Postmodernism and Poststructuralism … initial thoughts

The following is part of a series of blog posts I wrote while taking an education PhD course on Epistemologies. A summary of all posts in the series is included in this paper: Developing an Appreciative Understanding of Epistemologies in Educational Research: One Blogger’s Journey

Crotty (1998) describes modernism as researcher’s response to the modern era, that is the era of industrialization. Post-modernism is researcher’s response to the post-modern era, that is the era of globalization. This is about all the sense I was able to make out of the book chapter we were assigned to read on postmodernism and poststructuralism. If I was not part of a group that was assigned to lead a discussion on postmodernism and poststructuralism I might have left it there – however, I felt that I really needed to get an essence of these ideas in order to contribute to meaningful discussions.

Week 10My first bit of further reading was Brookfield’s “Unmasking power: Foucault and adult learning”. I figured that because I am familiar with adult learning, that an article in that area would help me understand the post-modern perspective. In reading the article, I found it really helped to see it as a reflection through a globalized world view rather than an industrialized world view. I was also familiar with some the theories on power, through a variety of “youth empowerment” training I took when I was a youth advisor. I had not connecting these ideas with Foucault until I read this article, and am not thinking that I definitely need to read more Foucault. Brookfield does make the material more accessible – in that the article is easy to read and there are enough examples to make the concepts clear.

As the title indicates, the article talks about power relations in adult learning classrooms. For Foucault, power is not seen as a good or bad thing, it is just something that we need to be aware of. In addition, Foucault sees power not as something that a person “has” rather as something that a person “exercises”. So, you do not have power, you use power. The key difference between the modern world and the post-modern world is where the power is held. Specifically that in the post-modern world, power is dispersed to the people. “Foucault maintains that in [post]modern society sovereign power (power exercised from above by a clearly discernible authority such as a monarch or a president) has been replaced by disciplinary power–power that is exercised by people on others and on themselves in the specific day-to-day practices of their lives” (Brookfield, 2001, p.3).

Perhaps the best visual I have for the different world views is that of the classroom setup. The modern world view has the class setup in rows, indicating the hierarchy of organization, with the teacher being the authoritarian leader at the front. The post-modern world view has the class setup in a circle, indicating the equality of the learners with the teacher. The teacher’s role changes to that of a facilitator and power is shared with learners. At least that is the theory.

From the teacher’s perspective, the post-modern way (that of circles) gives the learners a voice within the classroom. What Foucault (per Brookfield) says about this is that from the learner perspective this may not actually be the case. Learners actually loose choice in this new circular model, as all learners are now being watched. There is no longer a place for the learner to hide in the back of the classroom, choosing to be invisible. Participation becomes required in the eyes of both the teacher and the learner’s peers, and your every move is being watched.

This first article has provided a very interesting perspective. I’m afraid that I’ll find so many interesting perspectives that my reading lists will grow by an impossibly large amount. I have a few additional articles to read on postmodernism and poststructuralism, so I expect to have a couple more blog posts coming. Hope you are enjoying them!


Brookfield, S. (2001). Unmasking power: Foucault and adult learning. The Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 15(1), 1-23.

Crotty, M. (1998). Postmodernism: Crisis of confidence or moment of truth? In The foundations of social research (pp. 183-210). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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