The flip-side of a negative and nihilistic postmodern politics is an affirmative postmodern politics. Such positive postmodern positions range from an apolitical New Age life-style postmodernism to a self-conscious oppositional postmodernism, a postmodernism of resistance.
New Age spirituality is a kind of pop postmodernism that envisions a "new age" of spirituality that overcomes the excesses of capitalist materialism and consumerism in favor of God, the soul, and the body, while blending together numerous philosophies and traditions in a potpourri marketable to all tastes. Another form of affirmative postmodern politics also rejects traditional modern politics and attempts at large-scale social transformation in favor of piecemeal reforms and local strategies.
This is the position of Foucault, Lyotard, and Rorty, all of whom reject a global politics of systemic change in favor of modifications at the local level designed to enhance individual freedom and progressive change. Foucault and Lyotard reject utopian thought and the category of "totality" as terroristic, while searching for new "styles" of life "as different as possible from each other" Foucault and a proliferation of "language games" in "agonistic" opposition to one another Lyotard.
This form of postmodern politics, consequently, is but a refurbished liberal reformism that fails to break with the logic of bourgeois individualism and undermines attempts to construct bold visions of a new reality to be shaped by a more radical and ambitious politics of alliance and solidarity. Reconstructive postmodernism attempts to combine modern and postmodern politics. More extreme negative and affirmative postmodern approaches involve a decisive break and rejection of modern politics, calling for a radical discontinuity and dramatically different politics.
This ranges from negative and cynical postmodernism that rejects all politics and action for a stance of negativism, defeatism, and nihilism, to New Age emphasis on lifestyle and the transformation of subjectivity, to a postmodern politics rooted in the struggles of new social movements and developments in postmodern theory. Such a form of reconstructive postmodern politics, however, advanced by Laclau and Mouffe, among others, stakes out a position between the modern and postmodern, in order to use postmodern critiques of essentialism, reductionism, and foundationalism to reconstruct Enlightenment values and socialist politics through a logic of contingency and plurality.
Finally, there is another mode of affirmative postmodern politics, perhaps the dominant form of politics today, known as "identity politics" that often has emancipatory aspirations but which usually falls short of advancing systemic change and new forms of radical struggle. Sometimes identification is concrete, based on participatory involvement in specific groups, while sometimes it is more imaginary and abstract in nature, as one identifies, for example, with the black, gay and lesbian, or with whatever community from which one gains their identity and sense of self and belonging.
Identity politics has its origins in the new social movements of the s and s and, ultimately, the struggles of the s. In the s, however, the "movement" fragmented into the "new social movements" which included feminist, black liberation, gay and lesbian, and peace and environmental groups, each fighting for their own interests e. By the s and s, as the Balkanization process continued, the new social movements had become transformed into "identity politics," the very name suggesting a turn away from general social, political, and economic issues toward concerns with culture and subjectivity.
Identity politics bears the influence of postmodern theory, which is evident in the critique of modern reductionism, abstract universalism, and essentialism, as well as a use of multiperspectival strategies that legitimate multiple political voices.
Foucault's genealogical politics, for example, is explicitly designed to liberate suppressed voices and struggles in history from the dominant narratives that reduce them to silence. In identity politics, individuals define themselves primarily as belonging to a given group, marked as "oppressed" and therefore as outside the dominant white male, heterosexual, capitalist culture.
These identities revolve around a "subject position," a key identity marker defined by one's gender, race, class, sexual preference, and so on, through which an individual is made subordinate to the dominant culture. Although class is certainly a major form of identity, identity politics typically is defined in opposition to class politics. But while postmodern theory usually attacks essentialism, there is a form of essentialism in many modes of identity politics which privilege gender, race, sexual preference, or some other marker as the constituent of identity. Moreover, through fetishizing a single all-defining personal identity woman, black, chicano, gay, etc.
In other words, some versions of identity politics fetishize given constituents of identity, as if one of our multiple identity markers were our deep and true self, around which all of our life and politics revolve. In some forms, identity politics dovetails with liberal interest group politics that seeks to advance the interests of a specific group, typically in opposition not only to the dominant groups, but also to other marginalized and oppressed groups. Thus, in contrast to the universal and collective emphases of modern politics, a postmodern identity politics tends to be insular and something of a special interest group, perhaps itself a postmodern phenomenon.
Hence, whereas modern politics focused on universal goals like gaining civil liberties, reducing inequalities, or transforming structures and institutions of domination, postmodern identity politics singles out the specific interests of a group and constructs identities through identification with the group and its struggles. Of course, critics of modern politics have indicated from the beginning that the universal claims of modern theorists and politicians were cloaks for advancing the particular interests of ruling groups, mainly white male property owners.
The cardinal rights advanced by the bourgeois revolutions in the United States, France, and elsewhere were those of property rights which granted supreme economic and political power to white male capitalists in flagrant contradiction to their democratic rhetoric. Yet the new universal ideology of modern politics unleashed a power that the ruling classes could not restrain; it inspired and legitimated the struggles of the very groups it was used to suppress, including those advocating identity politics today, who denounce universal appeals as inherently ideological and oppressive.
Yet classical Marxism also advanced a reductionist and essentialist view of politics that is repudiated by postmodern politics.
Marx theorized labor as a "universal class" which by emancipating itself will emancipate all other oppressed groups. On Marx's scheme, subjectivity is constituted as a class identity and all social antagonisms devolve around production as the essence of the social. Later Marxists continued with this policy, subsuming other key social issues to the "woman question," "race question," "national question," and so on, failing to see how race, gender, nationality, and other forms of identity were crucial and often more directly relevant for many different groups of people, just as nationalism proved a far more powerful identity than did international workers' solidarity for various European workers during the first World War.
Yet Marxist politics was not effectively displaced as the dominant radical political discourse and movement until the s, with the explosion of new struggles and identities that fundamentally contested advanced capitalist society. The break from the essentialist and reductionist logic informing certain Marxist conceptions of class struggle has had liberating effects in the political field.
It allowed for new conceptions of micropolitics, pluralist democracy, and a politicization of the multiple ways in which the subject is constituted across numerous institutional sites and in everyday life. Yet there are also problematic elements in extreme postmodern rejections of some classical positions within modern politics. Contributions and Limitations of Postmodern Politics. One of the key insights of the postmodern turn, theorized by Foucault, was that power is everywhere, not only in the factories, but in the schools, prisons, hospitals, and all other institutions.
This insight is both depressing, since it acknowledges that power saturates all social spaces and relations, and exhilarating, because it allows for and demands new forms of struggle. Hence, multiple forms of resistance open up along every line of identity that is controlled or normalized. The movements of the period challenged capitalism, state power and bureaucracy, the repressive organization of everyday life in the midst of consumer society, along with various modes of ideologically constituted identities.
Postmodern politics, following capital and state intervention processes themselves, represents a politicization of all spheres of social and personal existence, which were previously ignored or rejected by modern and Marxist approaches as proper political spaces.
With postmodern politics, every sphere of social life becomes subject to questioning and contestation, and the sites of struggle multiply. With the pluralistic approach, power is more vulnerable to attack and hence Foucault emphasized the contingency and frailty of power relations. Where a Leninist would argue that pluralized struggle only dissipates the centralized forces needed to combat capital and the state, a politically radical postmodernist would respond that the new struggles attack the weak links of the system and spread resistance everywhere, thereby allowing for the general attack that Leninists rightly think is necessary for overthrowing capitalism.
Hence, the s brought a shift from a macropolitics that focused on changing the structure of the economy and state to a micropolitics that aims to overturn power and hierarchy in specific institutions, and to liberate emotional, libidinal, and creative energies repressed by the reality principle of bourgeois society.
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An important aspect of micropolitics, as evident in the work of Lyotard, Foucault, and Deleuze and Guattari, is a politics of subjectivity which theorizes the conditions under which the modern subject has emerged as both an effect of power, what Foucault calls the "subjectification" of individuals. This entails primarily a struggle against the "microfascism" latent in everyone, to be combatted by breaking out of, in the terms of Deleuze and Guattari, the "molar" pole of desire such as informs all normalized subjectivities and finding the "molecular" lines of escape. For Foucault, the politics of subjectivity involves a "politics as ethics" which creates new subjects on the Greek model of an "aesthetics of existence.
Postmodern models of politics attempt to redefine the "political" based on changes in society, technology, economics, and everyday life. A postmodern cultural politics , building on the insights of Gramsci, the surrealists, Lefebvre, and the situationists, thematizes culture as a crucial terrain of power and struggle. To the extent that social reproduction is now largely achieved at the levels of culture and everyday life, where the individual is a target of total administration, questions of subjectivity, ideology, culture, aesthetics, and utopian thought take on a new importance.
The instrumentalist, pragmatic, or rationalist conception of political struggle, which attempts to shape "political consciousness," class or otherwise, and mobilize political insight into a political movement that transcends questions of culture, is insufficient because it begs the question of how a political movement will be possible in the first place, given the degree of subjective identification with dominant modes of thought and behavior throughout society.
As thinkers like Reich and Adorno saw, fascism has roots not only in the crisis of monopoly capital, but also in the repression of the instinctual structure and the emergence of an "authoritarian personality. Thus, if people live immersed in a culture colonized by capitalism, a culture of spectacles that binds affect and mobilizes pleasures to its sights, sound, and experiences, then the struggle for culture, subjectivity, and identity is no longer secondary to the struggle for society, and both cultural and identity politics are crucial for breaking from the dominant ideologies and creating new forms of life and consciousness.
Given the need to produce new subjectivities, political education, rational persuasion, and moral appeals remain of the greatest importance, but they can be very weak opponents of the seductive pleasures of MTV, blockbuster films, the Internet, fashion and advertising, and commodity consumption of all kinds.
It is culture that molds the sensibilities and thus a radical cultural politics attempts to undo the enculturation of the dominant culture by providing new ways of seeing, feeling, thinking, talking, and being. Progressives today must not simply fall back on the old valorization of critical realism and its narrow cognitive models, as valuable as didactic and pedagogical art might be.
What is ultimately needed are new affective structures and modes of experience which can act as catalysts and the condition of the possibility of broader social and political transformations. Here, the political function of critical art becomes, negatively, a defamiliarization from the dominant mode of experiencing reality, what Marcuse has termed an alienation from alienation.
Such has been the practice of Brecht's epic theater, Artaud's theater of cruelty, or Godard's anti-narrative films, all of which sought to question and displace the dominant mode of experiencing reality, rather than reproduce it through staid aesthetic conventions. Positively, a cultural politics has the task of "aesthetic education," the reshaping of human needs, desires, senses, and imagination through the construction of images, spectacles, and narratives that prefigure different ways of seeing and living.
Situationist art, for example, practiced both functions, the negative through its deconstruction of advertisements and other images detournement , and the positive through experiences with the "constructed situation," a practice earlier advanced by the surrealists in their various exercises and games such as "the exquisite corpse" designed to liberate creative forces. Paradoxically, today we find the atrophy of the senses in their hypertrophic extension throughout the sensorium of the spectacle and its images and commodity empires.
A new society will never be attainable until it is experienced as a need, as a desire for new modes of community, work, experience, social interaction, and relations to the natural world that could never be satisfied within capitalism and therefore cannot be coopted by economic reforms. As Bahro saw, capitalism generates needs and desires it ultimately cannot satisfy for freedom, justice, self-realization, and a good life, and a radical cultural politics will depict both how the current mode of social organization restricts, limits, and deforms desire, freedom, and justice, while projecting visions of how these aspirations could be realized.
Kafka, Beckett, German Expressionism, etc. The emphasis on local struggles and micropower, cultural politics which redefine the political, and attempts to develop political forms relevant to the problems and developments of the contemporary age is extremely valuable, but there are also key limitations to the dominant forms of postmodern politics. While an emphasis on micropolitics and local struggles can be a healthy substitute for excessively utopian and ambitious political projects, one should not lose sight that core sources of political power and oppression are precisely the big targets aimed at by modern theory, including capital, the state, imperialism, racism, and patriarchy.
Taking on such major targets involves coalitions and multifront struggle, often requiring a politics of alliance and solidarity that cuts across group identifications to mobilize sufficient power to struggle against, say, the evils of capitalism or the state. Thus, while today we need the expansion of localized cultural practices, they attain their real significance only within the struggle for the transformation of society as a whole.
Without this systemic emphasis, cultural and identity politics remain confined to the margins of society and are in danger of degenerating into narcissism, hedonism, aestheticism, or personal therapy, where they pose no danger and are immediately coopted by the culture industries. In such cases, the political is merely the personal , and the original intentions of the s goal to broaden the political field are inverted and perverted. Just as economic and political demands have their referent in subjectivity in everyday life, so these cultural and existential issues find their ultimate meaning in the demand for a new society and mode of production.
For a dialectical politics, however, positive vision of what could be is articulated in conjunction with critical analysis of what is in a multiperspectivist approach that focuses on the forces of domination as well as possibilities of emancipation.
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But it is also a mistake, we believe, to ground one's politics in either modern or postmodern theory alone. Against one-sided positions, we advocate a version of reconstructive postmodernism that we call a politics of alliance and solidarity that builds on both modern and postmodern traditions. Unlike Laclau and Mouffe who believe that postmodern theory basically provides a basis for a new politics, and who tend to reject the Enlightenment per se, we believe that the Enlightenment continues to provide resources for political struggle today and are skeptical whether postmodern theory alone can provide sufficient assets for an emancipatory new politics.
Yet the Enlightenment has its blindspots and dark sides such as its relentless pursuit of the domination of nature, and naive belief in "progress," so we believe that aspects of the postmodern critique of Enlightenment are valid and force us to rethink and reconstruct Enlightenment philosophy for the present age. And while we agree with Habermas that a reconstruction of the Enlightenment and modernity are in order, unlike Habermas we believe that postmodern theory has important contributions to make to this project. Various forms of postmodern politics have been liberatory in breaking away from the abstract and ideological universalism of the Enlightenment and the reductionist class politics of Marxism, but they tend to be insular and fragmenting, focusing solely on the experiences and political issues of a given group, even splintering further into distinct subgroups such as divide the feminist community.
Identity politics are often structured around simplistic binary oppositions such as Us vs. Them and Good vs. Bad that pit people against one another, making alliances, consensus, and compromise difficult or impossible. This has been the case, for example, with tendencies within radical feminism and ecofeminism which reproduce essentialism by stigmatizing men and "male rationality" while exalting women as the bearers of peaceful and loving value and as being "closer to nature. Similarly, the sexual politics of some gay and lesbian groups tend to exclusively focus on their own interests, while the mainstream environmental movement is notorious for resisting alliances with people of color and grass roots movements.
Even though each group needs to assert their identity as aggressively as possible, postmodern identity politics should avoid falling into seriality and sheer fragmentation. These struggles, though independent of one another, should be articulated within counterhegemonic alliances, and attack power formations on both the micro- and macro-levels. Not all universal appeals are ideological in the sense criticized by Marx; there are common grounds of experience, common concerns, and common forms of oppression that different groups share which should be articulated -- concerns such as the degradation of the environment and common forms of oppression that stem from capitalist exploitation and alienated labor.
The New Political Terrain. To overcome alienation and oppression, the implementation of radical democracy is proposed by a variety of tendencies within postmodern theory.
Baudrillard en Route to Postmodernity
In modern democratic theory, the notion of representative democracy superseded in liberal capitalist societies the stronger forms of participatory democracy advocated by the Greeks and modern theorists like Rousseau, Bakunin, and Marx. The postmodern political turn, then, involves a radicalization of the theme of participatory democracy which is advocated in a variety of fields and domains of social life. Within the mode of theory, the democratic turn involves a shift toward more multiperspectival theorizing that respects a variety of sometimes conflicting perspectives rather than, as in modern theory, seeking the one perspective of objective truth or absolute knowledge.
In opposition to discourses of the unity of absolute truth, postmodern micropolitics stresses difference, plurality, conflict, and respect for the other. Yet it would be a mistake to draw too sharp a distinction between the modern and postmodern paradigms and to vilify the modern as the site of all that is repressive and retrograde, and the postmodern as the mode of progressiveness and emancipation. The problem for those of us trying to theorize this great transformation, this rapid move into a new space, is to think together the modern and the postmodern, to see the interaction of both in the contemporary moment and to deploy the resources of both modern and postmodern theory to illuminate, analyze, and critique this space.
We thus eschew a totalizing and essentializing assault on postmodern theory and politics as inherently "regressive," "reactionary," or an "ideology of late-capitalism," and support an approach that overcomes a radical disjunction between modern and postmodern approaches to theory and politics.
Such a politics would overcome the one-sided and non-dialectical squabbles between advocates of modern and postmodern politics and would provide a more viable and inclusive politics for the future. Whereas there are obvious problems with a modern politics that attempts to develop a universal model for all times and all places irrespective of differences and specificities, there is still the need for a normative vision and political principles and norms that respect the rights and discourses of others, that support a politics of alliance and solidarity which seeks the common and public interests of individuals in a given society, and that aspires to a higher ground above the special interests of particular groups.
Thus, modern theories such as Marxism remain an crucial form of criticism today, providing indispensable categories to analyze and criticize exploitation, alienation, class struggle, and capitalist economic and cultural hegemony, none of which have disappeared in the postmodern world. Indeed, what we are witnessing today on a global level is the intensification and perfection of capitalist domination in the form of the mushrooming of transnational corporations which resist regulation and control, growing levels of economic inequality, increased monopoly control of key resources and technologies, the revival of child labor and sweatshops, the privatization of state functions, and major upheavals due to capitalist reorganization and restructuring.
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Yet Marxism can no longer rely on the hopes that the struggles of the industrial proletariat and construction of socialism will automatically provide liberation or that this scenario is guaranteed by history. The events of the past decade have shown that certain versions of orthodox Marxism are flawed and that the Marxian tradition must be rethought and invented anew to make it relevant to the challenges of the future.
Thus, we should avoid both the characteristic deficiencies of a modern politics that is grounded in an excessively universalizing political discourse that occludes differences and imposes a general dogmatic political schema which is held to be a foundational and not-to-be questioned arbitrator of political values and decisions. In addition, we should reject a postmodern identity politics that renounces the normative project of modern politics, that refuses common and general interests as intrinsically repressive, and that thus abandons a politics of alliance and solidarity in favor of the advocacy of one's own special interest group.
Instead, a new politics would mediate the differences between the traditions, creating new syntheses that would strive for a higher ground based on common interests, general philosophical principles, and a renunciation of dogmatism and authoritarianism of whatever sort.
A new postmodern politics would also overcome the Eurocentrism of modern politics and valorize a diversity of local political projects and struggles. This notion was taken further by the discipline of ethnomethodology, developed by Harold Garfinkel, which sought to problematise everyday events and to pay them the attention usually only given by social scientists to extraordinary events Garfinkel, Many of these aspects of phenomenology and ethnomethodology are reflected today in postmodernist texts: the rejection of universalist theories, the emphasis on subjectivity, and the focus on uncovering concealed assumptions.
These theories, it is argued, overlook the diversity of the social world and even repress certain elements of it Seidman, This scepticism is reflected in the works of authors such as Jacques Derrida, who criticised the totalising effect of structuralism and queried whether meaning could really only be said to have importance within the totality of a unified system or narrative Derrida, This approach was famously dismissed by Habermas in Postmodernism can thus be interpreted as a rejection of progressive politics.
In emphasising diversity, plurality of experiences and the decline of the metanarrative, postmodernism also rejects the notion that the social sciences can provide universal, solid foundations on which to ground political theory and action Hay, As Habermas  has demonstrated, all communication relies on the concept of truth, even if the speaker knows what they are saying to be untrue. In other words, claims to truth are a necessary condition of communication and as such, postmodern texts rely on the very condition of truth they try to deny.
However, scepticism towards metanarratives and truth claims does not have to lead to their rejection.
This element of postmodernism can be of use to critical analysis if reasserted within a foundationalist epistemology: one which accepts that while grand narratives tend ignore the diversity of the social world and exclude certain people and experiences, they do not inevitably do so. Instead of entailing a rejection of the metanarrative, the postmodernist approach may be seen as a way to interrogate narrative forms of knowledge and to give voices to those who have been excluded. While most political scientists do not label themselves positivists, they often rely implicitly upon the positivist tenets that experience is the basis of knowledge and it is possible to reflect the world objectively, without relying upon philosophical and theoretical assumptions Giddens, 29; Agger, Postmodernism has done much to challenge this positivistic attitude in the social sciences.
Michel Foucault, a key postmodern thinker although he rejected the label , is noted for his appraisal of the social sciences. Specifically, Foucault expanded Nietzschean historic philosophy in order to question beliefs and aspects of everyday life — such as madness or sexuality — thought to be timeless Foucault, Jacques Derrida, although he differed from Foucault in important ways, advanced an equally significant critique of positivism.
To Derrida, all discourses, including supposedly scientific reports, rely on concealed assumptions and cannot be understood without them Agger, As with Foucault, these texts also present a certain view of the world as objective truth. These critiques are valuable ways in which to interrogate the positivistic attitude underlying much of political theory and research.
Postmodernist critiques often lead to the conclusion that absolute truths cannot be attained because all theory and research is based on subjective norms, and all theory and research presents a view of the world that is far from neutral. As above, however, the conclusion that claims to truth are always flawed is internally inconsistent.
Rather, we should conclude from these critiques of the positivistic attitude that objective truth is difficult to access — though not necessarily impossible — and that self-reflection is essential if it is to be obtained. Postmodernists have highlighted how much of political theory and research ignores or relegates certain social groups to the sidelines, furthering their disempowerment.
All theory, they argue, comes from a particular standpoint, and in the Western world the dominant standpoint has often been that of a white, heterosexual man Lorde, As demonstrated above, these theories have the power to present their view of the world as scientific truth, and thus legitimate a social and political order where certain groups are marginalised or oppressed. Thus the postmodernist critique of the status-attainment research cited above reveals the dominance of a male viewpoint and the marginalised status of women in political inquiry.
By emphasising the gendered assumptions of the studies, postmodernism allows feminists to protest against the exclusion of women.
POSTMODERN THEORY: critical interrogations
Similar critiques of colonial thought, the representation of sexuality, and other topics have allowed the marginalised to speak in the same way e. Bhabha, ; Lorde, ; Wittig, Again, it is uncertain why this approach is of any use for those who subscribe to a strictly antifoundationalist viewpoint. The very language one uses to talk about these concepts is constituted of fallible categories and dichotomies.
Nonetheless, this approach has clear utility for those wishing to critique and transform the existing political order. It is possible to confront these discourses within a foundationalist framework that allows for some truths to be known about the world. In fact, the contradictions inherent in postmodernism show that this is the only way this task can meaningfully be undertaken. These approaches have their benefits, as I have shown. But they do not constitute a distinct method of inquiry, only an attitude. The deconstructivist methodology, although it is more closely associated with post-structuralism than postmodernism in general, offers a way to interrogate the hidden values and assumptions underlying political discourse and theory.
In line with the aforementioned principles of postmodernism, deconstruction seeks to uncover the concealed assumptions of a text and emphasise what has been excluded or ignored. It does so by questioning binary oppositions, denying the legitimacy of dichotomies, and by pushing generalisations until they seem absurd Rosenau, However, as many have pointed out, deconstruction is not simply destruction Murphy, ; Sayer, 67; Norris, Instead, it should be viewed as re-evaluation.
Problematising the fundamental premises of a text does not always lead to rejecting them; and when it does, a new alternative may be constructed. By unpicking these binary oppositions, deconstruction seeks to empower these others Hay, This methodology has made an extraordinary contribution to political science, even if it has largely been ignored or dismissed.
As Bernstein has observed in his commentary on Derrida,. Any critic wishing to challenge inequality would do well to study how this inequality is constructed and maintained through language and discourse. Deconstruction offers a way in which to challenge inequality and to question the concealed values and assumptions which legitimate it. Nevertheless, deconstruction has come under fire from theorists who would normally be sympathetic to critiques of inequality. Edward Said, Terry Eagleton and others have criticised the approach for having failed to subvert the power relations it attacks Readings, They argue that it privileges discourse and texts at the expense of the real world, and ask why the work deconstruction has done on texts has not been translated into political action Readings, These criticisms are difficult to dismiss.
Deconstruction does not offer any solid basis for constructing a political theory or political programme. However, this should not imply that it has no practical use. Furthermore, there is little reason why deconstruction should not simply be a precursor to reconstruction. In forcing a rethink of the political, deconstruction allows the weaknesses of certain binaries and assumptions to be known, and thus allows stronger, more reliable political theory to be constructed. Postmodernism is, on the whole, problematic.
Its ontology of difference and epistemological scepticism can legitimate political inaction, because without the existence of a shared reality, it is hard to speak meaningfully of any sort of collective action or policy aimed at change or emancipation. This does not mean that postmodernism has not made any useful contributions to political science as a discipline, however.