Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Nailing Jelly to the Wall: Understanding Postmodernism's Influence on Library Information Science

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Nailing Jelly to the Wall: Understanding Postmodernism's Influence on Library Information Science

Article excerpt

Introduction

How did we get into this anyway? "Defining" postmodernism.

Q: What do you get when you cross a postmodernist with a Mafia boss?

A: Someone who will make you an offer that no one can understand!

(Cook, 2001(b), p. 18)

This is the attempt to define something which by its very nature avoids definition. Before we can speak of the influence postmodernism is having on library and information areas, we have to at least make the attempt to understand what postmodernism is. Several of these "definitions" are what postmodernism is not while others focus on what postmodernism seeks to be.

What it is not: the Enlightenment rationalistic tradition. Postmodernism is a critique of all that the Enlightenment stood for. Rationalism, logic, reason, and scientific method (to name a few), are questioned by postmodernists who throw the Enlightenment's entire presuppositions out the window. Deodato (2006) calls it a "critique of Enlightenment rationalism and universalism which emphasizes the role of underlying structures and power relationships in the construction of truth and knowledge" (p. 52).

Old methods of discovering truth and reality are questioned, as are those so-called "experts." Walter Truett Anderson (1991) calls it a threat to all existing constructions of reality, and people aren't going to like it. For many, the collapse of their belief system is the end of the world itself. This is a collapsing of our social roles as well as our concepts of personal identity. People go crazy when they don't know who they are. (pp. 26-27).

Kruk (2002), in a less-than-flattering view of postmodernism, says:

  For post-modernists, grand questions about the nature of reality
  and our place in the universe are pointless. There is no Truth; there
  are only provisional statements that are neither valid nor invalid.
  Distinctions between good and evil, beautiful and ugly and true
  and false are not discernible any more. There are no good books
  and no bad books. No one has the authority to make such judgments.
  Consequently, there is no canon. No group of people can claim that
  they know what reality is. We apparently create meaning and do not
  discover it. Post-modernist librarians do not pay much attention to
  collection development. Books are to be read here and now because
  they will soon be superseded by new books. Books resemble newspapers
  in their ephemerality and unimportance. Reading is not a serious
  engagement and does not lead to the discovery of truth. It is
  rather like a distraction. (para. 20)

Despite his critique, Kruk's analysis seems to illustrate postmodernist themes very well. For the postmodernist, knowledge does not exist apart from human construction. We need a paradigm, a reality, a set of truths and creeds, so we create this "reality." Reality comes via our humans searching for some type of meaning, and we convey these myths and tales in our storytelling, and these limited local narratives differ from group to group. (Yoder, 2003, p. 383) Postmodernism ultimately has no final answer. There are no "universal" truths. When we have one conception of knowledge, another layer of thought is introduced. (Ibid, p. 385)

Postmodernism is not Positivism, a philosophy which arose in the 19th Century modernist era. As Flew (1984) defines it:

  The term "positive" has here the sense of that which is given or
  laid down, that which has to be accepted as we find it and is not
  further explicable; the word is intended to convey a warning against
  the attempts of theology and metaphysics to go beyond the world
  given to observation in order to enquire into first causes and
  ultimate ends. All genuine human knowledge is contained within
  the boundaries of science... whatever answers cannot be answered
  by scientific methods we must be content to leave permanently
  unanswered. … 
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