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Definition of Postmodernism

(noun) A broad and somewhat intentionally difficult to define term, typically applied to the arts and philosophy that was skeptical of “objective” universal explanations of how society and culture operate.

Postmodernism Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: post·mod·ern·ism

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /poh-st-mAHd-uhr-niz-uhm/
  • British English – /poh-st-mOd-uh-ni-zuhm/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˌpoʊs(t)ˈmɑdərnˌɪz(ə)m/
  • British English – /ˌpəʊs(t)ˈmɒdn̩ɪz(ə)m/

Usage Notes

  • Conflict theory, functionalism and symbolic interactionism are the typical perspectives studied in sociology, but postmodern perspectives are challenging this tradition.
  • Postmodernism challenges the basic assumption of positivism, which is that society is ordered and can be empirically understood and measured.
  • Postmodernism’s underlying premise is that reality is social constructed.
  • Postmodernism contrasts with reductionism but compares to complexity theory, holism, and systems theory.
  • Variant spelling: post-modernism
  • Also called: postmodern perspective

Related Quotations

  • “[P]ostmodern theorists believe that entirely new ways of examining social life are needed and that it is time to move beyond functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist approaches” (Kendall 2006:37).
  • “Postmodernists are deeply distrustful of science and the principle of objectivity, arguing that scientific knowledge is as much a product of socially determined interests and biases of investigators as it is of facts, which themselves are products of social processes. In addition, postmodernists point out that scientific knowledge has failed to solve social problems or prevent war and genocide” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:17).
  • “We are living, I believe, through a transitional and contested period of family history, a period after the modern family order, but before what we cannot foretell. Precisely because it is not possible to characterize with a single term the competing sets of family cultures that co-exist at present, I identify this family regime as post-modern. The post-modern family is not a new model of family life, not the next stage in an orderly progression of family history, but the stage when the belief in a logical progression of stages breaks down. Rupturing evolutionary models of family history and incorporating both experimental and nostalgic elements, ‘the’ post-modern family lurches forward and backward into an uncertain future” (Stacey 1990:18).
  • “What does post-modernity ordinarily refer to? Apart from the general sense of living through a period of marked disparity from the past, the term usually means one or more of the following: that we have discovered that nothing can be known with any certainty, since all pre-existing ‘foundations’ of epistemology have been shown to be unreliable; that ‘history’ is devoid of teleology and consequently no version of ‘progress’ can plausibly be defended; and that a new social and political agenda has come into being with the increasing prominence of ecological concerns and perhaps new social movements generally. Scarcely anyone today seems to identify post-modernity with what it was once widely accepted to mean – the replacement of capitalism by socialism” (Giddens 1990:46).

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Additional Information

Related Terms


Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hughes, Michael, and Carolyn J. Kroehler. 2008. Sociology: The Core. 8th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Kendall, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Stacey, Judith. 1990. Brave New Families: Stories of Domestic Upheaval in Late Twentieth Century America. New York: Basic Books.

Works Consulted

Agger, Ben. 2004. The Virtual Self: A Contemporary Sociology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Andersen, Margaret L., and Howard Francis Taylor. 2011. Sociology: The Essentials. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Bilton, Tony, Kevin Bonnett, Pip Jones, David Skinner, Michelle Stanworth, and Andrew Webster. 1996. Introductory Sociology. 3rd ed. London: Macmillan.

Brym, Robert J., and John Lie. 2007. Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Carrabine, Eamonn, Pam Cox, Maggy Lee, Ken Plummer, and Nigel South. 2009. Criminology: A Sociological Introduction. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. 2010. The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology. 2nd ed. New York: Norton.

Kimmel, Michael S., and Amy Aronson. 2012. Sociology Now. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Kornblum, William. 2008. Sociology in a Changing World. 8th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Macionis, John, and Kenneth Plummer. 2012. Sociology: A Global Introduction. 4th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Marsh, Ian, and Mike Keating, eds. 2006. Sociology: Making Sense of Society. 3rd ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

Shepard, Jon M. 2010. Sociology. 11th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Thorpe, Christopher, Chris Yuill, Mitchell Hobbs, Sarah Tomley, and Marcus Weeks. 2015. The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

Cite the Definition of Postmodernism

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “postmodernism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved July 18, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/postmodernism/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

postmodernism. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/postmodernism/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “postmodernism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed July 18, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/postmodernism/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“postmodernism.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 18 Jul. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/postmodernism/>.