Shifting Definitions of Power From Modern to Postmodern Thought Term Paper

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Sociology

The Shifting Definitions of Power from Modern to Postmodern Thought

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There are certain things that we all know, but cannot describe: Love is one of these things, as is Power. Power, like Love, exercises a mysterious control over all human relationships, over all human endeavors. Every individual occupies a specific place relative to all other individuals. One is either equal to another, above another, or below another. These relations change with time. An interpersonal condition might be long-standing, or it might shift with every moment. We go up, and we go down. Power is ever in flux, and yet, the rules that govern its application appear so strangely inexorable. It is as if we are all subject to the same mysterious force, one that guides us, and prods, but which exists outside us all - a motive and emotive entity that cries out to make itself known. Many of the greatest minds in our human drama have attempted to lay hold of this ineffable energy, and to categorize it, and describe it. They have tried to know its rules, and to understand its function and operation. The triumph of science that began with the Modern Age appeared to promise the reduction of all things to sound and provable principals. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, and others, suggested that power was quantifiable. All one needed to do was to uncover its secrets, and like a treasure hunter following a map, one would eventual reach the ultimate goal. The great sociologist, Max Weber, continued along these same lines of inquiry. His researches implied that human society was as scientific as any other aspect of the natural world - the Modern liked to think that human beings had, within their grasp, the totality of all knowledge. Having broken free from the old religious constraints, we could at last aspire to omniscience.

Term Paper on Shifting Definitions of Power From Modern to Postmodern Thought Assignment

But as with all ages, the Modern one would prove to have, not only a beginning... But also an end. Michel Foucault would lead us back almost to where we began, setting men and women once again at the foot of the unreachable Tree of Knowledge. Eden, like all other Earthly paradises is always known, but never reached. What one age knows for certain, the next age certainly doubts. Does the definition of Power belong to the Modernists, or to the Postmodernists? And can we ever know?

Any attempt at classifying the definition of Power as Modern, or Postmodern, must necessarily begin with a definition of the two terms. Certainly, if there is a true definition of "Power" then there must also be clear statements of what it means to be Modern or Postmodern. You cannot compare anything without some way of making the comparison. There must be a standard. If Johnny is tall, then someone else must be short. If Bobby is shorter than Johnny does that mean he is short, or just not as tall Johnny? Of course, the whole thing would be a lot easier if we just had a definition for the word "tall." Max Weber realized that Power too, was based upon assumptions of relativity. According to Weber, one's relative power was directly related to one's relative prestige:

The appropriate definition of occupational prestige is analytically parallel to Weber's definition of power. In this view, the relative prestige of two occupations may be defined as the expectation that a member of one will give (or receive) deference from a member of the other. (Grusky 1994, 227)

If you receive deference, you are more powerful than the individual who gives you that deference. It all sounds so simple and straightforward. Max Weber's definition of power as a matter of relative prestige is the Modernist Definition of Power... right? Yes, "right" if the author of this composition is solely responsible for defining a Modernist definition of anything vs. A Postmodernist definition of the same thing. Obviously, the problem is not to so clear cut, nor so easily resolved. The terms "Modern" and "Postmodern" are as much relative distinctions as those found to exist between the words "short" and "tall." At bare minimum, a working definition of the terms "modern," and "Postmodern" would probably hinge on the most common, generally, and widely accepted meanings of the two terms - but not necessarily.

However, much as Rene Descartes proclaimed, "I think therefore I am," we too shall attempt a specific definition of our two terms of comparison. For the purposes of this essay, Modern and Postmodern shall refer to two distinct periods of time, and the most usual definition of Power that existed during each of these periods. Modern will be defined as the period of Max Weber, and Postmodern as the period of Foucault... Or something like that. For these two terms can be further refined into taking Modern to mean any idea of power that is like Weber's, and any Postmodern as any idea that more closely resembles Michel Foucault's. Refined by Nietzsche, Power is not mere prestige, rather it is domination.

Foucault expanded on Nietzsche's idea, and determined that, "ideas themselves as the primary means by which such relationships are constituted."

1990, 6) in a broader sense, the modern Era can be taken to mean the collection of ideas, and systems of thought current during the "old" industrial age. Specifically, this was the period during which heavy industry was concentrated in what is now the "First World" or technologically advanced countries of Australia, Western Europe, Canada, and the United States. Whereas the Postmodern Age can be said to correspond to the post-industrial, or Information Age economies and lifestyles of those same places today... that is, in the period following the Modern Era. The Postmodern Era began in the Late Twentieth Century, and continues at the present day. As we begin an analysis of the two ideas - Modern and Postmodern - it is interesting to note, as well, that a reluctance to fix the definition of either period is, in and of itself, a Postmodern tendency. The Postmodern emphasis on idea over content renders any hard and fast definition problematic.

For Weber, modernity was a particular set of ideas, and modes of thought that could, like any other collection of facts, possess a history; an evolution. Armed with such views in regard to modernity, Weber could trace the concept's origins back even into Biblical Times. Weber's studies of Old Testament Prophecy permitted him to formulate a kind of "prehistory" of the modern world. (Turner 1993, 34) Though not of themselves modern, the concepts embraced by the Judeo-Christian Bible clearly prefigured Weber's own world. Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution and its refrain of the Survival of the Fittest, appeared to many Nineteenth, and early Twentieth, Century scholars to indicate that those ideas which were current today were current because they were - under the circumstances - the best possible ideas. And being the best possible ideas, they had naturally won out over their less successful competitors. In his earlier work, Max Weber associated nations with specific physical characteristics. These "national traits" informed the "national character" of the people. (Norkus 2004) in Darwinian terms, the physical characteristics of today evolved from pre-existing physical characteristics. And if a people's character were closely linked to that people's physical appearance - as Weber believed early on - then it made sense to conclude that national character was, as well, subject to the natural processes of evolution. That which was selected for success in the modern industrial world of the nation-state, was nevertheless, selected from among previously existing ideas and qualities - and as the world of the Bible was directly ancestral to his own Nineteenth Century World - the systems and patterns of today had clearly evolved from their Biblical antecedents.

The Modern World was a world of triumphant rationalism. Weber's very discipline placed supreme faith in the notion that all existence could be reduced to theory and experiment. This was not to say that the sublime or Divine did not exist - rather it was an affirmation that even the apparently superhuman and supernatural operated according to the same general principles as the more easily knowable natural world. "Weber's typology of rationality subsumes five important aspects of rationality which include (1) inductive inference, (2) causal attribution, (3) symbolic abstraction, (4) systematization of belief, and (5) rules of conduct." (Tilman 2004) Vary the information that is put into any of these steps, and one will produce another variant of cultural and social development. It is all very much like the machines that had become so common in Weber's Modern Age. Each part of the machine performs a very specific function, but it is possible to re-combine these parts in different ways to produce other machines that perform quite different functions - though not all of them may perform as satisfactorily. Such views depend on a belief in the un-changeability of the individual components. A piston, for example, possesses a description and list of specifications that is peculiar to itself. One might… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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