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Theorising sociology in the face of postmodernism

Wickham, G. (1991) Theorising sociology in the face of postmodernism. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, 27 (3). pp. 351-368.

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If we take the basic definition of postmodernism given in Lyotard’s seminal The Postmodern Condition ‘an incredulity towards metanarratives’ - (1984, xxiv) as a working definition for sociology, then a postmodern sociology is an attractive possibility. At first glance, at least, a postmodern theoretical umbrella for sociology can allow the discipline to develop its increasingly diverse strengths without the enormous constraint, which has weighed it down in false expectation for much of this century, of the idea that it is a science of ‘society as a whole’, moreover the idea that it is such a science in the name of human emancipation.

In this essay I consider a possible postmodern sociology and I argue that while it may be a very attractive idea for theorising sociology and for theorising some directions for it, it is seriously flawed. However, rejecting postmodernism as a theoretical possibility does not mean a return to the idea of society as a whole, it does not signal a call to return to some mythical ‘golden age’ when sociologists were able to produce understandings of society which could enlighten and emancipate us all. This ‘grand vision’ theorising of sociology has of course been around for a long while, in various guises - Marxist, Parsonian, etc. I’m not, then, doubting its intellectual heritage. Rather, I’m questioning the worth of its commitment to epistemology and I’m working from a critique of the political effects of epistemology. My essay assumes this critique.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Sage
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