Explainer: Postmodernism

Is it more than "truth is relative"?

Note: "Explainer" is our newest addition to the series of features on Off the Agenda. Here editor Drew Dyck will tackle current ideas, movements, or whatever else people are talking about. He doesn't claim to be the definitive expert on anything (yet), but just hopes to shed a little light.

Postmodernism: it's a word you hear a lot these days. But ask what it means and you'll likely get a blank stare–or a different definition each time you ask.

There's good reason for the ambiguity. Postmodernism is not easy to define. And just when you think you have it pinned it changes shape, taking on different meanings in various fields such as art, architecture, and philosophy. Yet, as a worldview, postmodernism does have several identifiable characteristics.

The most succinct definition probably comes from the French philosopher Jean Lyotard, who famously defined postmodernism as "incredulity toward meta-narratives." What does that mean? Basically that those big stories–the kind of overarching narratives ...

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