Postmodernism Misunderstood

The purpose of this section is to adress many of the common misconceptions about postmodernism, epseicially as it is related to the field of psychology. As misconceptions of postmodernism are vast and seem to be ever increasing, this web page may expand over time.

The Misconceptions

1. The most common misconception of postmodernism, in my experience and humble opinion, is that postmodernism is nothing more than a deconstructivist approach. As discussed elsewhere on this site (see theory overviews and postmodern philosophy), this error reflects confusion between the deconstructivist phase of postmodernism and a broader understanding of postmodernism.

2. Postmodernism has no constructive epistemology or methodology. This criticism is connected to the first one mentioned. Postmodernism embraces an epistemological pluralism. Consistent with this epistemology, multiple methodologies are used to better approximate or understand truth.

3. Postmodernism is just another form of modernism. This misconception often astounds me. There are more similarities between premodernism and modernism than between modernism and postmodernism. The basis of this misconception is tied to the rationalistic understanding of these theories. Modernism saw the uniting of reason and experience to form science and the scientific method. Reason was a major player here. Postmodernism often appears very rational and some approaches are based heavily in rational appraoches. However, there is a completely different approach to the theory of knowledge in modernism and postmodernism. Modernism is based on a foundational approach to knowledge while postmodernism is based in a theory of knowledge that is often viewed as a web theory (see postmodern philosophy).

4. Postmodernism is a unitary theory. This is discussed many places on this web stie, so I won’t revisit it here. Let’s just say there are many, many different approaches to postmodernism.

5. Postmodernism is just another form of rationalism or modernism . Epistemological pluralism, what I argue is the epistmeologica basis of postmodernism, embraces many ways of knowing in addition to rationalism. Modernism embraces reason and empiricism as the primary ways of knowing; postmodernism embraces more than these two epistemologies.

6. Postmodernism is relativism. No! Well, yes, there are some approaches to postmodernism which embrace relativism; however, there are many that do not. This misconception is the one that I find generates the most frustration, but also the most sympathy, from many who identify themselves as a postmodernist.

Postmodernism is relativistic, but that does not equate relativism. This can seem like a nice little play on words to justify relativism, but I don’t think this is at the heart of this distinctcion. Relativism levels the playing field (at least in most interpretations of this term) making all values or beliefs equal. I know few, if any, postmodernists who would embrace this extremist opinion. However, most would say because we cannot Know Ultimate Truth, we are always working with perception and interpretation to some degree. Truth is always interpreted through personal and social lenses would be another way of stating this.

See also Straw Agruments Against Postmodernism

Completed February 2006
Never updated.