Postmodern society is diverse and pluralistic. Postmodern society's images are perceived through films, videos, TV programmes and websites and circulated around the world. We come into contact with many ideas and values, having little connection with the history of the areas in which we live, or with our own personal histories. One important theorist of postmodernity is the French author Jean Baudrillard, who was strongly influenced by Marxism in his early days, believes that the electronic media have destroyed our relationship to the past and created a chaotic, empty world. He argues that the spread of electronic communication and the mass media has reversed the Marxist theorem that economic forces shape society. Instead, signs and images influence social life.
In a media-dominated age, Baudrillard says, meaning is created by the flow of images, as in TV programmes. Much of our world has become a sort of make-believe universe in which we are responding to media images rather than to real persons or places. Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman offers a two ways of thinking about postmodern ideas. On the one hand, we could argue that the social world has rapidly moved in a post- modern direction. The enormous growth and spread of the mass media, new information technologies, more fluid movement of people across the world and the development of multicultural societies. All of these mean that we no longer live in a modern world, but in a postmodern one. Modernity is dead and we are entering a period of postmodernity. The second view is that the postmodern changes cannot be analyzed using old sociological theories and concepts and we need to devise new ones. In short, we need a postmodern sociology for a postmodern world.
Bauman accepts that the modern project that originated in the European Enlightenment to rationally shape society no longer makes sense, at least not in the way thought possible by Comte, Marx or other classical theorists. However, since the turn of the century he has moved away from the term 'postmodern' which he says has become corrupted through too diverse usage and now describes the world as one of 'Liquid Modernity', reflecting the fact that it is in constant flux and uncertainty in spite of all attempts to impose a modern order and stability onto it.
Jiirgen Habermas a staunch critic of postmodern theory argued that now is not the time to give up on the 'project' of modernity. He sees modernity as 'an incomplete project' and instead of resigning it to the dustbin of history, we should be extending it: pushing for more democracy, freedom and rational policies. The postmodern analyses are now losing ground to the theory of globalization, which has become the dominant theoretical framework for understanding the direction of social change in the twenty-first century.
Anthony Giddens in his writings developed a theoretical perspective on the changes happening in the present day world. According to Giddens we live today in what is called a runaway world, a world marked by new risks and uncertainties of the sort. But we should place the notion of trust, which is the confidence in individuals and institutions alongside that of risk. In a world of rapid transformation, traditional forms of trust tend to become dissolved. Living in a more globalized society, however, our lives are influenced by people we never see or meet, who may be living on the far side of the world from us. Trust and risk are closely bound up with one another. We need to have confidence if we are to confront the risks that surround us, and react to them in an effective way. Living in an information age, means an increase in social reflexivity. According to Anthony Giddens social reflexivity refers to the fact that we have constantly to think about, or reflect upon, the circumstances in which we live our lives. When societies were more geared to custom and tradition, people could follow established ways of doing things in a more unreflective fashion. For us, many aspects of life that for earlier generations were simply taken for granted become matters of open decision-making.
In a global age, nations certainly lose some of the power they used to have. For instance, countries have less influence over economic policy than they once had. However, governments still retain a good deal of power. Acting collaboratively, nations can get together to reassert their influence over the runaway world. The agencies and movements working outside the formal framework of politics can have an important role. But they will not supplant orthodox democratic politics. Democracy is still crucial, because groups in the area of 'sub-politics' make divergent claims and have different interests. Democratic government must assess and react to these varying claims and concerns.
German sociologist, Ulrich Beck, also rejects postmodernism. According to Beck rather than living in a world 'beyond the modern', we are moving into a phase of 'the second modernity'. The second modernity refers to the fact that modern institutions are becoming global, while everyday life is breaking free from the hold of tradition and custom. The old industrial society is disappearing and getting replaced by a 'risk society'. What the postmodernists see as chaos, or lack of pattern, Beck sees as risk or uncertainty. The management of risk is the prime feature of the global order. The advance of science and technology creates new risk situations that are very different from those of previous ages. Science and technology provide many benefits for us. Yet they create risks that are hard to measure. Many decisions taken at the level of everyday life also become infused with risk. In 'The Cosmopolitan Vision' Beck argues that the national outlook fails to grasp that the political, economic and cultural action and their consequences know no borders. In the age of globalization, where national borders are becoming more permeable and individual states are less powerful, social reality is being transformed in a thoroughly cosmopolitan direction. If allowed to develop without direction, cosmopolitanization presents many threats as opportunities, particularly for those who are exploited by multinational corporations traversing the globe seeking cheaper labour and maximal profits.