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Bufo_Provetta valida per l'orale
[author: Sara Bufo - postdate: 2007-11-02]


The objective of this work is to briefly compare Modernism and Postmodernism. In order to achieve this score, eight dimensions of comparison will be taken into consideration:

  1. society and social structure
  2. social rules

  3. subjectivity/agency
  4. discourse
  5. knowledge
  6. space/time
  7. causality
  8. social change

First of all, as regards society and social structure, whereas Modernism searches for order and equilibrium (equilibrium is conceived of a san internal force in social structure development), Postmodernism privileges disorder rather than order. As a consequence, far-from-equilibrium condition is considered the most natural state. In addition, since a stable order isn't possible, a center of foundation does not exist, according to Postmodernism. In a diametrically opposite way, given that a permanent order is possible, a center of foundation does exist, according to Modernism.

Taking social roles into consideration, Modernists conceive roles as forged by centripetal forces of society to make the person accept the obligations and expectations that pertain to him/her. Accordingly, roles are dichotomized: male/female, employer/employee, good person/bad person and so on. Furthermore, Modernists believe that the "me" (that part of the self which dresses itself with the persona demanded by the situation)dominates the "I". Therefore, the role, as the one of a member of a symphony orchestra, is a "to take-role". On the contrary, Postmodernists conceive roles as unstable and in relation with both centripetal and centrifugal forces. In addition, it focuses on the dialectic between the "me" and the "I", privileging the "I" (since there is no equilibrium, a stable "me" cannot exist). Last but not least, the role, as the one of a jazz player, is a "to make-role".

As concerns subjectivity, Modernism conceives the human being as a balance between egoism and altruism. Since it is based on Enlightened thought, Modernism believes that the individual covers a central position. Furthermore, he is considered conscious, self-directive, whole. On the other hand, Postmodernism conceives subjects as decentered. Subjects follow "L-schema", which is a four-cornered and two-diagonally-intersecting-axed scheme, which two axes represent unconsciousness/symbolism and imagination. The individual is driven towards all four angles. Therefore, he is caught in the working of both axes.

Taking discourse into account, whereas Modernism follows a neutral discourse, Postmodernism excludes it. Modernism believes that "signifier plus  signified equals understanding", and "word choice plus grammatical and linear placement of signifiers equals meaning".  On the contrary, Postmodern discourse is based on the flux of thought and works at the unconscious level. Moreover, whereas Modernists privilege the noun over the verb form, Postmodernists prefer verbs rather than nouns.


As regards knowledge, Modernists search for a Truth centered on logos. Accordingly, they believe in Absolute Postulates from which everything can be explained through linear and deductive logic. On the contrary, Postmodernism conceive knowledge as fragmented. As a consequence, there isn't just one truth. There are as many truths as many as the perspectives from which it is seen. Moreover, logos is substituted by pathos, human suffering.


Taking space and time into consideration, whereas Modernist thought is based on Newtonian mechanics and Cartesian system, Postmodernism relies on Chaos Theory, quantum mechanics and non-Euclidean geometry. As a result, Postmodernism conceives space as fractal and infinitesimal; Modernism  as a whole-number dimension, where everything can be located. As regards time, Modernists believe in its reversibility, Postmodernists in its irreversibility. As a consequence, whereas Modernism is optimistic, and looks forward to the recreation of the "good old past", Postmodernism doesn't think it can return.


As concerns causality, Modernism believes that given some incremental increase in some identified cause, a proportional and linear increase in the effect will result. As a consequence, effects are highly predictable. On the contrary, Postmodernism focuses on uncertainty and indeterminacy. Accordingly, small changes can produce large effect. As a well-known example, "a butterfly flapping its wings in East Asia might produce a hurricane in Ohio".


Last but not least, social change is conceived by Modernism as a linear affair and by Postmodernism as a non-linear reality. Therefore, Postmodernism believes in deconstruction and reconstruction and Modernism in the evolutionary theory.