The postmodernism firestorm over on OrgTheory contains a delicious irony to me: I actually did not teach postmodernism the last time I taught my graduate theory course, for reasons much like Fabio’s #4: other theory seemed more relevant to contemporary sociological practice. When I teach the class again in fall ’11, I’m wondering whether I should add it back in. (NOTE: I’m actually leaning against adding it back, but thinking it through.)Reasons to add it back in:
- I see the theory course as in part a subversive activity; it’s a way to inoculate students against the reflexive positivism that characterizes much of the rest of their training, and postmodernism is an important strain of nonpositivist social thought.
- As Fabio points out, sociology’s history and intellectual trajectory are very much in reaction to the dawn of modernity and the attempt to grapple with it. Since postmodernity is in a sense hypermodernity, and postmodernism in a sense hypermodernism, this sort of completes the arc in a clean way.
- I think it’s at least a reasonable claim that the contemporary American self is well captured by accounts of postmodernity: fragmented, multiple, technically mediated, always-already tied up in the market and technology.
- People in general, and sociologists in particular, have a nasty habit of saying stupid things about caricatures of postmodernism without ever having bothered to read any of it. I would like to be part of the solution to this problem.
- Postmodernism is an important strain in parts of the Academy that we should keep talking to, including Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Communication Studies, and Comparative Literature, not to mention Philosophy. We should not be ignoring our links (historical and intellectual) to these traditions in our desperate attempt to bee Scientists. We need not accept the intellectual claims of these disciplines, but we ought to be able to engage in dialogues with them based on shared understandings.
Reasons for keeping it out:
- See Rojas (2011).
- I don’t know of any particularly good texts to actually teach. I could easily populate a semester’s syllabus with postmarxist/postmodern works, from Lukacs through Althusser, Benjamin, Adorno, Saussure, Baudrillard, etc., but it’s tough to find one text for one week in a class. I haven’t been satisfied with any I’ve done thus far.
- Because of 4 above, the very act of assigning postmodernist thought and taking it seriously in the context of a 21st-century empirical sociology department tends to marginalize one in the eyes of one’s colleagues. As much as I want theory to be subversive, I also want it to (continue to) be valued in the department, by faculty and students alike.