Postmodernism and Identity

Postmodernism has changed the way in which identity is viewed by moving it away from the concept of a unified self, to one where the self is viewed as a multiple rather than the modern view of it being fixed. This allows the self to constantly construct and reconstruct as an identity (Lyotard, 2004).

Before viewing how postmodernism has reconstructed the concept of identity, it is important to first see how the modern has defined identity. This comparison between modern and postmodern concepts of identity can be best viewed as either a Dionysian approach (excess of a desire) or an Appollonian approach (principle of order). The modern view of identity follows that the Appollonian should be a common factor attributing to identity with the Dionysian resulting in alienation of an individual. This contrasts the postmodern view which reveals the Dionysian approach as being the social norm (consumerism) with the Appollonian being nothing more than an almost imaginary ideal which influences identity but does not shape it to the extent that the Dionysian excess does. (Hollinger, 1994)

Hollinger (1994) further expands by describing the modernist approach to identity as an expression of order, paranoia and conformity which led to his opinion that the modernist view on identity led to a repressed or ‘caged’ identity. This argument was furthered by the explanation of postmodernism as a form in which to break the cage by altering people’s perception of the ideoscape and mediascape (Appadurai, 1990) through discourse (Castells, 2008). This discourse would allow the individual to break away from the modernist’s monotonist approach to identity and allow greater flexibility and diversity in the continual construction of one’s identity (Hollinger, 1994).

In this postmodern re-creation of identity one cannot deny the influence of the narrative, Lyotard (2004) expands on this and introduces the concept of the ‘metanarrative’ (which is reinforced by the values of the cultural narrative.)

An example of the ‘metanarrative’ and its influence on identity is told by Sakamoto (2007), who uses the contextual use of images of the stereotypical western women within China to explain how the narratives within advertisements influence the identity of Chinese women (through self, gender, social and cultural identity.) The changes these images of western women impose on Chinese women greatly altered and if anything broke down the previous gender, social and cultural identities formed through the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) (Sakamoto, 2007).

In the example put forward by Sakamoto (2007), if the image of the western woman is seen as the postmodern influence over identity, it becomes easier to see the ability postmodernism has to change identity as well as influence its constant construction through the use of discourse within a narrative.




Appadurai, A. 1990, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Theory Culture Society 7: pp.295-310

Castells, M. 2008, “The Global Public Sphere: Global Civil Society, Communication Networks, and Global Governance,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 616, pp.78-93

Hollinger, R. 1994. “Postmodernism and the Social Sciences, a Thematic Approach.” SAGE publication Inc. America

Lyotard, J. F. 2004. “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge” in Drolet, M. (ed.), The Postmodern Reader. London: Routledge.

Sakamoto, R. and Allen, M. 2007. “Hating ‘The Korean Wave’’’ Comic Books: A Sign of New Nationalism in Japan? Accessed Date 2010.

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