms to assist the uninitiated reader with special meanings not found in standard dictionaries.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2061-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. GLOSSARY OF POST-MODERN TERMS
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. 1 INTO THE FRAY: CRISIS, CONTINUITY, AND DIVERSITY
    (pp. 3-24)

    Post-modernism haunts social science today. In a number of respects, some plausible and some preposterous, post-modern approaches dispute the underlying assumptions of mainstream social science and its research product over the last three decades. The challenges post-modernism poses seem endless. It rejects epistemological assumptions, refutes methodological conventions, resists knowledge claims, obscures all versions of truth, and dismisses policy recommendations.¹

    If social scientists are to meet this challenge and take advantage of what post-modernism has to offer without becoming casualties of its excesses, then an adequate understanding of the challenge is essential. This book seeks to fill the need for an...

  6. 2 ABANDONING THE AUTHOR, TRANSFORMING THE TEXT, AND RE-ORIENTING THE READER
    (pp. 25-41)

    Post-modernists dramatically revise the conventional roles of author, text, and reader. They diminish the importance of the author and amplify the significance of the text and the reader. It is almost as if author, text, and reader have been competing for the spotlight. When the post-modernists abandoned the author a space was created; the text and reader filled the void. “The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (Barthes 1977: 148).

    The post-modern reader enters at center stage and assumes an unprecedented autonomy. No longer is the reader a passive subject...

  7. 3 SUBVERTING THE SUBJECT
    (pp. 42-61)

    Within the terms of post-modernism, “subjectivity” refers to “individuality and self-awareness—the condition of being a subject” (Henriques et al. 1984: 3; Hohendahl 1986: 59). When post-modernists say they are “post-subjective” and when they talk about the decline of “subjectivity,” they do not mean that they wish to be objective. They are, rather, calling for less emphasis on the subject as a focus for analysis as the “preconstituted centre of the experience of culture and history” (Giddens 1984: 2). They mean the point of view of the thinking “subject” is not to be given much weight. Modern philosophy of science...

  8. 4 HUMBLING HISTORY, TRANSFORMING TIME, AND GARBLING GEOGRAPHY (SPACE)
    (pp. 62-76)

    Post-modernists have developed a unique counterintuitive view of time, geography or space, and history, all of which are redefined and reconstituted in a mutually reinforcing, if not entirely unified, perspective.¹ They question almost everything that is taken for granted about these concepts: a knowledge of history is essential for comprehending the present; time is linear; and space is fixed, constant, measurable. Post-modernism reverses the priority accorded to these terms by calling for more attention to time and space and less to history. Post-modernists propose modifications they consider audacious and daring for all these dimensions. But their critics deem post-modern versions...

  9. 5 A THEORY OF THEORY AND THE TERRORISM OF TRUTH
    (pp. 77-91)

    Truth and theory are closely linked within a post-modern perspective, and they are discussed together here. Theory implies truth, and truth, at least in the social sciences, is theoretical in character. Post-modernists are suspicious regarding modern versions of both. In this chapter 1 first discuss skeptical post-modern views of truth, especially the contention that because all knowledge is language-bound truth is forever arbitrary. The affirmative post-modernist re-conceptualization of truth as local, personal, community specific is examined. Next, post-modern objections to modern theory are outlined. I consider the diverse suggestions for theory, either discarding it (skeptics) or reconstructing it (affirmatives). Finally,...

  10. 6 REPUDIATING REPRESENTATION
    (pp. 92-108)

    Most post-modernists are anti-representational. They consider representation central to modernity, its social organization, its political structure, its underlying foundations and philosophy.1 Modern representation certainly stakes out its territory in the broadest of terms. It isdelegation; one individual represents another in parliament. It isresemblance; a painting represents on the canvas what the painter observes. It isreplication; the photograph (image) represents the person photographed (object). It isrepetition;a writer puts on paper the word (language) that represents his/her idea or thought (meaning). It issubstitution-,a lawyer represents a client in court. It isduplication;a photocopy represents...

  11. 7 EPISTEMOLOGY AND METHODOLOGY: POST-MODERN ALTERNATIVES
    (pp. 109-137)

    In this chapter 1 consider post-modern views of what are generally called “foundational” matters and outline the consequences of these conceptions for the social sciences. Post-modern answers to questions of how we know what we know, how we go about producing knowledge, and what constitutes knowledge itself are very different from those of the most conventional versions of modern social science. The skeptical post-modernists reject modern views of science, epistemology, and methodology. They have little faith in reason, and they disavow conventional criteria for evaluating knowledge. The affirmatives do not reject modern perspectives on these topics quite so vehemently, but...

  12. 8 POST-MODERN POLITICAL ORIENTATIONS AND SOCIAL SCIENCE
    (pp. 138-166)

    The political views of the skeptical and affirmative postmodernists provide insight into their respective conceptions of social science. We will see that the skeptic’s political views are such that they have little need for a highly complex post-modern social science. But the affirmatives require a more developed, interventionist social science to assist them in accomplishing their positive political goals.

    Whether post-modernism is inherently left-wing or right-wing is also discussed below. Both cases have been argued. If either were true, serious consequences for any post-modern social science would result. Of special concern is the possibility that by adopting a post-modern approach...

  13. 9 ELEMENTS FOR AN ASSESSMENT
    (pp. 167-184)

    In this chapter 1 present a summary sketch of post-modern social science based on what has been learned in previous chapters. I assess some of the difficult choices social scientists must make vis-à-vis post-modern forms of inquiry. In addition, I review selected criticisms of post-modernism not covered elsewhere and consider various scenarios for the future of post-modernism in the social sciences.

    In a plural (ist) world any conclusion is inevitably inadequate, and that offered here is no exception.¹ The reader may choose to defer, postpone, or defy conclusions altogether in the spirit of Derrida’sdifference.After all, conclusions aim to...

  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 185-216)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 217-233)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 234-234)