Mirchandani, R. 2005. “Postmodernism and Sociology: From the Epistemological to the Empirical.”

Mirchandani, Rekha. 2005. “Postmodernism and Sociology: From the Epistemological to the Empirical.” American Sociological Association 23(1):86-115.

Attempting to resolve postmodern divide between reflexive knowledge and application to on-ground realities – though defining postmodernism itself is a difficult thing – Lyotard (1979/1984) remarks on questions assumptions about methodology, source or universality of truth and knowledge, language’s relationship to communicating knowledge in areas of philosophy, social theory, cultural studies, and beyond.  Challenge usefulness and centrality of nation-state, industry, production, capitalism, and morality. Challenges brought forth by scientific and technological advancements – however, sicence has not invalidated, but merely replaced other forms of knowledge. Rejection of grand narratives. Foucault as an empirical postmodernist through methods of archaeology of knowledge which “searaches for the fundamental rules or conditions of knowledge (epistemes or what counts as rational or true), often discursive of an era to show their contingency and plurality” (91). Differs from genealogy as genealogy has a strong institutional focus. Must be careful to distinguish that Foucault gives a postmodern means to analyze power, but not a theory of postmodern power (Best and Kellner 1991).  Lyotard as a postmodern epistemologist, not an empiricist. Advocates for postmodern ways of knowing – rejecting meta-narratives, instead embracing plurality and localization of knowledge, as well as language’s impact on society and knowledge. “Any knowledge we can have of language games is thus fractured, diverse, and discontinuous: it is made up of catastrophes, paradoxes, nonrectifiable dilemmas, and ironies. The role of the investigator is to insist on this instability, to disrupt more orderly knowledge – consensuses about the state of the world – if need be. The practice and legitimacy of knowledge is founded on the fact that it affirms differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable” (93). Bauldrillard as both – pressing to de-center subjects, the “implosion” process where the social becomes the mass effected.  Simulacra, copies without originals, pressed into hyperreal (more real than real) contributing to postmodern condition of radical simiurgy (where signs take on life of own and create a new social order).  With radical simiurgy, we see death of social subject. Differing reception – rejection, approval on contextual basis, or accepted with “nothing new” assessment.

Of particular note – section on consumer capitalism – two prevalent postmodern problems – issues of consumption choices and modes of distribution (not production).  However, consumption and production are sides of the same going (Ritzer, Goodman, and Wiedenhoft 2001; Gottdiener 2000a, 2000b) – but consumption side has long been underemphasized in favor of examining production, say postmodernists. Ritzer et al also note that consumption is often central to the production of identity, an item that Marx overlooks in his theories of consumption.  Reject Frankfurt school ideas of consumer dupes, but “actively appropriate consumer objects and culture propogated through advertising and image production to create complex and multiple consumer identities and new social groupings and neotribes” (105).  Making consumption a consumptive process, one that is aesthetically pleasing and fun.  Consumption as re-enchanting life, and making it fun (Baudrillard 1968 (1994)) by offering new symbols and new (superficial) meanings. “Research on consumption thus takes place in four main areas

(Ritzer, Goodman, and Wiedenhoft 2001): objects of consumption, subjects of consumption, sites of consumption, and processes of consumption. Investigators ask what are the objects of consumption and what do they symbolize? Do they even operate as signs or have they lost connections with systems of signifiers to become free floating? Sex, for example, has come to mean nothing and everything or whatever it is associated with. Similarly, who are the subjects of consumption? If we do have subjects of consumption, rather than dupes in a system of consumption, can we define consumption as a new realm of freedom and identity construction? Is it possible to have a revolutionary class of consumers? What are the new sites of consumption and what differentiates them from traditional sites of consumption? And, what are the new processes of consumption that complement these new sites? How have socioeconomic and historical forces affected the growth of these sites and processes? And, how do these new sites and processes affect our social relations? Thinkers who ask these questions point out that each is ‘‘an empirical question in need of investigation rather than a theoretical assumption . . . from which a study of consumers can begin’’ (Ritzer, Goodman, and Wiedenhoft 2001:421) (here 105).

Introduces idea of tourist as a means to escape from role as a producer and to re-occupy the world as a consumer, through “non-consumable” goods, such as places, museums, and religious ritual.

*** See Seiler 2000 for the hypercommodification of rock music at the rock concert.


Baudrillard, Jean. [1968] 1994. The System of Objects, translated by J. Benedict. New York: Verso.

Best, S. and D. Kellner. 1991. Postmodern Theory: Critical Integrations. New York: Guildford Press.

Gottdiener, M. 2000a. “Introduction.” In New Forms of Consumption: Consumers, Culture and Commodification, edited by M. Gottdiner. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Gottdiener, M. 2000b. “Approaches to Consumption: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives.” In New Form of Consumption: Consumers, Culture and Commodification, edited by M. Gottdiener. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Lyotard, J.-F. [1979] 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, translated by G. Bennington and B. Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Ritzer, G., D. Goodman, and W. Wiedenhoft. 2001. “Theories of Consumption.” In Handbook of Social Theory. Edited by G. Ritzer and B. Smart. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Seiler, C. 2000. “The Commodification of Rebellion: Rock Culture and Consumer Capitalism.” In New Forms of Consumption: Consumer, Culture and Commodification, edited by M. Gottidiener. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield.


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