2.2. Postmodernity 

16 June 2021

2.2. Postmodernity 

A central idea that emerges from much postmodern theory is that all ideas must be understood as originating from specific perspectives and thus that claims to unsituated knowledge are suspect because they deny that most fundamental characteristic of knowledge

(Riley, 2002, p. 243).

To take sociologist Alexander Tristan Riley's central idea of postmodern theory is to ask how the knowledge that became an objective truth became knowledge? Or another way to ask the question, is to ask, what are the political, social and cultural influences situated in the contextualising of knowledge? Suppose knowledge originated from a perspective where one's primary purpose was to self-develop. Hypothetically, if one can imagine that every human has it in their nature to self-develop, then unquestionably, it is possible to imagine that every human has a bias. If this can be the case in considering hard science as offering central objective truths in the modern world, the postmodern theory looks at the ‘truth’ of science with scepticism as postmodernism considers the political and cultural time and place that scientific knowledge is situated. The postmodern understanding of knowledge always takes into account the bias of the individual(s) that construct this knowledge and, therefore, their individual reality. Postmodernism, therefore, questions the ground for which knowledge becomes knowledge. This notion of postmodern theory is articulated by French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s semiotic analysis of deconstruction. Derrida suggests that “Any structure, whether in social studies, science or literature, needs re-thinking from a new position to leave demonstrativeness to interpretation” (Spivak & Derrida, 1998). To think down the lines of Derrida, who says conclusions about knowledge should be left to the reader that is interpreting the information, and one has to consider the reader interpreting the information, in the same way, one considers the actors of the construction of the reality of that knowledge that is being read. Moreover, Derrida’s methods of deconstruction aim to undermine the independent thinking of the reader. This implies that, for example, the reader cannot be an unbiased thinker, as the reader understands and interprets the work conditioned by the reader’s experiences. And for Derrida, the existence of any form of objective truth is impossible. As one’s knowledge base is always dependent on one’s education, culture and environment, one’s knowledge is always connected to one’s experience. Therefore, any objective truth of the world must be viewed as subjective as a whole, but individually true for that person in the time they are in with the events they have experienced. By considering this line of thinking, I would like to illustrate a social, philosophical reaction to a governing hegemonic objective truth to reach the crux of postmodernism.  

Between 1900 to the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the essence of a cultural movement towards postmodern thinking can be found. During this time, there was a significant number of political and cultural debates that were especially apparent among the intellectuals but also the entire French population. The secularisation of French society was being debated by the uprising and coming to power of the Radical Party and its affiliation with university professors. Professors were driven by self-development to professionalise and secularise their positions differentiating them from other institutions in France that were mostly involved in the educational and moral projects, namely the Catholic Church. In this time an event took place called The Dreyfus affair, which was the false charge of a Jewish officer (Peyre, 2020), which fuelled the conflicting moral divide between the secularising intellects, and the traditional spiritual-moral force of the French Army and the Roman Catholic Church (Riley, 2002, p. 246).

2.2.1. Durkheim and Bergson