Date of Award

Spring 1991

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Bud B Khleif


This work seeks to provide a description of the theoretical positions and cultural expressions of postmodernism and to provide a sociological critique of its conclusions. The work uses the writings of the Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Lacan, and Baudrillard, as well as arguments in neo-pop art and postmodern architecture, as representatives of the postmodern position on the issues of referentiality, subjectivity, and rationality. Postmodernism is treated as a skeptical theoretical and cultural system which levels all ideational distinctions between belief and knowledge and truth and rhetoric. This work argues that a social or constructivist epistemology can provide a different way of approaching the issues of knowledge and truth, which avoids postmodernism's skeptical and nihilistic conclusions. Postmodernism is seen as making sociological arguments against traditional philosophical distinctions, but drawing idealistic conclusions about the end of all meaning. Using the Neo-Durkheimians orientation towards cognitive style and the constructivist position in the sociology of scientific knowledge as starting points, it is argued that while pure philosophical distinctions between true and false and knowledge and belief cannot be made, these distinctions remain strong and powerful social distinctions. These distinctions serve to foster group cohesion and identity. Finally, this work examines how postmodernism can be seen as the outcome of the social organization of specific culture-producing and culture-consuming groups in contemporary society.