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An MIT Campus, example of postmodern architecture
Thinking hardly
or hardly thinking?

Icon philosophy.svg
Major trains of thought
The good, the bad,
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

Postmodernism is a cluster of philosophical, literary, cultural, and art movements which developed in the mid-20th century. It developed out of criticisms of modernist architecture and continued into philosophical criticisms of modernism and disillusionment which resulted among European philosophers on the political left following World War II, when the totalitarian communist governments of Eastern Europe became increasingly unable to conceal their misbehavior, and a search began for a new kind of left-wing oppositional philosophy.[1] On the other hand, the greatest postmodern artistWikipedia came from Pittsburgh. While the term "postmodernism" is incredibly broad, this article mainly concerns the postmodern philosophical movement.

Postmodernism is, per its name, a reaction to modernism. Wherever a postmodernist feels something could reasonably be reacted against, they react; this means that it's not one coherent thing in itself and that it does not react to one coherent thing. Hence, a lot of it is difficult to understand unless you understand what it's a reaction to. Postmodernism is not purely cultural: it is associated with the contemporary economic system known as late capitalism, consumer capitalism, or neo-capitalism, whose features include multinational corporations, mass media, the modern system of global finance, and consumption as a form of self-definition.[2][3] For those critics opposed to modern capitalism, there are two alternative perspectives on postmodernism: it is either a reflection of all the flaws of superficial, irrational, cruel, and unsustainable contemporary capitalism, or else a powerful challenge to that flawed system.

Contrary to what various rationalists say and its bizarre place as the intellectual boogeyman of the new millennium, postmodernism is not composed entirely of bullshit — it can be a useful approach when considering social phenomena and artistic works, that is to say, human "culture". Humans are ridiculously full of shit, and postmodernism can be useful in pointing that out. However, as it lacks any unified or consistent method, postmodernism's own bullshit-to-reality quotient rises high when applied to empirically-based endeavors, e.g., science. In addition, postmodernists tend to reject objective reality as something that can be known by human beings, because human minds and languages always stand in the way.[4]

Definition, French provenance[edit]

We exist in different epistemological paradigms, fuckpants!
SMBC Theater[5]

Defining postmodernism is difficult, but the term generally refers to a set of methods used by those who identify as postmodern. The work of various French intellectuals gave rise to the movement: the philosopher Jacques Derrida, the philosopher and historian Michel Foucault and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.

Postmodernists have in common the claim that the meaning of any text (where the term 'text' is taken to mean any system of meaning of representation) is constructed contextually and is contingent. This approach emphasizes the fractured and heterogeneous nature of the social, natural and literary worlds; in practice, the inherent presumptions and concepts which underlie any ideological system are identified and criticized. Additionally, the historical and cultural contexts in which knowledge is produced are examined and often rejected.

Modernity vs. postmodernity[edit]

Another common definition is that it rejects "central narratives" and relies instead on methodological pluralism. Postmodernists define themselves against "modernity" (itself conceived as an extension of the Enlightenment, ultimately to the point of reacting against it) by rejecting grand theories that attempt to "totalize" knowledge. Postmodernists reject teleological and deterministic explanations of historical and social phenomena. This was a reaction to the popularity of deterministic theories in scholarly thought in general during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Examples of historical determinism included the conceptions of a linear progression of societies from small hunter-gatherer bands to "civilized" states in anthropological thought or from capitalism to communism in Marxist thought. Applications of biological determinism to social policy, such as scientific racism and eugenics, were also (at some point in time) included in modernist thought.[6]

Postmodernism generally identifies the central narrative of modernity to be the promise of progress and the application and primacy of reason. The postmodern critique identifies several problems with this:

  • Doubt that progress can be defined meaningfully, and thus a rejection of the notion of progress.
  • Rejection of the idea that everything can be meaningfully quantified and optimized in a rational manner. Focus on the process of rationalization (in the sociological sense).
  • The tendency for applications of science to lapse into scientism.
  • Ethnocentric conceptions of the world that reject non-Western and non-scientific views out of hand.
  • Failure of science and technology to equate to social progress, with the two World Wars and the Cold War along with other existing struggles for progress being cited as evidence.

Jürgen Habermas, a critic of postmodernism, argued that modernity should not be rejected wholesale, but that parts of the postmodern critique be incorporated into it.[7]

Who is a postmodernist?[edit]

The coinage of the term "postmodern" appears in the title of Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern ConditionWikipedia (1979), a criticism of "meta-narratives." However, many thinkers labeled "postmodernist" themselves declaim the term. Michel Foucault, for example, though strongly associated with postmodernism by other scholars, rejected the term as a self-descriptor.[8] Thus, the line is fairly blurry (no doubt to the delight of postmodernists) between who merely influenced postmodernism and who was a postmodernist. Philosophers who attacked logical positivism are sometimes lumped in with postmodernism. Thomas Kuhn, for example, is often grouped in with this school of thought though he claimed his work was widely misinterpreted to imply radical skepticism or total relativism. Karl Popper and late-period Ludwig Wittgenstein[9] (whose earlier work was ironically an influence on the logical positivists), however, while seen as influences, are generally not regarded to be part of the postmodernist school while Paul Feyerabend, whose initial works were published before the coinage of the term, is. Some of the most important work on postmodernism was done by writers from a Marxist perspective such as David HarveyWikipedia and Fredric Jameson,Wikipedia[10][11] who are sometimes lumped in with postmodernism despite offering a critique of it as an artistic, economic, and social phenomenon deeply influenced by the capitalism they detest.[12]

Furthermore, figures and concepts influencing postmodernism are sometimes confused with being products of postmodernist thought itself. A general trend of counter-Enlightenment thought was codified in the 20th century by Max HorkheimerWikipedia and Theodor Adorno in their Dialectic of Enlightenment (ISBN 0-8047-3633-2), which was a seminal work of the Frankfurt School. The concept of "rationalization" comes from the work of Max Weber, who published most of his writing more than a half-century before postmodernism. Richard RortyWikipedia attempted to distinguish the political views of postmodernists (part of the "critical left") from other leftists (the "progressive left") in Achieving Our Country.Wikipedia

Again ironically, biological determinism and essentialism, major targets of postmodernism, were initially challenged within evolutionary theory starting with Charles Darwin himself, while the notions of teleology and evolutionary "progress" tended to appear more often in popular and political formulations of evolution.

Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Deconstruction[edit]

Postmodernism, particularly in France, is linked to three other intellectual movements such that it can be hard to disentangle the three, although elements of all of them are associated with postmodernism.[13]

Structuralism arose in the late 1950s or early 1960s with figures such as Claude Lévi-Strauss,Wikipedia Roland Barthes,Wikipedia and Michel Foucault. Heavily influenced by Ferdinand de SaussureWikipedia and linguistics and the developing discipline of semiotics/semiology, they rejected deeper meanings and considered that just as language was a system of arbitrary signs (there's nothing doglike about the word "dog" or "chien" or whatever), maybe other aspects of society were likewise. This meant a new approach to disciplines like anthropology which focused on classification and mapping relationships, rather than pursuing deeper meaning.

Poststructuralism was a reaction to the limitations of structuralism, and saw that all the supposedly stable sign systems of structuralism were actually constantly changing and always let something slip. Although it was defined in opposition to structuralism, the boundaries are a bit fuzzier than that would suggest, and some figures like Barthes were linked with both movements. It shared with structuralism a certain disregard or even disbelief in any world beyond signs; it additionally believed that even signs couldn't be taken for granted. Key figures include Jacques Derrida, and the duo of Deleuze and Guattari. Much of what was originally called poststructuralism was later appropriated by the label postmodernism, even if many of its practitioners (e.g. Derrida) reject the latter term.

Deconstructionism was a poststructuralist practice largely associated with Jacques Derrida, which sought to expose the contradictions in sign systems through close analysis (and extravagant rhetoric). For Derrida and followers, this meant attacking apparently stable uses of language, often for political purposes to challenge or discredit earlier writers' claims to truth. Other thinkers like Paul De ManWikipedia attempted to meld deconstructionism with the Anglo-Saxon practice of close reading, a form of literary criticism, to try to provide intellectual rigor to the study of literature.[14] Deconstructionism is considered central to postmodernism, even though it was only a small part of the wide range of postmodern writing and thought, and the term deconstruction expanded to mean almost any form of criticism or return to first principles regardless of its intellectual framework.

Postmodernism, Identity Politics & Minority Studies[edit]

Although postmodernism often critiques western or euro-centric power, it is often erroneously confused with identity politics itself. The two do on occasion draw from one another, however they are distinct traditions. Some postmodernists are skeptical that constructed identities like 'queer', 'black' or 'disabled' will actually help people understand themselves, are critical of how these identities are constructed, and worry that the grand-narratives we tell ourselves about society based on these identities might be misleading. In contrast, the proponents of identity politics is more structuralist, and believes that labels like 'woman', 'straight', 'latinx' are useful political realities. The main difference is that to a postmodernist, depending on who you ask, there was no inherent structure to these identities, and may not even truly "exist" at all. Both are concerned about grand-narratives such as 'white supremacy' or "the patriarchy' and how they have shaped our world, but the way they go about it is different.

Postmodernism as an isolated concept isn't really directly related to minority studies, but a lot of the material produced that influenced and created postmodernism was directly involved in anti-racism, feminism, LGBT rights and radical disabled/mental illness movements. Many of the "postmodernists" criticized in Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont's book "Fashionable Nonsense" are feminists and wrote important contributions to gender literature. While Noam Chomsky was more concerned about the "truth" of postmodernism and saw it as a political threat, other movements in the early 1990s made it clear that minority studies was a primary concern for other anti-postmodernists.

Paul Gross and Norman Levitt co-authored the book "Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its War on Science" in 1994, a book that makes clear the connection between the "academic left", such as postmodernism, minority studies and green politics, and the erasure of truth. This book is notable also for being extremely racist (a lot of questionable stuff about black and indigenous people), homophobic (it accuses HIV activist Larry Kramer of being an AIDS denialist), sexist (the entire chapter on feminism) and to top it all off, it even denies climate change! It also makes ridiculous claims such as being influenced by Heidegger, who was revealed to be a Nazi in the 1970s, makes you instantly Nazi-adjacent. How this book continues to influence people concerned about the "truth" is concerning.

This book influenced the Sokal Affair, which further conflated postmodernism with minority studies and rights. Alan Sokal submitted his paper, which was intended as a parody of postmodern literature, to a journal that is typically involved in social studies - it was literally called "Social Text" - perhaps not knowing the difference at this point. Through later publishing the book "Fashionable Nonsense" and with Richard Dawkins' book review[15], a general concept of "postmodernism" was mixed up with general "minority rights", which is why a lot of more conservative people seem to think these two are intractably interlinked, when in reality both movements had very different and important origins.

Such distinctions tend to go over the head of conservative commentators who have spent so long panicking about the postmodern boogeyman than almost anything vaguely left-wing is labelled 'postmodern'.


There is a marked tendency to dismiss postmodernism as being useless — a sort of empty set of theories disguised with opaque jargon. But postmodernism is at its heart a theory based around the essential subjectivity (rather than objectivity) of our words and the rules we construct to govern our knowledge. And a serious investigation into the nature of postmodernism reveals that this theory has much to offer us, with its fruits being greater than the nihilistic negation which is often ascribed.

In some respects, the blithe contempt of critics is justified. When some try to use postmodern tools to evaluate the objective sciences, such as physics and biology, they seldom find much worth the reading. While these disciplines are bound by some arbitrary rules and closeted by language in some ways, the problems of these strictures are seldom overlooked by scientists. Taxonomy, for instance, is an entire system of partially-arbitrary classifications, but taxonomists are keenly aware of this and constantly propose changes to compensate: the newfound legibility of the genome has forced large revisions to the tree of life, and provides a surer sieve to distinguish and reject the products of convergent evolution. But postmodernism critiques subjective aspects of our knowledge, and incidents like the Sokal affair illustrate how little useful material there is to be found in the subjective investigation of objective science.

In the humanities and social sciences, however, postmodernism can prove a highly effective and insightful theory. The perception that it clears the theoretical table with a sweep of the arm and says, “Well, this was all really nothing,” is not accurate. Rather, it specializes in looking at the way in which we arrive at conclusions, and how these conclusions are built from materials that are ultimately shaky.

The study of Arthurian literature is an excellent example. For many years, literary theorists had examined the various Arthurian works by Malory, Chrétien de Troyes, and others, looking for the urtext.[note 1] The idea was that there was a single Arthurian source, which gave the essentials of some of the stories or of the hero himself. Many people had taken one side or another over the years, arguing for the predominance of one idea of Arthur or the fact that a particular folktale preceded another in history. But postmodernist Jean Baudrillard pointed out that this was a search based on the false premise that there had to be an urtext. It was the postmodern approach that suggested this to him.

Postmodernism suggests that any given word or set of meanings derives from an imprecise definition in terms of other meanings, which are themselves imprecise. This endless circle of houses-upon-sand was called différance by Jacques Derrida. And this approach led Baudrillard to realize that the Arthurian stories might have evolved in a similar way, absent any single dominant source.

Where postmodernism runs into trouble is when the difficulty of creating a precise and unbiased set of meanings is taken to the point of nihilism, either explicitly or implicitly. It is worth noting that many, indeed most, major postmodernist thinkers have been highly politically involved, and have not acted in a manner consistent with nihilism. One major explanation for this phenomenon is Gayatri Spivak'sWikipedia idea of "strategic essentialism," which accepts the need to create constructs of knowledge in specific practical situations. Postmodernism, in its best form, should be understood not as saying that nothing is true or that all meaning is arbitrary — rather it should be understood as noting that meaning and truth are prone to shifts and redefinitions over time based on circumstances.

Any good writer of fiction needs a working knowledge of postmodernism, whether they use that word for it or not.[16]

Common criticisms[edit]

History: The imaginary elaboration being the language through which the utterer of a discourse (linguistic entity) fills out the place of subject of the utterance (psychological and ideological entity)?
Translation: The way people say stuff.

Most criticism of postmodernism focuses on a perceived lack of substance in postmodern thinking, or on what critics consider central philosophic flaws in postmodern thinking. Unfortunately, for every reasonable and erudite criticism of postmodernism, there is another hysterical attack from ignorance.

Courtier's Reply[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Courtier's Reply
John Searle once told me about a conversation he had with the late Michel Foucault: "Michel, you're so clear in conversation; why is your written work so obscure?" To which Foucault replied, "That's because, in order to be taken seriously by French philosophers, twenty-five percent of what you write has to be impenetrable nonsense." I have coined a term for this tactic, in honour of Foucault's candor: eumerdification.
Daniel C. Dennett, from Breaking the Spell[17]

While postmodernist themes in literature — which tend towards the surreal — have proven to be quite successful among writers, the postmodernist philosophy has long suffered from the problem of being extremely difficult to nail down in concrete terms. Its supporters claim that one must be thoroughly versed in the traditions of Western philosophy to even begin to understand the jargon commonly used by postmodernist writers. To their way of thinking, before one can be "post", one must understand the "modernism" against which they define themselves.

In contrast, its detractors suggest that supporters' inability (or refusal) to make their points in clear language is simply an effort to hide a potentially embarrassing lack of substance. This amounts to a suggestion that postmodernists are giving a Courtier's Reply — "Well, you just don't understand!" There is no doubt that this is at least partially true; postmodernism has been strongly influenced by late-20th century French philosophical schools of thought, where strong emphasis is given to rhetorical style and form as integral elements of an argument, and practices such as academic referencing are sometimes sidelined as unwieldy in favour of citationality, the practice of alluding obliquely to or carefully appropriating the work of others while anticipating recognition on the part of dedicated students.

Pivotal postmodern figures such as Jacques Derrida present a style of writing that is almost incomprehensible without great familiarity, such is its density of jargon and rhetorical uniqueness. Here, for example, is a quotation taken from Of Grammatology, in which the author stresses (after a multipage discussion of the differences in approach between Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ferdinand de Saussure, and Louis HjelmslevWikipedia) the fact that the fundamental relativity of language use is demonstrated by the always-historically-evolving nature of linguistic usages in relation to each other:

On the one hand, the phonic element, the term, the plenitude that is called sensible, would not appear as such without the difference or opposition which gives them form. Such is the most evident significance of the appeal to difference as the reduction of phonic substance. Here the appearing and functioning of difference presupposes an originary synthesis not preceded by any absolute simplicity. Such would be the originary trace. Without a retention in the minimal unit of temporal experience, without a trace retaining the other as other in the same, no difference would do its work and no meaning would appear.
—Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology

Without familiarity with Rousseau, Saussure, and Hjemslev, and out of context, the paragraph is nearly impenetrable. There is, of course, virtually always a necessity for specialized jargon in any academic sub-field, to refer to common concepts or difficult ideas in a convenient manner. Biologists, for example, must assume in their professional journals that their readers share at least a biology major's grasp of many phenomena and facts.[note 2] But at certain levels, writing that is heavily laden with obscure, esoteric concepts and phrases becomes just an incestuous exercise in intellectual masturbation in which only the initiated can participate, providing little that is useful outside of the jargon-speaking group, if it provides anything of general use at all.

Religious and political[edit]

Postmodernism is a major bogeyman among wingnuts. It's generally used interchangeably with moral relativism, Marxism, socialism, and various other terms "pointy-headed academics" like to throw around. The general idea is that postmodernism leads to "moral corruption" by undermining biblical morality.[18] This is also supposedly part of liberal academia's secret indoctrination camps. The label is thus slung at academics whether they are actually postmodernists or not.[19] And that's not to mention those wingnuts who throw around the term "postmodernist" as another lazy antisemitic dog whistle, using it as an opportunity to blame DA JOOZ for anything coming out of academia that they don't like.

Conservatives' stated opposition to postmodernism is ironic, given that they themselves have been accused of employing it against fields of study that they don't like. French postmodernist Bruno LatourWikipedia has noted, for example, how many strains of global warming denialism often resemble postmodernism in their attacks on the credibility of climatologists, something that led him to regret his involvement in popularizing so-called "science studies" and argue that he and other social theorists need to make a better effort at embracing empiricism.[20] As noted below, creationists have also whole-heartedly embraced postmodernist styles and tactics in their "critiques" of evolution.


Left-wing intellectual Noam Chomsky has frequently criticized postmodernism[21] and described it as a "rot" from Paris that spread everywhere and claimed that it was "very inflated" and "turn[s] out to be truism" once its ideas were reproduced "in monosyllables". He concedes that it would probably do no harm in "Paris cafés or [the] Yale comparative literature department", but has stressed repeatedly its detrimental effect on activism, especially in Third World countries.[22][23]

Kangaroos in court[edit]

While postmodernism is often considered relatively harmless when only applied to the arts, many of its adherents have difficulties with not proselytizing its worldview outside of this area. Some (arguably more extreme) postmodernists have attempted to influence law, leading to insane interesting attempts to declare the Enlightenment basis for democratic law to be a racist plot among white men, intended to maintain their power — all the while claiming that rationalism is not a sound basis for deciding verdicts.[24] Instead, they posit that law should be based around an addled attempt to apply subjectivity to it, using narratives and stories to influence outcomes.

Enabling and defending pedophilia[edit]

See the main articles on this topic: Age of consent and Pedophilia

Many prominent French postmodernist thinkers signed a petition in 1977 to completely abolish the age of consent, such as: Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and others.[25] Many of them also defended, in an open letter in 1979, three men accused of statutory rape against children, alleging that:[26]

"French law recognises in 12- and 13-year-olds a capacity for discernment that it can judge and punish, but it rejects such a capacity when the child's emotional and sexual life is concerned. It should acknowledge the right of children and adolescents to have relations with whomever they choose."

Internal Critiques[edit]

Not all authors grouped as postmodernists agreed with being labeled with the term, and some were staunchly against it.

Félix Guattari for example discusses how postmodernism is not a well developed theory at all. He criticizes postmodern artists and architects for falling towards market trends, criticizes Lyotard for straight up not knowing what he's talking about, and says that postmodernism is a fatalistic mindset in comparison to him pushing for a "Post-Media Future"[27] (word is still out on what this could be). However, his work is rather obscure on its own, and took considerable time to be translated into English, so it's unlikely many people were aware of his anti-postmodernist position for a long time.

It's important to understand that "postmodernism" is a catch-all term that has encompassed many types of theorists, ranging from psychoanalysts to literary theorists, and that part of the confusion is caused by both Noam Chomksy's generalization of these ideas into a single current of "postmodernism" along with the Science Wars of the 1990s.

Rocky relationship to science[edit]

Whilst extremely popular in literary circles, and also influential in architecture, social sciences and cultural studies, postmodernism's dense writing style and commitment to relativist morals have led to criticism. Many outside literature and philosophy circles [Who?] reject doctrinaire postmodernism as being pretentious and intellectually lazy; many, especially those in scientific fields, have asserted that its theories are a form of denialism which prevent theoretical development.[citation needed]

Its attempts to analyse scientific practice have proved particularly controversial (especially in light of the lukewarm-at-best reception in the scientific world of non-postmodernist science philosophers such as Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn).[citation needed]

At the same time, nonetheless, postmodernism does provide tools for interpreting the human activity known as science. This is especially useful in examining its history, role in culture, and in some cases intellectual underpinnings.[28] Possibly troubling to some scientists is that postmodernists hold that much of what they do is a social construct. Furthermore, many postmodernists tend to question the concept of "truth," and some have even claimed that the scientific method itself is a social construct because of its development coming from a particular culture and a particular time.[29][30] Moreover, some recent work in the field of science and technology studies (STS) has been pioneered by postmodern authors who possess comprehensive scientific education, such as Donna Haraway (Ph.D. Biology, Yale[31]) and N. Katherine Hayles (M.S. Chemistry, Caltech[32]).

Haraway's work has focussed on analysing the way that particular assumptions about the nature of science and society influence the construction of experimental and theoretical work in the biological sciences, and on suggesting new model assumptions or metaphors which might be used to develop better understandings of the same. Hayles' work has been in studying the ways in which recent technological media developments such as hypertext and computerised storage and transmission are changing the content and uses of literature, as well as on exploring how certain limited-case metaphors or provisional analogies promoted for particular theoretical applications in the early years of information theory, computer science, and cybernetics have unaccountably grown over time into the implicit acceptance of generalised beliefs or assumptions about the nature of information, intelligence, bodies, and behaviours. This might help science in the long-term rather than damage it.

Nevertheless, too many postmodernists do traffic in obscurantist bullshit "understood" only among PoMos themselves:[33]

When Lacan confuses irrational and imaginary numbers when Kristeva misunderstands the axiom of choice,Wikipedia we are not, the argument goes, to think that the confusions are isolated; nor that there are an awful lot of them. Rather, the claim is that the confusions and parade of ill-understood scientific terminology or superficial erudition are designed to impress, and are part and parcel of an enterprise which is indifferent to the real content of the concepts employed…

To many a topic in physics, logic and mathematics there now corresponds a distinct Parisian illness which is parasitic on the terminology peculiar to the topic. Its main symptom is the tendency to regurgitate portions of the relevant jargon in more or less random ways.

Sokal affair[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Alan Sokal

Anyone who has spent much time wading through the pious, obscurantist, jargon-filled cant that now passes for 'advanced' thought in the humanities knew it was bound to happen sooner or later: some clever academic, armed with the not-so-secret passwords ('hermeneutics,' 'transgressive,' 'Lacanian,' 'hegemony', to name but a few) would write a completely bogus paper, submit it to an au courant journal, and have it accepted… Sokal's piece uses all the right terms. It cites all the best people. It whacks sinners (white men, the 'real world'), applauds the virtuous (women, general metaphysical lunacy)… And it is complete, unadulterated bullshit — a fact that somehow escaped the attention of the high-powered editors of Social Text, who must now be experiencing that queasy sensation that afflicted the Trojans the morning after they pulled that nice big gift horse into their city. - Gary Kamiya[34]

Some postmodernists[Who?] don't quite understand that there is actually such a thing as a reality that isn't just a cultural artifact and doesn't care what you think of it. This can lead to some embarrassment.

Of particular note was the 1996 Sokal Affair, in which New York University physicist Alan Sokal submitted and had published a paper called "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"[note 3] in the literary journal Social Text. The paper was intended by Sokal to be nonsensical and ridiculous. For example, he asserted that gravity was a social construct.[35] What is unclear however is how this "refutes postmodernism" as some claim,[36][37] for all that the Sokal affair demonstrated was that one particular journal, one that at the time did not even practise peer review,[38] published one particular hoax paper. This is not exactly a definitive case against postmodernism itself.

As a result of the affair, Social Text was awarded the dubious honor of an Ig Nobel Prize in literature for "eagerly publishing research that they could not understand, that the author said was meaningless, and which claimed that reality does not exist."[39]

It is worth noting the response that Social Text's editors, Andrew Ross and Bruce Robbins, made regarding the affair. They explain that they were not so much fooled as they were trying to make an attempt to represent different perspectives of the Science Wars.[40]

Why does science matter so much to us? Because its power, as a civil religion, as a social and political authority, affects our daily lives and the parlous condition of the natural world more than does any other domain of knowledge. Does it follow that nonscientists should have some say in the decision-making processes that define and shape the work of the professional scientific community? Some scientists (including Sokal, presumably) would say yes, and in some countries non-expert citizens do indeed participate in these processes. All hell breaks loose, however, when the following question is asked: Should nonexperts have anything to say about scientific methodology and epistemology? After centuries of scientific racism, scientific sexism, and scientific domination of nature, one might have thought this was a pertinent question to ask. - Bruce Robbins and Andrew Ross, Co-Editors, for Social Text

Enabling pseudoscience[edit]

Figures associated with postmodernism sometimes explicitly defended pseudoscience. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm for attacking mainstream notions of accepted thinking has on occasion spilled over into an ignorant blanket acceptance of all sorts of rebellious "science". Feyerabend used his concept of "epistemological anarchism" to give cover to creationism, astrology, and alternative medicine.[41] While not an indictment of the critical utility of postmodernism, this does illustrate that there is a danger in supporting dissent for dissent's own sake.

In another example, prominent critic Jacques Lacan has been criticized for attempting to resuscitate Freudian psychoanalysis, some of which is considered pseudoscientific in current psychology.[42][43] He was somewhat unsuccessful, to the relief of many (except in his home country of France, where his ideas have had a following, and have sparked some controversy in recent years).[citation needed] Gilles DeleuzeWikipedia and Félix GuattariWikipedia co-authored Anti-Oedipus, a thorough and systematic criticism of Lacan's structuralist model of psychology and the impact and origins of the Oedipus complex on society. Many other thinkers, such as Slavoj Žižek, also a follower of Lacan, employ psychoanalytic ideas in a way that is consciously anything but faithful to their orthodox interpretation.[citation needed]

Indefinability is not a good thing outside of fiction[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Fallacy of ambiguity

It has been claimed that the lack of a clear definition of just what post-secularism is is one of its greatest strengths. This is common of most postmodern tropes (as well as most post-anythings). A lack of any clear definitions, wild disagreement, watery evidence, grand claims, and a non-rational framework are common in post-structuralism, post-feminism, post-humanism, post-blah-blah-blah and so on. It is most likely that post-secularism comes from religious thinkers (note our two authors[Who?] are religious apologists) who lament the disappearance of certain oppressive Christian "values" from democratic societies and as a reaction to the decreasing amount of attention people pay to religion besides fundamentalist madness.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  • Antonio, Robert J. and Douglas Kellner. Postmodern Social Theory: Contributions and Limitations. In Postmodernism and Social Inquiry, edited by David Dickens and Andrea Fontana. New York: Guilford Press, 1994: 127-152.
  • Dawkins, Richard. "Postmodernism Disrobed", Nature, 1998. A review of Sokal and Jean Bricmont's Impostures Intellectuelles (published as Intellectual Impostures in the UK and Fashionable Nonsense in the US). Presents the argument that postmodernist philosopers not only obfuscate horribly, but are in way over their heads whenever dealing with science.
  • Editors of Lingua Franca, The Sokal Hoax: The Sham That Shook The Academy. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000, ISBN 0803279957.
  • Hagen, L. Kirk, "The Death of Philosophy," Skeptic Magazine 11:4 (2005), p. 18. A scathing attack on Derrida's legacy.
  • Shackel, Nicholas (2005). "The Vacuity of Postmodernist Methodology", Metaphilosophy vol. 26 (3), p. 295-320. Hilarious takedown of the most frequently used postmodernist obfuscation tactics.


  1. A source text from which the others were derived.
  2. Furthermore, the sin of unreadability is not a universal one among postmodernists, and an increasing emphasis has been given to clarity and directness in postmodern studies.
  3. The title alone should have been enough to show that the paper was a hoax.
  4. It's good, but the story is impenetrable if you haven't played any other titles in the series. (Blame Kojima.)


  2. See the Wikipedia article on Late capitalism.
  3. Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson, Verso, 1991
  4. Postmodernism Encyclopædia Britannica.
  5. Both Sides, SMBC Theater
  6. The Po-Mo Page, Georgetown University
  7. Jürgen Habermas. Modernity vs. Postmodernity. New German Critique, No. 22, Special Issue on Modernism. (Winter, 1981), pp. 3-14. (trans. Seyla Ben-Habib)
  8. Foucault a Postmodernist? by Scott Moore (13 Jul 1995 11:47:09 -0600) Foucault-L mail-list.
  9. Hans Julius Schneider. Wittgenstein and Postmodernism: Specifics. 1997 After Postmodernism Conference, Potsdam.
  10. David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, 1991
  11. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism: Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 1991
  12. Marxism and Postmodernism, Fredric Jameson, New Left Review, July-August 1989
  13. A Gentle Introduction to Structuralism, Postmodernism And All That, John Mann, Philosophy Now, 1994
  14. The De Man Case, New Yorker, Mar 24, 2014
  15. Postmodernism disrobed by Richard Dawkins (1998) Nature 394:141-143.
  16. See the Wikipedia article on Postmodern literature.
  17. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett (2006) Viking. ISBN 067003472X. p. 4045n12.
  18. See the American Stinker's "sweeping" eight-part critique "Postmodernism and the Bible" for one example.
  19. See the American Stinker again for an instance of Noam Chomsky (a long-time critic of postmodernism) getting tarred as a postmodernist.
  20. Latour, Bruno. "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern."
  21. Chomsky on Postmodernism
  22. Chomsky on Science and Postmodernism, Interview uploaded Apr 25, 2011]
  23. Chomsky on Postmodernism June 6, 1997
  24. Book Review of Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law by Daniel A. Farber & Suzanna Sherry (1997) Oxford University Press by Dale Jamieson (1997) The New York Times.
  27. Schizoanalytic Cartographies (pg. 36)
  28. From STS program at the University of Wisconsin
  29. Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life, 1985 Princeton University Press.
  30. Science as a Social Construct, UT Austin
  31. Donna Haraway, Curriculum Vitae
  32. N. Katherine Hayles, Curriculum Vitae
  33. Book review: Impostures Intellectuelles by Alan Sokal & Jean Bricmont (1998) Odile Jacob by Kevin Mulligan (1998) naturalSCIENCE (archived from April 15, 2001).
  34. Postmodernism disrobed by Richard Dawkins (1998) Nature 394:141-143.
  35. The original "Sokal affair" paper
  36. The One Time Alan Sokal Completely Destroyed Postmodernism (Jun 3, 2017) YouTube.
  37. What an Audacious Hoax Reveals About Academia: Three scholars wrote 20 fake papers using fashionable jargon to argue for ridiculous conclusions. by Yascha Mounk (Oct 5, 2018) The Atlantic.
  38. Mystery Science Theater (1996) Lingua Franca.
  39. Winners of the Ig Nobel Prize
  41. How Not to Feyerabend, Evolving Thoughts
  42. Raymond Tallis. The Shrink From Hell. The Times Higher Education Supplement, 31 October 1997, p. 20.
  43. The Cult of Lacan, Richard Webster