More on postmodernism and poststructuralism

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

Further to my investigations into postmodernism and poststructuralism, the next two articles I read were about lifelong learning (Edwards & Usher, 2001) and computerized societies (Lyotard, 1979). The Edwards & Usher article associated lifelong learning with globalization (postmodernism), suggesting that this concept of lifelong learning is the postmodern version of formalized academic institutions. The Lyotard article talks about how computers are changing knowledge (it was particularly interesting, since it was written well before the public Internet, when computer network technology was in its infancy).

Week 11One key idea that is shared in both articles is the idea of mastery. In the modern era, people who held the knowledge would be known as masters in their field. Lyotard says that “access to data is, and will continue to be, the prerogative of experts of all-stripes” (1979, p.11). Edwards & Usher point out that today things are changing so rapidly that even “masters” need participate in lifelong learning. There is no longer the idea that a person holds all their is to know about a field. The concept of mastery has (or is) changed (changing).

My investigations then led me to try to figure out more about poststructuralism, which is sometimes seen as a subset or offshoot of postmodernism. As I searched for articles on poststructuralism in particular, I kept coming across two terms that, like constructivist terminology, had special meaning that is not inferred by the words themselves: problematize and deconstruction. My immediate thought was that problematize was similar to needs analysis (figuring out what the problem is) and deconstruction was about breaking the concept into its constituent pieces. Of course, I was wrong on both accounts. I am indeed learning that the words in research do not mean what I think they mean!

The short summary of what it means to problematize, is to look at a text and ask these questions about it (Crotty 1998, citing Freire 1977):

  • Who is making this statement?
  • Who is s/he making it for?
  • Why is this statement being made here, now?
  • Whom does this statement benefit?
  • Whom does it harm?

Problematizing is more about trying to remove the context from the text. Similarly and yet different, the concept of deconstruction is related to figuring out the assumptions of the author in the text. Relating to deconstruction, Burman & MacLure (2005) encourage you to “challenge the taken-for-granted” (p.286). That is, the act of deconstruction is to try to understand the assumptions that the authors have made when they wrote the text (or did the research).

After all of this investigation, I find that I can relate a lot more to postmodernism than to poststructuralism. I think the ideas of poststructuralism are just a little too abstract or decontextualized for me to find that area of research interesting. I can, however, relate to the globalized world, and the changes in education that are occurring because of the change in focus from localized industrialized era to the globalized era. Perhaps, I might call myself a postmodern pragmatist. Does that even make sense?

References

Burman, E., & MacLure, M. (2005). Deconstruction as a Method of Research. In B. Somekh & C. Lewin (Eds.), Research methods in the social sciences (pp. 284-292). London, UK: Sage Publications.

Crotty, M. (1998). Foundations of social research (pp. 155-156). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Edwards, R., & Usher, R. (2001). Lifelong learning: A postmodern condition of education? Adult Education Quarterly, 51(4), 273-287. doi:10.1177/07417130122087296

Lyotard, J. F. (1979). The field: Knowledge in computerized societies. In The postmodern condition (pp. 1-15). London, UK: Manchester University Press.

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