Do we live in a network society?

The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge published in 1984 by Jean Francois Lyotard  is rumored to be the so-called “Self help book” that helps the audience to understand the arena of post-modernity. In his book, Jean Francois Lyotard discusses about the idea of knowledge and argues that knowledge is developed through the applications of science and technology. He is considered to be a narrative philosopher who explains things from his experiences and defines post-modernity as incredulity, disbelief about a fact moving towards meta-narratives, which is a story about story or “behind closed doors” explained from many perspectives. He believes that western societies are dominated by science and technology particularly cybernetics, where information is translated into pieces of data which is shared and easily accessible by us. In section 1 entitled: The Field: Knowledge in Computerised Society, he argues that people take advantage of technology to ameliorate their degree of knowledge which consist of listening to information through media and communication outlets, such as newspapers, televisions, radio etc. The purpose in which, he (Lyotard) could explain that technology creates a form of social cohesion via social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Lyotard compares the principle of money to the notion of knowledge as in exchanging degrees of knowledge among subcultures and social classes through agreements and negotiations (Lyotard 1984: 6).

However, in chapter 2: legitimization, Lyotard applies the metaphor “terror” to argue that human beings are easily manipulated by the media influences of consumerism and materialism, and are unconsciously coerced into obeying the rules held by authority. This applies to the rules within transport facilities, where people are obliged to pay transport fees otherwise, they would face the consequences of paying a fine or even face prosecution. In section 3, Lyotard moves on to discuss the method, the language game, which he views social system or social mobility as a game of chess which illustrates that people need to gain knowledge in order to survive the social system or progress from one social hierarchy to another. He argues that people are obliged to assimilate into learning the language and customs of its new culture with the expectation to adapt to their new environment such as the workplace and especially in academic fields, military and religious groups. This reflects the idiom of: “When in Rome, do what the Romans do”. In other words, Lyotard simply discusses about survival of the fittest where those survive and play the game well, receive rewards and mentions a single rule can change the whole game. However, some thinkers argue that people develop their own strategies to help them play the game successfully, or have a creative imaginative eye of looking at the game.

In sections 4 and 5, Lyotard highlights the debate between modernity and post-modernity in the nature of the social bond. In section 4, it reveals that Lyotard has a functionalist lens on modernity which was backed up by Talcott Parsons, another functionalist who argues that society is a self – regulated system. In clarity, people are drifting from a mechanical society where people share the same values, beliefs and norms to an organic society, where members are becoming independent (1967 cited in Lyotard 1984: 11). Lyotard also recommends that ethnography is essential to investigate and observe the behaviour and actions created by individuals in social settings to vindicate whether society is self – regulated. Lyotard argues that our position in life and identities are shaped by race, social class and gender along with a certain degree of materialism, meaning our styles in fashion. In sections 6 and 7, Lyotard talks about pragmatics in narrative and scientific formats. Lyotard argues that science comes in two versions, first is  a subject is determined by an individual’s experience, such as near death experiences or adverse effects and second, a science that consists of a topic provided with a hypothesis and research is conducted in order to vindicate its hypothesis. It can be suggested that knowledge contributes to form a social cycle and we are dominated by the knowledge held by members of the ruling class and authority.

In the scientific form, Lyotard argues that scientific knowledge is considered to be hegemonic and dominates other forms of knowledge, as science is based on evidence to prove that whether a certain assumption is true or false. He also highlights that scientists could criticise narratives for developing mentalities among human beings which consists of stereotypes, thus creates prejudice and discrimination (Lyotard 1984: 27). His quote: “A person does not have to know how to be what knowledge say he is” defines that our personalities or actions does not have to be dictated by the stereotypes of our social characteristics. This quote applies to the topic, aesthetics where an old fashion wisdom which addresses  low self-esteem: “It does not matter on what you are on the outside, but it’s the inside that counts” or “beauty is only skin deep rather than outer perfection”.

In sections 8, The narrative of function and the legitimation of knowledge, Lyotard argues that legitimation is itself an issue rather than the language game of science where rules are constantly changing and people have difficulties of obeying the rules. For example, it can be argued this chapter reveals debates on how we should behave or develop a  personality which suitable to the new rules. It can be suggested that those are in power can define what is normal or abnormal, in regards of values, personality traits and our ways of looking at social changes. Doland and Maschler (1969 cited in Lyotard 1984: 30) argued that legitimation is considered as a contract among the legislators and social progress is seen as the outcome of the rich and those are in the position of authority that created these so-called “social norms”.

In chapter 9, The narratives of the legitimation of knowledge, Lyotard argues that everyone has the right to have access to science and knowledge regardless of race, gender, religion, social class etc. It can be suggested that the last sentence gives some readers the impression that he (Lyotard) has liberal views and believes in equality. He argues that laws serve the interest of the rich and powerful and the legitimators such as the government and citizens are passive and have no choice but to follow the rules which are set by the state. In the section 10, Delegitimation, Lyotard argues that narrative knowledge has been rejected and the launch of technology was seen as the aftermath of the Second World War which motivated academic writers to concentrate on the means rather than actions caused by human individuals and the state. He also argues that issues within the private sphere were ignored, particularly within the home, such as child abuse and domestic violence and themes of workplace bullying and institutional racism and sexism.

In the section 11, Education and its legitimation through performativity, Lyotard argues that higher education is seen as the best ingredient to improve social progress and perfomativity of the social hierarchy as higher education provides individuals the tools to meet the criteria held in society and the ability to preserve social bonds. He also discusses that technology and media communications such as the internet, email facilities are replacing traditional teaching systems and data banks as they are considered as the “encyclopedia of tomorrow”. However, he argues that if education provides the reproduction of skills among social progress, then it follows into the transmission of knowledge. Marxist writers can argue that education can cause inequalities among social classes as those from upper class backgrounds can enter higher education whereas their low – class counterparts cannot.

In chapter 12, Postmodern science as the search for instabilities, Lyotard notes that theories emphasises the creation of new moves and new rules for the language game. For example, scientific knowledge is now looking for answers and the hypothesis are now dominated by actions and means of the individual and in society. He highlights Brillouin’s argument in which he concludes that there is conflict between the addressee and sender and people begin to rebel against society’s expectations (Lyotard 1984: 55). Lyotard mentions that some social systems have boundaries including social norms that modify which behaviour is considered normal or deviant (Lyotard 1984: 59).  In the final chapter, Legitimation by Paralogy, Lyotard analyses two of Luhmann’s argument on systems theory: The first one illustrates that the system can only function by reducing complexity. For clarity, individuals will be able to function in society if certain barriers which prevent them from achieving the shared cultured goal such as the American Dream or their personal goals are removed. In obvious sense,the removal of discrimination on race, social class, gender, sexual orientation and poverty through charity organisations and anti – discriminatory policies.

The second argument displays that the system should be adjusted to meet the aspirations of the players’ personal expectations rather than the aspirations that supported by the expectations held by the ruling class and those held in mainstream society (Luhmann 1969 cited in Lyotard 1984: 61). Lyotard also argues that performativity criterion has its own advantages where stories are rejected and replaced by definitions of real meaning and players of the game should take responsibility for the statements they propose and more importantly,  the rules of those statements (Lyotard 1984: 62). He also highlights what Luhmann describes terrorist behaviour in the social system and in the language game. He argues that anyone who has a high level of knowledge may be considered as a threat to the other players of the game and as a result, insecurities will rise among the players which converts into jealously as the motivate take certain measures to degrade or  eliminate that player out of game mainly through bullying (Lyotard 1984: 63 – 4).

Some writers feel that Jean Francois Lyotard’s book is considered to be a stepping stone in shifting from modernity to postmodernity, or a “self-help” guide for the audience to understand postmodernism. However, he (Lyotard) has been subject to many controversial debates both negative and positive. Alex Callinicos criticised Lyotard’s definition of postmodern for lacking in clarification which causes conflict among many writers. He (Callinicos) also argues that Lyotard’s book the postmodern condition rejects the objectivity of socialist revolutions (Callinicos 1989: 3). He also illustrated that Lyotard’s discussion of metanarratives which is an individual form of knowledge in pre-modern societies, such as folk tales which Lyotard argues that they consist of experiences which are characterised by self – legitimation, meaning that narrators can make their own rules of the game (Callinicos 1989: 93).

Zygmunt Bauman however argues that Lyotard describes postmodernism in the notion of hegemony which is argued that science tend to dominate all forms of knowledge and rules in the language game (Bauman 1992: 35). He (Bauman) also discussed that Lyotard also presented that hegemony is starting to erode in its power, is beginning to effect the disintegration of science (Bauman 1992: 35). He (Bauman) also mentions that language games are the outcomes of the separation of the communicative field from the structure of economics and politics and additionally, the breakdown of hierarchical functions within the social system. Language games are also burdened by other means not only legitimation, which of course is the main issue but the act of terror where rules are easily broken because people are rebelling against the traditional rules which conformed by the social norm by setting their own form of rules (Bauman 1992: 38).

Foucault on the other hand, from his book Discipline and Punish (Valier 2003: 152) highlighted that knowledge and power are related and cannot be separated as these two notions are viewed in which Lyotard could explain as the best form of teamwork to resist the two infections of “fear” and “terror”, and aid social progress and self change which can be applied to weight loss by arguing there is no diet without exercise and there is no exercise without diet, highlighting the antidote of self-discipline. Valier (2003: 152 – 3) on the other hand, argues that knowledge and power are exploited for other means such as punishment particularly corporal and capital which is supported by the journal entitled: Power without Knowledge: Foucault and Fordism.c1900 – 50, is an example on the exploitation of knowlegde and power for other means and uses Lyotards explanation of the metaphor “terror” is used on the assembly line of the Ford Motor Factory. It was revealed that since the early 1920s the Ford foreman had to adapt to the language learnt in that environment by displaying an aggressive and harsh attitude towards his workers in order to enhance the performance in the production line.

Williams, Haslam and Williams (1993 cited in Coopey and McKinlay 2010: 112) and Cruden (1926 cited in Coopey and McKinlay 2010: 112) argued that the workers were subjected to verbal abuse, incremented by the use of coercion, physical threats and intimidation. Foucault defines this term of auto labour as dressage where the workers were seen as slaves to the foremen, who uses gestures and fear to intimidate the workers with the intention to aid progression in the modes of production (Foucault 1997 cited in Coopey and McKinlay 2010: 112). This example of the brutal treatment of the assembly workers illustrates that power and knowledge are exploited for the company’s own purpose additionally, reveals the issue of hegemony, in terms of the foreman have full authority over the assembly workers.

Paul Terry illustrates that  Jurgen Habermas explores the notion of knowledge in three fields, analytical, hermeneutic and critical in opposition to the Kantian spheres of science, aesthetics and morality (Terry 1997: 270). He (Terry) also argue that these models Habermas highlighted relates to human interests in a unique way, for example, observation can be more effective through the applications of science and technology which lies beneath analytical knowledge and historical and cultural interests are concentrated on hermeneutically – derived knowledge. He also argues that those three concepts of knowledge can be applied in natural sciences or mathematics beneath the analytical – empirical sphere and hermeneutics can be related to humanities and critical knowledge can be applied in the interests of emancipation from authority (Habermas 1971 cited in Terry 1997: 271). He argues that Habermas sees the duplication of the social realm as a struggle between economics, administration and bureaucracy and sees that language game can be seen as a tool to achieve the means of attaining a balanced and reasonable agreement, seeing neutrality as the key to aid conflicts (Terry 1997: 273). He also mentions that Habermas views modernity as a democratic society and as an unfinished project. Nevertheless, he (Habermas) sees postmodernity being obsessed with power and legitimacy. Habermas’s work has been later criticised for being over – theoretical in the mention applications and believes practical is needed to vindicate these assumptions. (Terry 1997: 274).

Education was considered in many perspectives as a key to improve social reproduction and to maintain cultural perspectives. Offe (1984 cited in Terry 2010: 275) argues that higher education is inevitable in increasing our degree of knowledge and levels of empathizing power in political and economic views. Terry, on the other hand suggests that educators must adapt to inevitable changes in culture (Terry 2010: 275). Anthony Giddens who is renowned for this major theories systems of ideas – the structural theory which was initiated in 1984, which concentrates on social customs that revolves around space and time, and is essential for social systems and social acts performed by human beings and the late modernity theory which concentrate on the conditions of social world that constantly changes and argues from a postmodern view, that modernity is abolished by social and cultural order (Faulkheimer 2007: 288 – 9). It is suggested that  Lyotard’s method, the language game can be used to adapt to the new form of social and cultural orders. Faulkheimer (2007: 289) believes that scientific reason causes the risk society. It can be suggested that risk minimization in criminal justice systems stems from that assumption. He (Giddens) highlighted that risk diverse in two ways: external risk which associates with nature causes such as floods and earthquakes and the second risk associates with manufactured risks in terms of global warming, risks which associate with our everyday lives, such as transportation and communication technology (Giddens 2002 cited in Faulkheimer 2007: 289).

Barbara Ann Strassberg argues from her journal Religion and Science: The Embodiment of the Conversation: A Postmodern Sociological Perspective, that knowledge comes in two ways.  Faith, which does not need to be vindicated by scientific investigation through experimentation and belief needs to be backed up by scientific proof (2001:525). This statement can be criticised for ignoring that faith and science are connected and cannot be separated, which can reflect Foucault’s link of Power and Knowledge by arguing that “there is not faith without science and there is no faith without science”. Max Weber and other Weberian writers argues that religion highlights the notion of Karma where Lyotard explains this in the first chapter where we donate our levels of knowledge to those who are unfortunate or exchange for new and revised levels of knowledge. Karma has been applied in moral guidelines where for example, if we treat strangers or  fellow neighbours good or bad, we will be given the same action in return.

However, the theme on religion can be exploited through the example mentioned in Power without Knowledge: Foucault and Fordism, which can be used to explain that religious leaders could exploit religion for their own interests, manifested from carrying out fraud and deception to subjecting people to psychological manipulation and abuse particularly, child abuse which manifests in religious cults, religious subcultures and religious organizations. Marxist thinkers can criticise that religion symbolises dominance of the ruling class over the lower class. Some writers could argue that religion symbolises “perfectionism”  or “perfectionist behaviour” through injecting the fear of God into our minds that he will punish us if we are engage in sinful acts and violate the biblical rules from the bible.

The quote Lyotard mentions about personalities and behaviour among individuals does not have to be determined by what knowledge and stereotypes say about them is similar to the subject of psychology where, psychodynamic theorist like Sigmund Freud could argue that past experiences determines our future actions and behaviour whereas in opposition, humanistic psychologists such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers argue that human beings have free will to have control of their behaviour and taking responsibility for their happiness and what they want to achieve in life by displaying a hierarchy of needs triangle. They could also argue our identities can be determined by social influences especially, within our social and cultural surroundings. In opposition, in the subject of criminology, classical thinkers like Ceasre Beccaria and Jeremy Betham may argue that individuals engage in criminality out of free will rather than external negative influences in which positivists criminologist like Andre Guerry and Adolphe Quetelet may argue along with the Chicago Scholars, Strain Theorists and Labelling Theorists.

The graph from the home office downloaded from the  home office  website( illustrates the over-representation of black offenders . These were drawn upon the narratives of stereotypes which can be agreed with Lyotard who explains this in chapter 6. Black young men people are stereotyped as deviant, aggressive and  ‘trouble makers’ or academic “underachievers” by educational institutions. About the relationship of race and postmodernity, Brett St Louis applies the concept of  Foucault’s theme of power/knowledge onto the notions about race where he highlights that Stuart Hall suggests a new emergence of a new ethnicity where black people are oppressed by the knowledge and negative stereotypical perceptions held by the minds of the hegemonic white society (1992 cited in St Louis 2009: 656). He (St Louis) also argues ethnicity is manufactured socially where race was considered to be biological (2009: 659) which can be agreed with Alain Locke who argues that the biological meaning of race has been ended and the sociological meaning of race is starting to expand (1992 cited in St Louis 2009: 665) in areas of culture and socio economical backgrounds.

This essay provides many definitions of postmodernism from different writers and is criticized for neglecting concerns that centres on the topic of technology. However, from the works discussed by renowned writers and examples used, this article vindicates with Jean Francois Lyotard’s hypothesis that we do live in a network society where information is decoded into data and delivered by various formats, such as communications, technology and the media.  We live in a world that is constantly changing and highlights the importance of the language game as it the vital tool that help us to adapt to changes made in society and it is applied in many areas of the social world from technology, science to race, class and gender.

Bauman, Z (1992) Intimations of Postmodernity, London, Routledge

Brillouin, L. (1949). Life, thermodynamics, and cybernetics. American Scientist, 37

Callinicos, A (1989) Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Coopey, R and McKinlay, A (2010) Power without Knowledge: Foucault and Fordism, c.1900 – 50, Labor History, Vol 51, No1 107 – 125

Cruden, R (1926) ‘No Loitering – Get Out Production’, The Nation, 12 June 1926, 697

Doland, E and Maschler, C (1969) To Save the Phenomena: An Essay in the Idea of Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Faulkheimer, J (2007) Anthony Giddens and public relations: A third way perspective, Public Relations Review, 33, 287 – 293

Foucault, M (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Giddens, A (2002) Runaway world: How globalisation is reshaping our lives. London: Profile

Habermas, J (1971) Knowledge and Human Interests, trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro London: Heinemann

Hall, S (1992) ‘New Ethnicities’, in James Donald & Ali Rattansi (eds) ‘Race’, Culture and Difference, London, Sage pp252 – 9.

Luhmann, N (1969) Legitimation durch Verfahren, Neuwid/Berlin Lutcherhand trans

Lyotard, J.F (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Manchester, Manchester University Press.

Offe, C (1984) Contradictions of the Welfare State, London: Hutchinson.

Parson, T (1967) The Social System, Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press.

St Louis, B (2009) Post – race/post – politics? Activists – intellectualism and the reification of race’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 25: 4, 652 – 675

Strassber, B.A (2001) Religion and Science: The Embodiment of the Conversation: A Postmodern Sociological Perspective, Zygon, vol 36, no. 3 September 2001

Terry, P.R (1997) Habermas and Education: Knowledge, communication, discourse, Curriculum Studies, Vol. 5, No, 1997

Valier, C (2003) Theories of Crime and Punishment, Harlow, Pearson Longman, Ch8 (accessed 17th January 2011).


Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Writings, Articles, Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s