Post-modernism has become the orthodoxy in educational theory, particularly in feminist educational theory. It heralds the end of grand theories like Marxism and liberalism, scorning any notion of a united feminist challenge to patriarchy, of united anti-racist struggle and of united working class movements against capitalist exploitation and oppression. For post-modernists, the world is fragmented, history is ended, and all struggles are local and particularistic.
The idea that there is such a condition of post-modernity that differs radically from modernity, is, however, contested. (Jameson, 1992). While there is general agreement that the nature of the cultural world has shifted radically into an information age, due to the rapid development of information and communication technologies, how this shift may be described differs between schools of thought. At one extreme, those interested in simulation and surveillance, and cyborgs (human/machine complexes) suggest that even post-modernism is a defunct term and could be replaced with the post-human, which also reflects post-modernists’ interest in challenging the conventions of liberal humanism, such as the notion of agency based on a unified, constant self offering a stable identity.
As rejoinder to this view, critics of post-modernism, such as Somer Brodribb (1993), usually focus on the supposed destructive aspects of the wholesale rejection of liberal humanism, denying the cumulative and hard won benefits of liberal humanism such as charters for human rights, the ground that ‘first wave’ political feminists have gained, and so forth. At another extreme, some theorists do not see a clear-cut shift from a modernist to a post-modernist condition, but see our current cultural condition as a logical development of modernism (high or late modernism), or as an aspect of modernism’s ever-present avantgarde.
There are two established streams of thought within post-modernism. One de-constructive post-modernism argues that there is a radical rupture between modernity and post-modernity, based on the linguistic turn. They argue that realty is grounded in language and that the natural world taken for granted by empirical science as an object for study, is in fact the object of construction through language and discourse. This phenomenon is generally referred to as the crisis of representation. The world is never known directly, but is constructed, or given meaning, through discourse. Such meanings are historically and culturally contingent, dependent upon the legitimating processes of dominant discourses embodied in differing communities of practice.
The second stream of post-modernism is interested less in language and more in general cultural and historical phenomena such as art, politics, religion, science studies and ecology. This school draws heavily on the ideas of new science such as complexity and chaos theory, emergence of form, and principles of uncertainty and indeterminacy. They do not see a single rupture between modernism and post-modernism, but a double coding (Jencks, 1992, 1995), in which both rupture and continuity coincide. They see deconstruction not as a form of post-modernism at all, but as part of the avant-garde of modernism. They disagree with Lyotard’s definition of post-modernism as incredulity towards grand narratives, seeing rather the emergence of a new, inclusive grand narrative that is holistic, based on convergence of science, the humanities, the ecology movement, radical feminism, and new religious movements.
They see tolerance of difference and pluralism as core values in such an emergent grand narrative, that borrows from new science the notions of ambiguity, paradox, indeterminacy and uncertainty and see these as basic features of post-modernity. Within this grand narrative epistemology, local narratives are explicitly honored. Charles Jencks, the main spokes-person for this view calls for a return to public concerns, to post-modernism as a return to a messy democracy, in which populism replaces elitism, and tolerance of difference is the major virtue.