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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

Past experience tells me that detached efforts to evaluate postmodern modes of thought are quintessentially "no win" ventures. Those who subscribe to the basic tenets of post-modernism are likely to feel my assessment is unfair, or misguided, or an attempt to represent the unrepresentable. Those who reject the basic premises of postmodernism, however, are likely to be distressed that I have sought to be fair-minded about inquiries they regard as intellectually flawed, morally noxious, or otherwise objectionable. So I proceed with the full knowledge that what follows will never be considered adequate by all readers for every purpose.

At the same time my formulation of the key issues may be helpful for those whose confusion about post-modernism has been accompanied by a sense that it addresses important questions. Such is my purpose: the book will be successful if it communicates the essential themes (or alternative interpretations) of post-modernism and thus facilitates an understanding of what, on the face of it, appears confusing to many thoughtful people.

It is a measure of the nature of post-modernist thinking that it generates intense controversy. and little wonder! At stake are questions that pertain to the deepest dimensions of our being and humanity: how we know what we know, how we should think about individual endeavor and collective aspirations, whether progress is meaningful and how it should be sought. Post-modernism questions causality, determinism, egalitarianism, humanism, liberal democracy, necessity, objectivity, rationality, responsibility, and truth. It takes on issues that are profoundly fundamental for the future of social science.

Because of inherently controversial nature of these matters, I have tried to evaluate the various post-modernist perspectives not so much in terms of my own values as in terms of what the post-modernists themselves suggest they are about. But let me not dissimulate. It is my book. My values do underlie it through and through. Most notably, I believe that the social sciences have much to offer in the endless struggle to enhance the human condition; at the same time I am saddened that the full potential of the social sciences has so seldom been realized, but I also believe that the social sciences are always in the process of evolving. Therefore, it would be a grievous error not to explore how a post-modern perspective might contribute to the process.

No author is ever alone in writing a text, and my indebtedness goes beyond the footnotes and bibliography. It is with great pleasure that I begin by thanking my loving husband, James N. Rosenau, for his enthusias-

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