Tag Archives: Social Theory

Postmodernity and Professional Life

The Pedagodfathers (previous post) is a postmodern text, or so it seems to me.  It employs an experimental, unconventional approach to academic writing and imaginatively pokes fun at convention.  There are many ways to describe postmodernity.  Above all, postmodern projects (in literature, social science, education, architecture and art) typically embody a profound rejection of deeply held modernist values and practices.  Paradoxically, postmodern projects require mastery and demonstration of the techniques developed by modernist predecessors.  And such projects always contain within them a double-gesture, simultaneously acknowledging (even celebrating) the past, while calling core assumptions and beliefs into question.

Modernists valorize work, logic, science, progress, freedom, universal laws — grand narratives.  Post-modernists approach all of these modern cultural treasures with incredulity.  Whereas modernists employ words that relate to the human capacity to see  (“clarity” — “insight” — “enlightenment” —  “lucidity” — “visualization” and so on), postmodernists draw on the human capacity to speak and hear (“voice” — “polyvocality” — “narrative” — “story” — “interrogate” ).  For a bit more on all this, here is a condensed (and far from complete) summary:  “An Introduction to Postmodernism for the Reluctant.”  It is important to note that, for social theorists, “postmodernity” is no longer where the action is.  More recent (and very interesting) conversations focus on other constructs (for example, “hypermodernity” and “supermodernity”).

What has social theory to do with educating professionals?   Here are some initial thoughts on the matter.  Theories of society provide alternative vantage points from which to examine our assumptions about professional practice and its consequences. Social theories also help shed light on the tensions and incongruities that arise in our own lifeworlds and those of our students and apprentices, who are typically more immersed (than their teachers and mentors) in the social, media and material environments that produce the postmodern psyche.  Those of us who teach and train professionals (and those who study and write about professional life) are typically well ensconced in modernity.   We need to prepare people to take on new responsibilities and commitments that will endure over time, but the old ways of achieving this outcome seem less effective than they were in the past.  Social theory(ies) point to some of the reasons why this is so, and they might afford creative new insights (!) into more effective pedagogical strategies — clearly a modernist aspiration.     — Edprof