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  In contrast to postmodernism, postmodernity is usually regarded as the historic period when the social and economic processes associated with the postmodern turn have taken place. For a number of authors this periodization goes on to include its own content, so that postmodernity becomes not just an era but also the shorthand for the dominant processes of that period writ large in society and space. David Lyon, for example, writes \'Postmodernity … has to do with putative social changes. Either a new kind of society is coming into being, whose contours can already be dimly perceived, or a new stage of capitalism is being inaugurated\' (Lyon, 1994, p. 7). In his controversial interpretation, David Harvey selects the latter option: the condition of postmodernity is explained as the social and cultural forms flowing directly from the \'crisis of overaccumulation\' in the capitalist economy that came to a head in 1973 (Harvey, 1989, pp. 327-8). About timing there is more general agreement; Jencks (1984) dates the rise of an aesthetic postmodernism in architecture to the disillusionment with modern urbanism symbolized by the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis in 1972, a project built in the post-war idiom of high modernism and celebrated as such with awards upon its construction in the 1950s. The postmodern period, then, was born during the decade between 1965 and 1975.

What are the \'putative social changes\' of the postmodern era? Undoubtedly there are some linkages here with other transition theories, notably post-Fordism and that of postindustrial society (Rose, 1991; Ley, 1996). For example, if both Fordism and modernism extolled the mass production factory as the \'spirit of the age\', both post-Fordism, with its emphasis on the fragmentation of the mass market into niches, and postmodernism with its emphasis on the consumer, including Baudrillard\'s (1975) insights on the production of consumption, have reversed that emphasis. There are also clear links with Bell\'s view of the role of specialized information in postindustrial society and the postmodern emphasis upon electronic communication (Lyotard, 1984; Lyon, 1994). However, the most persistent theme in the literature is the creation of an image society, where style, fashion, the simulacrum, the spectacle, all point to an ephemeral world of mirrors and deceits, of unredeemable lightness and insubstantial surfaces. For most authors, whatever their theoretical perspective, the culture of consumption is the central motif of postmodernity, and the world of Disney is its most exemplary expression (Harvey, 1989; Featherstone, 1991; Lyon, 1994). From this interpretation, we can readily understand also the recent fixation with culture — in all its forms — in shaping urban landscapes. Together these elements help assemble the outline of postmodern urbanism, a condition that several authors have located unambiguously in Los Angeles (Soja, 1996; Dear and Flusty, 1998).

From here some authors move toward a fatalism where identities are shaped by the spin doctors of marketing and the media. But there may well be too much of an Anglocentricity in such a view. Reacting against the North American view of a pervasive neo-conservatism, continental European writers have noted the continuity of the welfare state, if in weakened form, in many countries of western Europe, introducing a more plural ideological armature to the postmodern era than the free market alone is willing to support. Indeed, in eastern Europe, the postmodern era is contrasted with the severe modernity of the Soviet empire. The democracy movements at the end of the 1980s, dissolving a particularly inflexible iron cage where state brutalism took many forms, introduce an entirely different symbolic content to postmodernity. They perhaps point to a more generalized movement concerned to introduce individual autonomy and semantic thickness over against a modernity that suffered from a poverty of meaning and that justified individual oppressions through an ontology of the masses. Of course the culture of consumption represents a singular distortion of that movement, where individualism means freedom to consume and meaning is reduced to the symbolism of the product. But in the rush to condemn consumer society, we should not reduce postmodernity to a discursive monologue, nor ignore the lessons of its own geographical differentiation (Ley, 1996). Resistant forms of postmodernity bear more careful theoretical, as well as political, examination, pointing as they do to a widely felt deficit of meaning and emancipation in the modern project. (DL)

References Baudrillard, J. 1975: The mirror of production. St. Louis: Telos Press. Dear, M. and Flusty, S. 1998: Postmodern urbanism. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88: 50-72. Featherstone, M. 1991: Consumer culture and postmodernism. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell. Jencks, C. 1984: The language of post-modern architecture. New York: Rizzoli. Ley, D. 1996: The new middle class and the remaking of the central city. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lyotard, J. 1984: The postmodern condition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Lyon, D. 1994: Postmodernity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Rose, M. 1991: The postmodern and the postindustrial: a critical analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Soja, E. 1996: Thirdspace: journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Suggested Reading Lyon (1994).



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