||A movement in philosophy, the arts, and the social sciences characterized by scepticism towards the grand claims and Grand Theory of the modern era with its privileged epistemological vantage point for the artist, theorist, or observer (decried by Rorty as the God\'s eye view), and bearing an equal suspicion of changeless, foundational relationships that escape the contingencies of time and space (cf. foundationalism). Instead, interpretations and the authority of the observer are regarded as socially constituted, contingent, and partial, so that postmodern positions stress an openness to a range of voices and perspectives in social inquiry, artistic experimentation, and political empowerment (Lyotard, 1984). pluralism, then, is endemic to postmodernism, and the term is often used generically to refer loosely to a series of more specific perspectives (such as post-structuralism, post-colonialism, and even feminism; see feminist geographies) that share these anti-foundational features. Consequently, while this much may be said, there is agreement about little else (though for classificatory attempts, see Hassan, 1985, and Jencks, 1993). The babble of voices around postmodernism is also intensified by the extraordinary disciplinary reach of the movement, ranging through philosophy, theology, the arts, and the social sciences. Indeed there is even a postmodern position in such apparently rational enlightenment fields as accounting and cartography.
Nor in some fields is the break between modern and postmodern genres all that clear (cf. modernism). If collage, for example, is a central feature of postmodernism as many in the arts assert (citing, perhaps, the works of David Salle) then it is salient to recall that collage was also part of the experimentation of the modern avant garde (Kern, 1983; Pred, 1995). So too the collision of disparate elements in postmodern pastiche is calculated to impart the same strangeness to the familiar as was attempted by the modern tactic of defamiliarization. Even the stability of a fixed perspective, a God\'s eye view, was disrupted in the perspectival pluralism of the cubists. A fixation with these and other lines of continuity (for example a constant sense of disorientation before rapid change, cited by Berman, 1982) have led some theorists to deny any significant break between modernism and postmodernism.
But fixing upon other dimensions, the discontinuities come into focus. Dear (1986) classifies postmodernism into three components: style, method, and epoch (for which see postmodernity). In style, architecture has become the paradigmatic art, and is often a point of departure in discussions of postmodernism more generally, if only because its forms are both visible and public (Jameson, 1984). Postmodern architecture commonly shows some combination of the following features: it should be contextual, reflecting regional traditions and perhaps the forms of adjacent buildings; it should be at a human scale, or if a necessarily large structure, should show a sympathetic frontage to the street, with its bulk broken into diverse forms and surfaces; it should pay attention to social life and the needs of users, even including them in the design process; it should include a recognizable symbolic content to confirm local memories and identities; and decoration should be part of its aesthetic programme (Ley, 1993; Ellin, 1996). In these features there would be a conscious rejection of the abstraction, universalism, and historical erasure brought to architecture and design by the modern movement.
There has been much controversy around the qualities of such an architecture. Some critics, enamoured perhaps by Le Corbusier\'s battle cry, \'architecture or revolution\', have expected more of architecture than it can possibly deliver. Others have forgotten that virtue does not rest in forms alone but also in the intentions that animate them. Like all innovation, postmodern styles can move through the creative phase of invention to the much blander stage of mimicry and duplication. So too, as has long been recognized, good ideas may be subverted to less noble ends, a fate of much architecture during the entrepreneurial years of the 1980s and 1990s with their celebration of consumer culture, even if these structures were sometimes approached with a sense of parody â€” as in the suburban box stores designed by the New York-based site team. Postmodernism, then, includes examples that are both accommodating and critical of existing patterns of urbanism, though interestingly this diversity is rarely recognized by critics, who, both on the political Right and the Left, defensive of their own grand narratives, commonly engage in undifferentiated search and destroy missions. Symptomatic of the approach from the Left is Harvey\'s (1989) rejection of postmodern culture as an art of surfaces that simply masks a more fundamental political economy. In response, Deutsche (1996) has demonstrated how the work of some postmodern artists is not a reflection of surfaces but an interrogation of them. Cindy Sherman\'s generic images of women, far from upholding superficial stereotypes, challenge the very act of social construction that reduces subjects to limited social roles. One can see the same attention to a more fluid and contingent treatment of identity in such authors as Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaatje (Hutcheon, 1991).
Constructionism is also at the heart of the second of Dear\'s categories, postmodern method. The recognition that reality, including knowledge, is a social product achieved by subjects with distinctive subject positions, encourages a strategy of deconstruction, a mode of critical interpretation that seeks to demonstrate how the (multiple) positioning of an author (or reader) in terms of class, culture, race, gender, etc. has influenced the writing (and reading) of a text (cf. positionality). The destabilization of meaning, of fixed interpretations, throws into doubt both the ontological certitude of reality and also the authority claims of interpreters. Positively, it prises loose alternative readings of texts, whether these take the form of literature, cartography, or landscapes. In human geography, Olsson (1980, 1991) was the earliest exponent of deconstruction and remains its most innovative and skilful practitioner. However, negatively, Olsson\'s work also shows the methodological weaknesses of a relativism that knows few limits. Given the uncertain (or at least contingent) ground upon which the observer stands, the scholar\'s claim to provide an adequate understanding of other people and places must be slender indeed. This crisis of representation has been a major concern in recent theoretical writing on ethnography (Clifford, 1988), and has given rise to the notion of ethnographies as fictions, that is, productions in which are embedded the unseen subjectivities of the author. How then does it become possible to represent the other when the shaping of that representation is so utterly contaminated by the author\'s own socialization?
It is at this stage that the epistemological challenges of postmodernism\'s radical perspectivalism become for many intolerable, and perhaps untenable. Radical perspectivalism or the strong constructionist programme appears to lead to an intellectual dead end, where entrapment within a socially constructed world allows little confidence in reaching beyond its borders for understanding (cf. Barnes, 1996). In this (over)socialized domain, the closure effected by internalized actions, values and (especially) language refutes any meaningful knowledge of the other and thus also any meaningful politics. The strong programme may also encourage, ironically, its own essentialism with attributes assigned to \'all men\' or \'all gays\' or \'all whites\' on the basis of a single socialized standpoint. Bonnett (1996), for example, has identified this serious weakness in a number of anti-racist sources that, in their eagerness to expose racism, duplicate the mind of the racist in ascribing invariant characteristics to the homogeneous category of whiteness. The limitations of strong constructionism have been recognized by many authors, some of whom prefer a weak constructionism, much closer to the historic position of hermeneutics. For while hermeneutics acknowledges the collision between the author and the data as an inescapable element in the production of knowledge, it is a realization that generates not paralysis but a series of best practices to limit and contain authorial distortions. This weaker position recognizes both the materiality and contingency of the world and readings of it; however, for foundationalists even the weaker form can be a betrayal of both science and politics (cf. Yapa, 1996, 1997; Shrestha, 1997).Â (DL)
References Barnes, T. 1996: Logics of dislocation. New York: Guilford.Â Berman, M. 1982: All that is solid melts into air: the experience of modernity. New York: Simon and Schuster.Â Bonnett, A. 1996: Anti-racism and the critique of white identities. New Community 22: 97-110.Â Clifford, J. 1988: The predicament of culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Â Dear, M. 1986: Postmodernism and planning. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 4: 367-84.Â Deutsche, R. 1996: Evictions: art and spatial politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Â Ellin, N. 1996: Postmodern urbanism. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Â Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell.Â Hassan, I. 1985: The culture of postmodernism. Theory, Culture and Society 2(3): 119-32.Â Hutcheon, L. 1991: Splitting images: contemporary Canadian ironies. Toronto: Oxford University Press.Â Jameson, F. 1984: Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism. New Left Review 146: 53-92.Â Jencks, C. 1987: What is postmodernism? New York: St. Martin\'s Press.Â Jencks, C., ed., 1992: The postmodern reader. London: Academy Editions.Â Kern, S. 1983: The culture of time and space 1880-1918. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Â Ley, D. 1993: Co-operative housing as a moral landscape: re-examining \'the post-modern city\'. In J. Duncan and D. Ley, eds, Place/culture/representation. London: Routledge, 128-48.Â Ley, D. and Mills, C. 1992: Can there be a postmodernism of resistance in the urban landscape? In P. Knox, ed., The restless urban landscape. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 255-78.Â Lyotard, J. 1984: The postmodern condition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Â Olsson, G. 1980: Birds in egg: eggs in bird. London: Pion.Â Olsson, G. 1991: Lines of power/limits of language. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Â Pred, A. 1995: Recognizing European modernities: a montage of the present. New York: Routledge.Â Shrestha, N. 1997: A postmodern view or denial of historical integrity? The poverty of Yapa\'s view of poverty. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87: 709-16.Â Yapa, L. 1996: What causes poverty? A postmodern view. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86: 707-28.Â Yapa, L. 1997: Reply: why discourse matters, materially. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87: 717-22.
Suggested Reading Best, S. and Kellner, D., eds, 1991: Postmodern theory: critical interrogations. New York: Guilford.Â Harvey (1989).Â Jencks (1992).Â Ley and Mills (1992).Â Relph, E. 1987: The modern urban landscape. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Â Rosenau, P. 1992: Post-modernism and the social sciences. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.