Postmodernism Postmodernism Definition
  • The term “postmodernity” came into use in 1950s and 1960s when it was used to refer to architecture and literary criticism. Lyotard, in 1984, provided a comprehensive overview of postmodern thought in his book, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.

Database of Postmodern Thinkers

Postmodernism (

Names to know when studying postmodernism

Constructivist Theories

Second-Order Change

Postmodernism in the Arts

Postmodernism in Religion

The Postmodern World is composed of three processes: the breakdown of old ways of thinking, a broader worldview, and new types of beliefs about social truth.

* Postmodern Assumptions

  • 1. There is no foundation from which truth can be derived : foundationlessness- there is no absolute truth
  • 2. Knowledge consists of fragments of information and understanding, not necessarily a sound system of truths and statements : fragmentariness
  • 3. Knowledge is developed by the use of cognitive beliefs built within the local environment; there is no single official reality : Constructivism- our interpretation of the world is based on our past unique experiences and, therefore, what I see will be different from what you see
  • 4. The utility and practicality of knowledge and experience is valued over theories and scientific-derived knowledge : Neopragmatism- we base future behaviors on what has worked in the past, not necessarily what science says will work

focuses on discovering general laws of human behaviors
focuses on pragmatic and effective ways of practicing
derives knowledge from science & research, although the results of this methodology are impersonal
develops knowledge from discourse that is accumulated using actual client/therapist interactions
there is a logic and order to the universe
the world consists of chaotic fragments of information
seeks universal, fundamental truths
embraces diversity in knowledge and recognizes that truth seems to rely heavily on perspective, which results from social interactions
human behavior can be predicted based on research and formal-computational studies, while also suggesting these methods promote value-neutral, or biased free, results
human behavior is contextually dependent & cannot be predicted; serves only as a guide for future experience
Modern/Postmodern Distinctions according to Held (1995):

general laws and truths may be attained by way of reason, science, and technology
rejects general laws and truths
determinancy of meaning in any text or event
indeterminancy/plurality of meaning in texts or events
individual has real ontological status/existence
denies the individual's real ontological status/existence

Postmodern assumptions according to Anderson (1990):
All belief systems and ideas about human reality are social constructions.
Different people have different concepts of what the world is like.
Social institutions and the workings of science are human creations.

"Matters of description cannot be separated from issues of power. As perspectives are developed and integrated into society, so are the social arrangements of society altered." (Focault as cited in Gergen, 1992)

Postmodern assumptions according to Morris (2000):

1. "...postmodern thinkers regard all knowledge as historically situated and culturally inflected, so that we stand deprived of an outside, wholly objective, God's-eye view of the Truth" (pg. 7).
2. "...experience for postmodern thinkers is always mediated by organized discourses that amount to systems of representation" (pg. 8).
3. "...discourses and social codes assume material form in stories, so that narratives provide a complex lens into the cultures and discourses that produce them" (pg. 8).

According to B. S. Held (1995), in Back to Reality: A Critique of Postmodern Theory in Psychotherapy ----

Postmodernists have adopted a fundamental antirealism by purporting that 1.) there is no one, true reality and, thus, the seach for true knowledge is in vain; 2.) what the client believes to be their reality is, indeed, fiction; 3.) if a postmodern therapist uses a theory to guide the therapy process then they are, nonetheless, acting against the postmodern belief that there is a true way to guide therapy and view clients and their problems; 4.) if we are to adopt a true (*tongue-in-cheek*) postmodern theory in our practice, we must be deceiving ourselves of the reality in which we are situated with our clients.

If we are to believe that what we tell clients is only a possibility of what might be true for their particular case, we cannot be so tentative about the theory which guides our practice because then we are deceiving the client about how change occurs since there is only a possibility of it occurring that way. Fundamental antirealists, antisystematic postmodernists, would posit that we are tentative about our knowledge and it is limited; this, though, might compromise client's hope about the problem dissolving due to our tentativeness. Is this a problem, then, for postmodernists?

So, are therapists experts or are the clients?
Postmodern therapists act according to the belief that clients are the experts about their own lives and therapists are experts about the therapy process. But is this, then, not contrary to antirealism belief that we cannot know anything to be true of the therapy process because it is all a social construction according to the therapist’s own beliefs and those philosophers from which he/she gained knowledge? And, how are clients experts about their lives if they, too, cannot obtain true reality? To be an expert about something, there must be a basis for knowledge and how to attain it; yet, according to postmodernism, there is no such thing.

Thus, if there is no reality, as postmodernists would say, then :
1. there is no such thing as expertise because how can you be an expert about something when there is not a true "something" out there, which means
2. there is no systematic way in which to understand problems, resolutions, clients, therapy process, etc. because we do not know the real way, which means
3. therapy is not a discipline because a discipline is only such when it is governed by a system of rules and laws which requires expertise of some sort.

C. Mee, Jr. (1993) posits a metarealism which acknowledges that there are limits to reality and this acknowledgement highlights to us that we might not be 100% correct about a possible cause or solution to a problem. However, just because we are not sure about the consequences does not mean that we should discard the belief that we know anything at all!

Postmodernism as a metanarrative

* Implications of Postmodernism for Therapists

All that we know is embedded in language. Language can serve to promote social agendas. (If this is true, then we know that we know what? All we know is fiction, according to true postmodernists.) . . . . "The postmodern world is characterized by a continual change of perspectives, with no underlying common frame of reference. Language and knowledge do not copy reality. Rather, language constitutes reality.” (from S. Kvale (1995). In Postmodern psychology: A contradiction in terms?)

Change is inevitable and is always occurring (Or, at least, that's our reality)

Clients are the experts of their lived experiences; therapists are experts about the therapy process -- this is not true because if a client is an expert about his life then that means he knows a true reality and this rises against postmodern antirealism belief

Clients are inevitably involved within a larger system of beliefs and other individuals and groups; both of which provide an environment of co-influence.

For postmodern therapists, our role is to attack language and understand what is behind that language. This deconstruction may cause bewilderment and hopelessness. However, our role then is to try to reconstruct and contribute to global problems and neopragmatic truths.

So, is the world really a stage?


Anderson, W. T. (1990). Welcome to the postmodern world. In Reality isn't what it used to be (pp. 3-28). San Francisco: Harper.

Gergen, K. J. (1992). Toward a postmodern psychology. In S. Kvale (Ed.), Psychology and postmodernism: Inquiries in social construction
(pp. 17-30). London, England: Sage Publications, Inc.

Held, B. S. (1995). Back to Reality: A critique of postmodern theory in psychotherapy. New York: W. W. Norton.

Morris, D. B. (2000). How to speak postmodern: Medicine, illness, and cultural change. Hastings Center Report, 30, 7-16.

Polkinghorne, D. E. (1992). Postmodern epistemology of practice. In S. Kvale (Ed.), Psychology and postmodernism: Inquiries in social
construction (pp. 146-165). London, England: Sage Publications, Inc.