postmodernism as an outgrowth of liberal capitalism

Tue, 11 Mar 1997 17:26:43 -0500 (EST)
Adam K. Webb (akwebb@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)

Reply to Albert Bergeson on postmodernism as part of a particularist-
universalist alternation:

It would seem that there is a major qualitative difference between current
postmodernism/new social movements and the particularistic relativism that
AB sees in various historical periods. I am not a world-systems theorist
as such--or an orthodox Marxist--but it strikes me that postmodernism,
despite its radicalism, could emerge only from the social and ideological
milieu of advanced liberal capitalism. Most obviously, proponents of
postmodernism, by virtue of their origin in prosperous societies, display
a certain philosophical "randomness" that is undoubtedly linked to the
severing of a link to material conditions. More interesting, however, is
that despite their self-proclaimed radicalism, their discourse is so
heavily anchored in a liberal-capitalist "mental map" as to be almost
indistinguishable from it at the most fundamental level. Individual
autonomy, abdication of striving for certainty and consensus, wholesale
relativism, etc.--seem to have much in common with the notions of consumer
sovereignty that play such a vital role in the processes of their social
milieu. One wonders, however, whether postmodernism and the new social
movements associated with it represent an evolution of capitalism's
ideological underpinnings, such that this "relativism" will become the
"Core's" new hegemonic framework, diverting attention from more
substantive concerns, or whether they are merely a tangential striving for
a sense of political activism among those whose structural position in the
world economy affords them no other banners to grasp. Any thoughts?