postmodernism, term used to designate a multitude of trends—in the arts, philosophy, religion, technology, and many other areas—that come after and deviate from the many 20th-cent. movements that constituted modernism. The term has become ubiquitous in contemporary discourse and has been employed as a catchall for various aspects of society, theory, and art. Widely debated with regard to its meaning and implications, postmodernism has also been said to relate to the culture of capitalism as it has developed since the 1960s. In general, the postmodern view is cool, ironic, and accepting of the fragmentation of contemporary existence. It tends to concentrate on surfaces rather than depths, to blur the distinctions between high and low culture, and as a whole to challenge a wide variety of traditional cultural values.

The term postmodernism is probably most specific and meaningful when used in relation to architecture, where it designates an international architectural movement that emerged in the 1960s, became prominent in the late 1970s and 80s, and remained a dominant force in the 1990s. The movement largely has been a reaction to the orthodoxy, austerity, and formal absolutism of the International Style. Postmodern architecture is characterized by the incorporation of historical details in a hybrid rather than a pure style, by the use of decorative elements, by a more personal and exaggerated style, and by references to popular modes of building.

Practitioners of postmodern architecture have tended to reemphasize elements of metaphor, symbol, and content in their credos and their work. They share an interest in mass, surface colors, and textures and frequently use unorthodox building materials. However, because postmodern architects have in common only a relatively vague ideology, the style is extremely varied. Greatly affected by the writings of Robert Venturi, postmodernism is evident in Venturi's buildings and, among others, in the work of Denise Scott Brown, Michael Graves, Robert A. M. Stern, Arata Isozaki, and the later work of Philip Johnson.

See also contemporary art.


See P. Goldberger, On the Rise: Architecture and Design in a Postmodern Age (1983); A. Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (1986); C. Jencks, What is Post-Modernism? (1986); S. Gaggi, Modern/Postmodern (1989); D. Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (1989); J. Tagg, ed., The Cultural Politics of Postmodernism (1989); D. Kolb, Postmodern Sophistications (1990); H. Risatti, ed., Postmodern Perspectives (1990); F. Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991); Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates on Houses and Housing (1992); T. Docherty, ed., Postmodernism: A Reader (1993); P. Jodidio, Contemporary American Architects (1993); D. Meyhofer, Contemporary European Architects (1993); N. Wheale, ed., The Postmodern Arts (1995); S. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (1996).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction
Christopher Butler.
Oxford University Press, 2002
The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism
Stuart Sim.
Routledge, 2001
The Origins of Postmodernity
Perry Anderson.
Verso, 1998
The Parameters of Postmodernism
Nicholas Zurbrugg.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1993
A Primer on Postmodernism
Stanley J. Grenz.
William B. Eerdmans, 1996
Being and Becoming: A Critique of Post-Modernism
F. F. Centore.
Greenwood Press, 1991
Rediscovering Values: Coming to Terms with Postmodernism
Hugh Mercer Curtler.
M. E. Sharpe, 1997
History without a Subject: The Postmodern Condition
David Ashley.
Westview Press, 1997
Postmodernism and the Politics of 'Culture'
Adam Katz.
Westview Press, 2000
Postmodernism and Social Research
Mats Alvesson.
Open University Press, 2002
Constructive Postmodernism: Toward Renewal in Cultural and Literary Studies
Martin Schiralli.
Bergin & Garvey, 1999
The Desperate Politics of Postmodernism
Henry S. Kariel.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1989
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