Postmodernity and Reinsertion of Subject

I. Postmodernity and Reinsertion of the Subject as Protagonist and Builder of Social Reality in History

Postmodernism can be described as critical, strategic, and rhetorical practices that employ concepts such as difference, repetition, trace, simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the enunciation of meaning.

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The term “postmodern” entered the philosophical lexicon with the publication of Jean-François Lyotard’s La Condition Postmoderne in 1979 (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, 1984), where he employs Wittgenstein’s model of language games (1953) and concepts borrowed from speech act theory to account for what he calls a transformation of the rules of the game for science, art, and literature since the late nineteenth century.

He describes his text as a combination of two very different language games, that of the philosopher and that of the expert. Where the expert knows what he knows and what he does not know, the philosopher knows neither but raises questions. Considering this ambiguity, Lyotard claims that his portrait of the state of knowledge “does not pretend to be original or even true” and that his hypotheses “should not be given predictive value concerning reality, but the strategic value concerning the questions posed” (Baudeau).

According to Lyotard, the information age has transformed knowledge into information, i.e., messages encoded within a transmission and communication system. Analyzing this knowledge requires pragmatics of communication insofar as the formulation of messages, their transmission, and reception must follow the rules to be accepted by those who judge them. However, as Lyotard points out, the position of judge or legislator is also a position within a language game, raising the question of legitimation. As he insists, “there is a close interrelation between the kind of language called science and the kind called ethics and politics” (Lyotard 1984), and this interrelation constitutes the cultural perspective of the West. Thus, science is closely intertwined with government and administration, especially in the information age, where enormous capital and large facilities are needed for research.

Lyotard points out that science has tried to distinguish itself from narrative knowledge through tribal wisdom communicated through myths and legends. He also pointed out that modern philosophy has tried to legitimize science narratives in the form of “the dialectic of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth” (Lyotard 1984).

Science, however, plays the language game of denotation to the exclusion of all others and, in this sense, displaces narrative knowledge, including the metanarratives of philosophy. This is due, in part, to what Lyotard characterizes as the rapid growth of technologies and techniques in the second half of the twentieth century, where the emphasis on knowledge has shifted from the ends of human action to its means (Lyotard 1984). This has eroded the speculative play of philosophy and freed each science to develop independently of a philosophical basis or systematic organization. “I define the postmodern as disbelief toward metanarratives,” says Lyotard (Lyotard 1984). As a result, new hybrid disciplines develop without connection to old epistemic traditions, especially philosophy. This means that science only plays its own game and cannot legitimize others, such as moral prescription.


II. The Reaffirmation of Human Rights and Freedoms as the Purpose of Social Work Intervention and Social Policies

The involvement of social workers working to fulfill human rights is long and extensive, but whether it is explicitly referred to as human rights work varies across time and nations. The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) stated in its definition of social work that “the principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility, and respect for diversities are central to social work” (IFSW, 2014), making it clear that the international social work community is quite clear that the work is one of the human rights. “Advocating and defending human rights and social justice is the motivation and justification for social work” (IFSW, 2014). However, within the United States, recognition of social work as human rights work is much less common. Despite the addition of human rights to social work education policy and accreditation standards (EPAS) in 2008 (Council on Social Work Education [CSWE], 2008), social work practice standards have not kept pace (Baudeau).”

In 2017, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) released a major update to its code of ethics. Most of the revisions focus on emerging ethical issues raised by technology, as well as updated wording (e.g., use of “ability” instead of “disability”) (Barsky, 2017). However, the code still does not explicitly include human rights. The preamble states that “the primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people,” thus highlighting a focus on needs rather than rights (NASW, 2017). The NASW Code of Ethics (2017) goes so far as to list respect for “the inherent dignity and worth of the person,” a fundamental principle of human rights, as one of six core values and ethical principles in social work. Still, it does not directly reference human rights anywhere in the code.

Social work organizations in countries such as Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Russia, Japan, and South Korea include human rights in their codes of ethics (Androff, 2016). Other countries, such as the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania, include human rights among their objectives. For example, the Preamble of the Canadian Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (2005) states that “social workers are committed to the human rights enshrined in Canadian law and international human rights conventions created or supported by the United Nations.” The Nigerian Association of Social Workers (n.d.) lists the goal of “ensuring that the dignity and rights of human beings are respected in all human interactions among its professional objectives.”

Given the threat of human rights erosion in the United States (Baudeau), American social workers must join with their colleagues worldwide to understand their role in promoting human rights. They also should view the populations with whom they work not from a needs-based viewpoint, with clients as passive recipients of charity, but rather from a rights-based perspective to facilitate the receipt of benefits to which individuals and groups are entitled.

Social workers must first understand what exactly is meant by human rights. Although human rights have a very long history, the document on which current practice is based in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Prompted by the atrocities of World War II and adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the UDHR sets out the rights to which all people are entitled regardless of nationality, race, religion, sex, political opinion, or any other potential category of difference. These rights are universal (they apply to all people) and indivisible (inseparable from each other, and all are necessary).

The UDHR has 30 articles describing these rights: political, civil, social, economic, cultural, and collective. Article 25 has particular relevance to social work, as many services provided by social workers, including safety net services and beyond, can be seen as rights to which the populations they work with are entitled: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in the circumstances beyond his control. (United Nations, 1948).


Module 8:  Lecture Content 2


III. Complexity Theory

“Complexity theory provides a better understanding of systems as diverse as cells, humans, forest ecosystems, and organizations, which are only partially understood by traditional scientific methods (Zimmerman et al. 2001). While it represents a relatively nascent field of study, it spans many disciplines in the physical, biological, and social sciences. It has profound implications for how we think and act within the world” (Schneider and Somers, 2006).

This is especially important in studying organizations, organizational change, and leadership, where complexity theory can provide insights into how organizations become more sustainable, adaptive, and innovative (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007). Between 1500 and 1700, a significant and dramatic shift occurred in how European people perceived and understood the world. Through the works of thinkers such as Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, René Descartes, and Isaac Newton, the Western world experienced a scientific revolution. This shifted from a worldview governed by the Church and Christian theology and ethics to an inanimate, machine-like material world governed by natural forces and exact mathematical rules” (Capra and Luisi, 2014).

Complexity theory and its related concepts emerged in the mid to late 20th century through multiple disciplines, including the work of Prigogine and his study of dissipative structures in nonequilibrium thermodynamics, Lorenz in his analysis of climate systems and nonlinear causal pathways, chaos theory and its new branch of mathematics, as well as evolutionary thinking informed by Lamarck’s perspectives on learning and adaptation (Schneider and Somers, 2006). While this multiplicity of influences challenges understanding its origins, complexity theory can also be generally understood as the study of complex adaptive systems (CAS). The word “complex” implies diversity across a large number and a wide variety of interdependent yet autonomous parts. “Adaptive” refers to the system’s ability to alter, change, and learn from past experiences. The “system” portion refers to a set of connected and interdependent parts, a network. While there are many CASs at different scales, complexity theory reveals common, interrelated principles that can be observed in all CASs (Zimmerman, Lindberg, and Plsek 2001).

A. Positivist Empiricism and Rationalist Relativism

The intuition/deduction thesis, the innate knowledge thesis, and the innate concept thesis are essential to rationalism. To be a rationalist is to adopt at least one of them: the Innate Knowledge thesis, concerning alleged innate propositional knowledge, or the Innate Concept thesis, about the alleged innate understanding of concepts. Since the intuition/deduction thesis is equally important for empiricism, the following focus will be on the other two theses.

Empiricists also endorse the intuition/deduction thesis. Still, in a narrower sense than rationalists: this thesis applies only to relations of the contents of minds, not also to empirical facts learned from the external world. On the contrary, empiricists reject the thesis of Innate Knowledge. To the extent that knowledge exists on a subject, knowledge is acquired by sensory or reflective experiences, not just triggered. Experience is, therefore, the only source of ideas.

Empiricists need not reject the Indispensability of Reason thesis, but most do. Moreover, they reject the corresponding version of the Superiority of Reason thesis. Since reason alone does not give any knowledge, it certainly does not give superior knowledge.

In its most general terms, the dispute between rationalism and empiricism has been taken as a question of the extent to which one relies on experience to gain knowledge of the external world. It is common to think of experience as being of two kinds: sensory experience, involving the five world-oriented senses, and reflective experience, including conscious awareness of mental operations. The distinction between the two is made mainly by reference to their objects: sensory experience enables the acquisition of knowledge of external objects. At the same time, the consciousness of mental operations is responsible for acquiring knowledge of minds Horkheimer, M. (1984).

This distinction should be addressed in the dispute between rationalism and empiricism; rationalist criticisms of empiricism generally hold that the latter claims that all ideas originate in sensory experience.

It is generally accepted that most rationalists claim that there are significant ways in which concepts and knowledge are obtained independently of sensory experience. However, being a rationalist does not require asserting that knowledge is acquired separately from any experience. At its core, the Cartesian Cogito depends on our reflexive and intuitive awareness of the existence of occurrent thought. Rationalists generally develop their view in two steps. First, they argue that there are cases in which the content of concepts or knowledge exceeds the information that sensory experience can provide. Second, they construct accounts of how to reason, in one way or another, provide additional information about the external world.

Most empiricists present complementary lines of thought. First, they develop accounts of how experience alone (sensory experience, reflective experience, or a combination of the two) provides the information that rationalists cite insofar as it is had in the first place. Second, while empiricists attack the rationalists’ accounts of how reason is a primary source of concepts or knowledge, they show that reflective understanding can and usually do provide some of the missing links (famously, Locke believed that the idea of substance, in general, is a composite idea, incorporating elements derived from both sensation and reflection (Essay, 2.23.2).

The distinction between rationalism and empiricism has its problems. One of the main issues is that almost no author falls clearly into one camp or the other: it has been argued that Descartes, commonly regarded as a representative rationalist (at least concerning metaphysics), had clear empiricist leanings, mainly for natural philosophy, where sensory experience plays a crucial role (Clarke 1982). In contrast, Locke, who is believed to be a paradigmatic empiricist, argued that reason is equal to experience when it comes to knowledge of certain things, most famously moral truths (Horkheimer, M. 1984).


IV. Multi and Transdisciplinary Knowledge as a Tool for the Construction of Adequate Social Policies

When research output is described as multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary, it suggests that various disciplines are combined in contemporary problem-solving. These ideas have become a buzzword to demonstrate collaboration across disciplines and highlight adaptive pedagogical practices.

According to

· Multidisciplinary is an adjective that describes “combining or involving several academic disciplines or professional specializations in approaching a topic or problem.”

· Interdisciplinary is an adjective that describes “of or relating to more than one branch of knowledge.”

· Transdisciplinary is also an adjective that describes “related to more than one branch of knowledge.”

According to Lakehead University’s “Essential Guide to Writing Research Papers,” multidisciplinary contrast disciplinary perspectives in an additive manner, meaning that two or more disciplines provide their view of a problem from their perspectives. Multidisciplinary involves little interaction between disciplines.” Interdisciplinarity combines two or more disciplines at a new level of integration, suggesting that component boundaries begin to break down. Interdisciplinarity is no longer a simple addition of parts but the recognition that each discipline can affect the research output of the other.

Transdisciplinarity occurs when two or more disciplinary perspectives transcend each other to form a new holistic approach. Trans disciplinarity results in a type of xenogenesis where production is created by integrating disciplines to become something entirely new Horkheimer, M. (1984). The result will completely differ from what one would expect from adding the parts.

A. Multi and Transdisciplinary Knowledge as a Tool for the Construction of Adequate Social Policies

The complexity of defining transdisciplinary research lies in its roots. While maintaining its niche in research disciplines, transdisciplinary research owes much of its identity to research structures related to multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research. The Transdisciplinary Prevention Research Centers define transdisciplinary research as “A cooperative effort by a team of investigators from diverse disciplines that includes significant representation from the basic sciences and the clinical or applied sciences. Typically, a transdisciplinary team of investigators will include individuals from different departments. Still, the key issue is that the team will include members who bring markedly diverse methods and concepts to bear on the scientific topic” (Transdisciplinary Prevention Research Centers Request for Application, 2002).

It is necessary to distinguish its approach from other models to understand transdisciplinary research better. Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research are the two models that transdisciplinary research extends.

In his 2004 article “Transdisciplinary and its Challenges: The Case of Urban Studies,” Thierry Ramadier distinguished the models in this way: “Interdisciplinarity differs from multidisciplinary in that it builds a common model for the disciplines involved, based on a process of dialogue between disciplines” (Ramadier 2004). In other words, an interdisciplinary is often a discipline of its own. Examples of this synthesis of disciplines are numerous and include fields such as biochemistry, social psychology, and biological anthropology. However, a second important aspect of interdisciplinary research lies in the practice of transferring models or tools from one discipline to another. For example, scholars might apply the mathematics of topography to study group dynamics. According to Ramadier, the other disciplines appropriate the concepts of one discipline. Ramadier argued that interdisciplinarity, like multidisciplinary, avoids paradoxes and has to resolve them, resulting in fragmented approaches in each model Horkheimer, M. (1984).

“The adaptation of social work to participation in transdisciplinary teams whose members span a variety of other academic disciplines in various research and practice settings. Transdisciplinary refers to an approach to research and practice in which people from various disciplines attempt to work on shared projects outside their separate disciplinary spaces. The approach is inherently holistic and is therefore congruent with social work values. It is distinct from interdisciplinarity, in which people from one discipline go outside their discipline to acquire knowledge but return to their home discipline to apply it. It is also distinguished from multidisciplinary, in which scholars from various disciplines work together at some point but approach problems through separate disciplinary lenses.” The vast majority have to do with health research and practice. However, a smaller body of work comes from education and the humanities. Areas of potential relevance to social work include child welfare, aging, elder issues, death and dying, criminal and juvenile justice, and community development, Horkheimer, M. (1984).

Rosenfield (1992), an early advocate of transdisciplinary, argues convincingly that transdisciplinary approaches are essential to understanding and ameliorating increasingly complex health and social problems in the United States.

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