According to one theorist, post modernism is the passage from ‘solid’ (stable) times to ‘liquid’ times (Bauman 2007). It is the end of traditional structures and institutions, and the end of what another theorist calls ‘grand narratives’–the big, one-size-fits-all stories of modern thought (Lyotard 1984). There is a loss of faith in the idea of ‘progress’, the idea that we are gradually heading along the one true pathway towards certain universal goals – such as the full picture of knowledge, or equality and justice. Instead, there is an emphasis on multiple pathways and plurality; on diversity and difference; and on the partiality of all knowledge (that is, the idea that we can only have an incomplete picture, and the idea that all knowledge is biased). Change is seen, not as a linear progression, but as a series of networks and flows, connections and reconnections that, because they are always forming and reforming, never have time to solidify.
Whether there are genuine law-like causal regularities that govern social phenomena is not at all clear. In any event, no laws governing the social world have been discovered that meet the demanding criteria of natural science. To be sure, social scientists have identified many social regularities, some of which they have even dubbed social laws. Examples from the discipline of economics would include the laws of supply and demand. From political science we find Roberto Michels’ iron law of oligarchy, which holds that popular movements, regardless of how democratically inclined, over time will become hierarchical in structure. Another proposed law of politics is Duverger’s Law, which posits that two-party systems will emerge in political systems that feature simple-majority, single-ballot electoral systems. But upon closer inspection, these laws fail to meet the criteria for genuine law-like regularities. Sometimes, particularly in economics (which boasts more purported laws than the other social sciences), the laws merely describe logical relationships between concepts. These laws may be true by definition, but because they do not describe the empirical world, they are not scientific laws. On the other hand, social laws that claim to describe empirical regularities invariably turn out to be imprecise, exception ridden and time-bound or place-bound rather than precise and universal. Consider the law of demand from economics, which holds that consumer demand for a good will decrease if prices go up and increase if prices go down. Though this pattern typically occurs, it is not without exception. Sometimes increasing the price of a good also increases demand for it. This may happen when consumers interpret a higher price as signaling higher quality or because purchasing an expensive good provides an opportunity for conspicuous consumption – wasteful expenditure as a display of status. Moreover, the law of demand is a weak law; it merely specifies an inverse relationship between price and demand. Unlike the more precise laws of natural science, it does not specify the magnitude of the expected change.
The difficulties in unraveling the nuances and explaining the refinements of the concept of postmodernism have led to numerous attempts to illuminate the term. Ranging between approving and fiercely skeptical tones, such introductory books are nevertheless useful springboards for diving into more detailed investigations. Appignanesi and Garratt 1995 is part of a longstanding series that seeks to offer cultural explanations through the medium of the cartoon and is very accessible for that reason. Silverman 1990 and Tester 1993 offer sets of essays on the impact that postmodernism has had on a variety of disciplines. Although most of the overviews are introductory by nature, Taylor and Winquist 1998 seeks to provide a thorough coverage of the different fields influenced by postmodernism, stretching to four volumes of extracts, manifestos, and key essays. Generally, these books are best read in conjunction with others, and Taylor and Winquist 2001 is a very helpful short-entry companion that can act as a supplementary aide to most overviews on the subject. One major source of research discussion that has rapidly become the standard journal for the cultural concept is Postmodern Culture , whose very digital medium facilitates debates about the innovative formal and experimental styles of postmodern literature and culture. Madsen 1995 and McCaffery 1986 between them provide excellent specialist bibliographical sources to support the bibliographies found in most reference books and general introductions.