Interdisciplinary Studies: The Relevance of Late 19th and Early 20th Century Classical Theories in the Globalized Society – Page 5

Postmodernism and Classical Social Theory

Postmodern theorists point to dogmatic elements in the classical theory that should be gotten rid of the reconstruction of the new social theory due to their irrelevance in the 21st century. As such, there is a call for a radical break involving every modern social theory. According to postmodern theorists, there is a problem with the practicality of classical theories in terms of social totality mapping, identification of social conditions that define historical progress, and promoting progressive change in social aspects (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). It is important to note that most of the postmodernists are former followers of Marxism and thus their critique of universal emancipation and history claims of Marxism is founded on experienced perception. The critique of postmodern theorists holds that classical theory is developed from faith in reason and science, and results in formation of “grand narratives”, which lead to legitimization of cultural homogenization and political repression. As such, elements of classical social theory have kinship for centrally placed systems of social planning and power that block creativity in desire and language and liquidate particularity.

Postmodernists reject the meta-assumptions in classical social theory concerning social coherence, representation and the subject. They argue that radical criticism of culture must refrain from the new bases beyond the tradition of enlightenment. The representation of the “real” by classical social theory is less reliable in the postmodern era given that the “real” in these theories is defined by the classical era of establishment and not the postmodern technological era (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). In this vein, postmodernists prefer the application of the strategy of poststructuralists in lopping the connection between various signs and certain referents. For instance, according to Antonio and Kellner (2011), Derrida observed language as a type of ‘free play’, which is autonomous of a “preternatural signified”, and fails to agree with claims about the representation of extra-linguistic realities by language (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). On the other hand, Baudrillard, an extreme postmodern theorist, defines reality as a contingent play of images. Baudrillard, unlike modern epistemologists, argues that ‘the real’ has been replaced by the images in the postmodern society. Such proliferation of contradictory messages and images implodes the limit between referents and signs, and between fiction and reality, thus dissolving meaning and truth.

In the view of postmodernism theorists, the meta-theoretical assumptions of classical social theorists regarding society’s coherence and the actual concept of the social in extreme cases are inapplicable in the postmodern era (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). It is evident that the current society is defined by social disintegration and pervasive cultural fragmentation unlike it is predicted in the classical social theory. The postmodern society is defined by a complex matrix of processes that are exceedingly discontinuous, which involve disjunctive, ubiquitous, and instantaneous changes; overwhelming and dispersed space; discordant voices and multiple spectacles; contradictory messages and images; and experiences of overall schizophrenic fragmentation. The modelled social processes such as domination, integration and exploitation, and the cussed social structures including hierarchy, complex organization, class, and gender structure, which are discourses emphasized in the classical social theories are rendered obsolete by the postmodern incoherence of culture (Antonio & Kellner, 2011).

Moreover, classical social theory’s philosophical subject that undergirded the social coherence and representation conceptions is termed to be in eclipse by postmodern theorists (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). As implied by Enlightenment thinkers in the modern epistemology of the Cartesian tradition, human beings hold the rational capabilities, in the sense that if exposed to and gain understanding of foundations of knowledge; they can achieve an external world’s understanding that is relatively unambiguous, and apply this understanding in the transformation of the social conditions in the society. On the other hand, postmodern theorists argue that the subject’s construct is fictive, and the human difference and spontaneity is repressed by the subjectivity myth, which functions as the control. As such, the subject is interpreted as the construct of discipline and power by Foucault. In the same vein, Baudrillard argues that the images and objects of the subject coupled with his drama are no longer present in the postmodern era (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). The entire project of classical social theory is put into question by the postmodern theory, which rejects the meta-assumptions that form the basis for classical theory.

Dogmatic Themes in Classical Theory

The classical theorists targeted the creation of a foundation for modern social theory through trying to understand societal advancement from traditionalistic to modernity. As such, these theorists based their portrayal of linkages between fragmentation, social organization’s new forms, and interdependence on presumptions that they could exemplify the macroscopic realities of society (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). These theorists believed that the historical subjects could be guided by their approaches in the transformation or regulation of their social worlds. As much as these meta-assumptions were employed self-critically and reflexively at time, in most cases they were employed dogmatically and narrowly. It is from these assumptions that Enlightenments contradictory ethos were reproduced, which at times showed excessive faith in reason and science. The dogmatic themes of positivism portrayed science as a religion that held the power to invoke perfect order in the case of chaos and offer viable solutions to social disjunctions as they come up (Antonio & Kellner, 2011).

On the other hand, some theorists such as Spencer and Comte coupled their faith in science with a view that reason could be used to define the basis for social development (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). As such, they meant that reality could be understood without a problem by social theory, and thus an exact knowledge system developed to serve as a tool for social change and enlightenment. These theorists believed that the gaps that exist between knowledge concerning the social world were because of the unfamiliarity of the science and that proper mechanical development would be used to mechanically overcome them. It is evident that the arguments brought forth by these classical theorists were dogmatic. As such, the powers of representation are grossly exaggerated, the integration of society is overstated, and too much rationality is attributed to the subject (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). In addition, these theorists ignored the national and regional differences in their deterministic reference to homogenous development paths. The idea of modernity was excessively general in the arguments by these theorists, lacking adequate sensitivity to cultural differences between regions and nations and particularity.

Case in point, representation limits and inherent uncertainties were also rarely addressed by classical theorists, all of which characterize judgments concerning the relationship between social reality and theory. These theorists opted for social science to develop into a cumulative and perfectible enterprise, but in the process, they understated the emergent features, complexity, and social phenomena’s historicity (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). The classical theorists were too bold when depicting their new science’s powers, in their defense of their substantive positions validity, an aspect that showed the uncritical nature of their Enlightenment faith in reason and science. The subject and the object were absolutely divided in the dogmatic currents of classical theory, in the sense that interpretation was deemed to have no effect on facts. The scientific observer is overrated in terms of clarity and capacity in the Cartesian emphasis, leading to the uncritical granting of one side the universality and objectivity, which shields them from viable discussion, empirical inquiry, and criticism. This issue was raised in the classical tradition through Marx’s critique of the German ideologists and the theory of state by Hegel. However, Marx was not an exception as he made important errors that resulted from his excessive confidence in historical materialism’s representational powers. In addition, other theorists including John Dewey and Max Weber show high sensitivity to the inherently uncertain, interpretive, and perspectival nature of practices of theory (Antonio & Kellner, 2011).

The classical theorists developed a view of the society as a structural whole that is differentiated. These theorists strongly disagreed with the types of connectedness in the society and the interdependence level (Antonio & Kellner, 2011). Nevertheless, most classical theorists still tried to define the complex relationships between individuals and their diverse and multileveled environmental and social environments. These theorists also addressed the interrelations between main institutions processes of macro development, which linked minor groups into societal, regional, and trans-societal networks of interdependence. Classical theorists differed in a way with the postmodernists view, such that the coherence of the social world can be theoretically expressed. These theorists made assumptions that the subgroup and individuals were absorbed completely in totality. In addition, they failed to consider the problem of boundaries and the features of the social structure that are unevenly differentiated. For instance, most of the theorists employed an organic metaphor that considered social development and society or evolution to be real, while underplaying their reliance on domination and coercion, and their discontinuities. It is evident that the arguments of most of the classical theorists were framed too broadly that they did not portray historical specificity. As such, almost all classical social theorists defined the traditional societies in a fashion that is too homogenous, and they spoke of the development of modernity in a way that depicted it as if it uniformly spread, although with some lag, throughout North America and Europe (Antonio & Kellner, 2011).

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