Re: Post-modern Pre-modernism

Richard L. Warms (RW04@SWT.EDU)
Wed, 4 Oct 1995 11:31:16 -0500

Thanks to Tomaso and others for their comments on post-modernism. Here are a
couple more or less unorganized reflections:

Post-modernism didn't come from nowhere...nor did anything else. Post
modernism, like modernism and positivism, and any other ism you might wish, has
a long history and many antecedents. To critique it because it has clear
philosophical predecessors is much like critiquing anthropology in general
because Herodotus or Marco Polo wrote things that sound anthropological.

Tomaso notes that it is possible to find rationalism and positivism in
post-modernism. This is surely true at one level. Given a perspective, and a
set of assumptions, argument in post-modernism tends to be both rationalist and
positivist. The key question, however, is the set of assumptions.
Post-modernists challenge the notion that there can ever be a universally
agreed upon set of assumptions...or one that can be directly and uniquely tied
to physical reality. It then follows that rationalism and positivism will take
different forms in different places and different times and that there is no
valid method of deciding between these competing claims since that would
involve reference to some agreed upon set of assumptions. I'd point out that
no one has yet really responded to Byers' challenge.

As to post-modernism's contribution to anthropology, I suggest that it has been
pretty profound. It has made it almost impossible to write ethnography
without in some way addressing issues of voice, power, and positioning. I
think that it is difficult to find ethnography done in the last 10 years that
does not discuss, at least minimally, who the researcher is, their motives,
their assumptions, and the nature of their experiences. It is true that this
is not wholly new - nor is anything - but it is also true that it is now
considered essential.


Rich Warms