Critical Review of "Postmodernism"
Postmodernism is not a "philosophy."
is not a "theoretical framework."
Joe Kincheloe was not
Michel Foucault was not a "postmodernist."
Poststructuralism is not a "postmodern tool."
Bricolage is not a "postmodern tool."
While there are many who may disagree with some or even all of those statements, I hope that
as they come to understand Joe Kincheloe's work better it will become clear why it's important to move away from postmodernism;
it is not a viable construct. It does not hold up under critical analysis and does not form a viable philosophy or theoretical
framework in and of itself.
A recent example of a doctoral dissertation demonstrates what happens when researchers attempt to use the non-philosophy,
postmodernism, as a philosophical/theoretical foundation for their research. The researcher (Bullock, 2013), was
unable to define postmodernism. She attempted to use it as her theoretical framework anyway, misaligning
it in the process. She explains the indefinable nature of postmodernism in her study, even crosses through "defining"
with a line since it is indefinable, but yet proceeded to attach the label to Michel Foucault, who according to the literature
did not see the viability of something labeled as "postmodernism." Nevertheless, the researcher in this case proceeded
to invent "Foucaultian postmodernism." How is it that Foucault's genealogy can be based on a "postmodern
theoretical framework" when Foucault did not recognize postmodernism as a viable framework?
While Bullock presents interesting historical
research about how the Mathematical Standards were developed, the lack of a philosophical or theoretical framework
resulted in the production of no new actionable knowledge, just as Kincheloe predicts. Kincheloe stresses that the philosophical
dimension must be included in a study or it is not rigorous. If we cannot define our philosophy and theoretical constructs,
we will not produce knowledge that can be used in other contexts and it can even result in greater harm. And, indeed,
Bullock concluded ". . . perpetuating the discursive formation of Standards-based mathematics education is neither good
nor bad but only dangerous; therefore, it requires mathematics educators to maintain a sense of pessimistic activism related
to present and future efforts" (Abstract). How can the attitude of "pessimistic activism" lead to change?
That, in itself seems harmful but then it needs to be fully defined. What kind of real direction does her conclusion provide? It
simply illustrates that postmodernism is not a viable theoretical framework for research, thus, it will not produce useful
knowledge that can lead to positive changes.
The conclusion represents, in my interpretation what holding to a "ludic postmodernism"
(defined by Teresa Ebert, 1991, as cited in Kincheloe & McLaren, 1994) would predict: a lack of viable
action (much less compassionate action) which is leading the world on a road to nowhere. By moving up to the next
level and taking a multidimensional critical complex bricolage approach, perhaps some viable and positive actions can
be identified that will provide direction and impetus for positive changes.
In addition, Bullock
has misrepresented (misinterpreted?) what Kincheloe & McLaren (1994) were conveying in their article she had referenced.
She claims that they state that postmodernism and poststructuralism are interchangeable. As quoted from the article,
what they state is (in reaction to researchers conflating the two concepts), "We believe that
it is misleading to identify postmodernism with poststructuralism" (Postmodern Social Theory, para. 1). I agree
with their assessment based on my own research, which I discuss in my dissertation and will further elucidate in future
Kincheloe's bricolage elevates expectations for research.
really think it behooves all researchers to get a better handle on how destructive postmodernism
(or the "attitude" of postmodernism) is in relation to scholarly research. It too often presents as living
without philosophy at all. And it is contributing to the death of this planet. Kincheloe covered this extensively in his
work. He did not recognize postmodernism as useful and did not use it as a philosophy. He used sophistic argument
in which he dialectically converted the term, "postmodernism" to referring to "the postmodern condition"
whereby "critical postmodernism" is a critique of that condition (Kincheloe, 1993, p. 85). He abandoned the term
postmodernism altogether in his later works because he could see it was taking the world in a dead-end direction
and obviously, he did not want his work connected to that. His bricolage process gets researchers out of the quagmire, if
they take time to really understand what it entails. I hope the material I present on this site helps in that regard.
one can even define a postmodern theory or philosophy! It is dead. Bury it.
Alternatively, DEFINE IT if you use it.
Bullock, E. C. (2013). An archeological/genealogical
historical analysis of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards Documents. (dissertation).
Kincheloe, J. L. (1993). Toward a critical politics of teacher thinking: Mapping
the postmodern. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.
Kincheloe, J. L. (2001). Describing the bricolage: Conceptualizing a new rigour in qualitative research. Qualitative
Inquiry, 7, 1, 679–92.
J. L. (2005). On to the next level: Continuing the conceptualization of the bricolage. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(3),
Kincheloe, J. (2008). Knowledge and critical pedagogy: An introduction.
Kincheloe, J. L. & McLaren, P. (1996). Rethinking
critical theory and qualitative research. In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research (pp. 279-313).
Thousand Oaks, CA.
The Urban Dictionary has it right (for the most part):
|1. || postmodernism || |
| |Postmodernism: pseudo-intellectual Trojan Horse of tyrants everywhere in the western world.
Began in Arts faculties in various universities under "thinkers" like Derrida, Baudrillard, Foucault [No, Foucault did not claim to be a postmodernist]
and Irigaray, and spread like a cancer into at least the "soft" sciences, if not further
insidiously by establishing in the minds of the faithful that there are no ultimate truths in either a moral or a scientific
sense, and dressing up bullshit in flowery language. Postmodernism pretends to be a guarantor of pluralism (a concept far better served, btw, by rational debate), and is in love with concepts
such as the "transgressive" and the "paradigm shift". Unfortunately these matters are brought up in the midst of reams and reams
of tendentious twaddle which constitute a dreadful waste of perfectly good trees, and the most notable effect of postmodernist (un)thinking is not the freeing of anyone's
mind from conservative tyranny, but the scrapping of the very idea of objective truth. Once this happens, of course, what follows (outside the ivory towers of academia) is that the game goes, set and match, to the fellah with the biggest guns. Many conservative factions claimed that September 11 spelled the end of postmodernism. Ohhhh nooo, postmodernist
twaddle was only just getting its boots on.
To take an (admittedly anachronistic) example of what is essentially
the same thing:
"A new and magical understanding of the world is on the
rise, one based on will rather than truth. There is no truth, in either the scientific or the moral sense."
- Adolf Hitler
Consider this lower section the
“Academic Hall of Shame,” similar to Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Take Down Hall of Shame”
(https://www.eff.org/takedowns) in that what is published here are critiques of those publications that are judged to take
Joe Kincheloe's work in divergent directions from his intended purposes or otherwise misrepresent his philosophy, theory,
and conceptual projects. My purpose, however, is not to "take down" but rather to provide new and sincere bricoleurs
with more reliable information and help them avoid the pitfalls of incorporating disinformation into their research. The politics
of knowledge production is alive and well. These critiques will also provide some insight into how the "knowledge masters"
control and steer those who depend on their guidance. No longer can students blindly depend on the guidance of the "experts";
critical complex thought is imperative.
As such, there
will be few that actually qualify for the “honor” of being critiqued in this section because I try to
judge with as open a mind as possible. We are all learning and it’s great to see many people taking
steps toward applying Kincheloe's theory and promoting his work. He was a greater genius than most people yet recognize and
this will become increasingly evident as his work is applied globally.
this is subjective, I use Kincheloe's work as well as other citations to support a rigorous critique for any book or
article that is included here. In my view, and Joe would agree with this, scholarly work needs to be subjected
to critical analysis. The peer review format can do this when implemented properly, but too often it serves as merely a political
means of maintaining the status quo.
I do not claim that
Joe would have agreed with any given analysis I include here. However, since he is deceased and cannot clarify his work in
relation to articles and books published after his death, I have taken it upon myself to do so based on my in-depth study
and understanding of his work. Too many great authors, inventors, artists, musicians, and other creators have had their work
“appropriated” in ways that diminish and even extinguish the contribution they have made to greater society.
It’s of utmost import to keep Kincheloe’s work on track.
His research contributes to improving education and research for all domains, a critical need at this time in history, and
it contributes to the betterment of humanity in profound ways. The young students coming up the ranks need this form of learning
and research available.
Anyone who disagrees with how
I have analyzed their work is free to submit a rebuttal and greater clarification which I can publish here with the critique
of their work.
I want to emphasize, however, my purpose is not
to make people afraid to apply Kincheloe’s work. He has purposely made his concepts applicable for a huge range of venues,
which is clear when reading his work. In my interpretation, he was attempting to prevent research from sliding off into
“FIDURODian” positivistic reductionism, nebulous “ludic” postmodernism, or "Marxist manifesto"
approaches to research. Thus, altering his work toward those agendas is a misunderstanding and a misapplication of his
project and a dishonor to him and his work and will be critiqued here. Making these mistakes also results in the
failure to bring in all voices as his work accomplishes in order to address the social and global issues facing
the world today.
is an acronym he developed for the particularly insidious form of positivistic knowledge production that predominates education
today. The letters stand for Formal, Intractable, Universal, Decontextualized, Reductionistic, and One Dimensional. See his
book, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction (Explorations of Educational Purpose) for a complete delineation and analysis.)
How Great Works Are Destroyed and Why Joining Kincheloe's
Perpetual Revolution Is So Important
was drawn to the educational domain of “critical pedagogy” because I saw the great hope it offers those of us
who have been poor and oppressed our entire lives. My true mission began when I encountered Joe Kincheloe’s work; it
is the most complete critical theory today and it is the most promising theory for the future because it exposes and addresses
the social issues the oppressed face now and may face in the future, and it guides us with finding solutions that will
work for us during these increasingly complex and changing times. There is also a spiritual dimension to his work but it
is married soundly to a science dimension in spite of what some people might think; there is much research and exploration
yet to do in this area. I have experienced it profoundly, but because I am a “novice” bricoleur, I am still
struggling with understanding and communicating all that I experience. Even though very few people relate, there are
increasing numbers of people who do, and I cannot help but see the enormous potential Kincheloe’s bricolage has to
offer. This, for me, is one of the most exciting applications of his formulation of bricolage and I am looking forward to
the amazing growth in knowledge that will emanate from it. As he has put it, it is just the beginning of a "perpetual revolution." To top it all off, as I discuss in my dissertation, Kincheloe has based his theory and bricolage research and
learning process on the foundation of the most powerful love.
We all have agendas. What is mine? I’ll be right up front with my agenda: It’s to
do whatever I can to get Joe’s work out to the world in ways that everyone who wishes to can understand and apply
it. I love Joe. We have been working together spiritually for eternity. And I have shown empirically in
my work (in my dissertation, Chapter 4, which only highlights a very small amount of the data) that Joe and I must
have known each other at a higher level of consciousness before we even met. It is WHY we met.
But our purpose, of course, is to demonstrate in some concrete ways -- and yes, empirical ways --
the reality of these connections so that more people will come to understand that as human beings we have been entrapped. We
are only functioning at the lowest levels of our potential for awareness. We stay in the lower dimensions of reality “by
design” and the education system as it operates today works overtime to keep us at these lower levels of consciousness.
This is presented and discussed in great detail and depth throughout all of Kincheloe's writings.
As I have learned
first-hand, those individuals in the higher echelons of education who have the greatest power over dictating who
can and cannot partake in real knowledge or knowledge production, can take on quite extreme psychopathic qualities
toward those of us who stay persistent in speaking out. This is something that must change and it is changing as more
of us take back our power. We must stop contributing to the psychopathic, dehumanizing, emotionally debilitating nature
of education. We do not need to participate in institutions that operate without ethics or care toward students coming through
their doors. We can withdraw from any association with schools and universities that focus on dumbed down education
and indoctrination for the purpose of unrestrained profit, power, and control of the people.
It takes serious
and sustained work to rise in consciousness enough (and to be able to stay there long enough) by rigorously applying
Joe’s theory so that we begin to see what there is to see; how we are lied to, how our very perception is in
lockdown, how we are molded, controlled, and steered even when we think we are free and making our own choices. Yes, it’s
a lot of work to even begin to get to that point and it also requires facing our own vulnerabilities and how we lie to ourselves.
Emotionally, it’s not easy to have to face the facts about our own ignorance, but I can attest to the fact that being
blessed beyond belief is worth the effort. I have much work yet to do, but I am already blessed in ways that I cannot begin
Thus, my agenda is to see that Joe’s work gets out to people in ways they understand
and unfettered by those who would have opposing agendas. But it’s not easy to put truth out about Joe’s
work when I see that those who supposedly loved him, cared about him, or otherwise had some kind of professional relationship
with him seem to almost intentionally set out to destroy his Great Work. I cannot sit on the sidelines
and watch this happen without calling it out the way I see it. And how I see it is a display that is utterly
disrespectful and disgraceful, and the epitome of hypocrisy. I am saddened that these things happen in reputable textbooks
that millions of student-researchers reference while they are trying to learn how to research.
Thus, as a message to new critical
bricoleur/researchers, I want to emphasize the absolute imperative need to question everything, even if
it seems to come from high authority or respected experts. This includes even questioning whether in fact someone actually
authored a specific piece. We must become detectives, just as Kincheloe has advised.
As a case in point, I will discuss briefly the chapter
“Critical Pedagogy and Qualitative Research: Moving to the Bricolage” by Joe Kincheloe (allegedly), Peter McLaren,
and Shirley R. Steinberg in the 2011 edition of the SAGE Handbook for Qualitative
Research, Fourth Edition, edited by Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln. I will point out just a few observations
about this chapter, which, by my analysis is a move away from providing new bricoleurs with an understanding of
bricolage, especially Joe L. Kincheloe’s multidimensional critical complex bricolage.
First, Joe passed away in 2008. How is it that he was able to write this article in 2011?
This should immediately raise a red flag, but then most students are not aware that Joe is deceased. This provides
impetus for researching all authors we reference in our work (an important component of bricolage and something I will
also need to become more conscious about). Even a quick search on Wikipedia, which, in my analysis is a worthy source for
quick, general, and background information, will reveal this basic information about various authors, musicians, and
other people you are researching.
Secondly, copy-and-paste, out-of-context excerpts
have been taken from Kincheloe's 2005 article about bricolage and incorporated into this chapter, without being properly
quoted or cited. In fact, in some cases, it appears these excerpts have been attributed to someone else or to
no one at all (other than the "three" authors of the chapter). As just one example, the second paragraph
on page 169 which states, “In the critical concern . . .” is the second paragraph from page 344 of Kincheloe's
2005 “On to the Next Level” article, yet there is no citation indicating as such even though this paragraph goes
on to discuss Kincheloe (how can this be if he is the author?), stating, “Kincheloe has taken seriously. . . “
Why? If this is written BY Kincheloe why is Kincheloe not using first person dialogue? Also, again, at the end of the paragraph
the author(s) is speaking about Kincheloe, stating, “In response, Kincheloe maintained. . . .“
even though, again they have copied word-for-word text out of his article for the first part of the paragraph.
This makes it clear that whoever pieced this together was not Kincheloe because when he speaks about himself in multiple-authored
articles, he uses “I (Joe)” to clarify it is he who is speaking and he does not reference himself in the manner
that was done for this paragraph (eg., see The Stigma of Genius: Einstein, Consciousness, and Genius, 1999
with Tippins & Steinberg). Thus, this paragraph (as well as other paragraphs within the chapter) appears
to be plagiarized -- something students are drilled not to do or there will be extreme penalties and yet here
it is in a student textbook.
As an additional note, Kincheloe had moved away from doing articles and books "with"
people in a manner that would confuse the reader who was doing the writing. He has written his own chapters for books he
has written with other people (e.g., Reading, Writing, Thinking with P. L. Thomas and Rigor and Complexity in
Educational Research: Conceptualizing the Bricolage with Kathleen Berry). The chapters are clearly delineated by author. I
will need to do more analyses as to when this began, but it appears to have been about 2001. My sense (based on the literature
as well as some of the comments in his work and dedications of his work) is that, while he wished for working together with
people, he found it had not worked out well. It may also relate to the tendency of people to attach particular
labels to him, one being the "postmodernist" label which he had to ultimately write his way out of -- which he
did successfully. (And if one reads his work, they will see clearly that he was never a "postmodernist" whatever
that may be).
Third, Kincheloe left Freire behind and in the dust and yet, in this article, Freire is propped up and deified. My
personal view is that Freire offered nothing new and his theory is stuck in dualism, sexism, and is tainted by Marxism
and other ideologies that harm people; Joe’s critical complex pedagogy went in entirely new directions and to
whole new dimensions. That he continued to give Freire credit for things that others have said just as well and perhaps better
in the past – even the ancient past – is testimony to how Joe loved everyone and knew how to filter out
the bad ideas while focusing on the good ideas without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I encourage
people to get other perspectives of Freire’s work and ask themselves why it’s being pushed on teachers today
(and recently, it has been the topic of teacher professional development classes here in the United States; why?). I
do think we need to do much deeper critical analyses of his work rather than throw it to the public the way that's
being done today.
Rich Gibson (1994) wrote an interesting dissertation that provides a deeper analysis of
Freire’s political involvement, motivations, and how they may have influenced how he “politicized” education
for the oppressed. I encourage reading this for another view outside the Freire fan club. “Freire
as the initiator of a pedagogy for liberation could become the point person in the creation of a wider market for education
theories which merely build hegemony--and comfortable yet apparently socially conscious careers--in more sophisticated ways,”
Gibson (1994) had observed (The Promethean Literacy, Chapter One). This can be even more clearly seen today. As Gibson points out, Freire’s work has not been thoroughly historicized,
not even yet today, in spite of it being widely applied. Much as Kincheloe detached himself from the hegemonic, nihilistic
proponents of what was being labeled as postmodernism, he has also pulled Freire’s work out of the muck by leaving
most of it behind. It is time to give credit where credit is due.
Fourth, Kincheloe did not subscribe to Marxism, yet in this article his work is tainted with
an emphasis on Marxist theory. Apparently, from Kincheloe's perspective, there are no babies to save in the
Marxist bathwater, and yet the authors (McLaren & Steinberg) took it upon themselves to make statements I do not
believe Joe would have agreed to, making it appear that he did agree, e.g., propping up and listing Karl Marx first
as having provided “inspiration” to “critical traditions” (p., 163). Another example, and one which
completely counteracts the entire philosophical foundation of Kincheloe’s bricolage is the statement that, “We
assert that the insights of Marx and those working within the broad parameters of the Marxist tradition are foundational
for any critical research” (p. 165). Who is this "we"? This statement is someone else’s agenda; it
is not a part of Kincheloe’s formulation of bricolage and I question whether he would have signed off on this article.
Kincheloe's theory is a generous theory (it's too bad that more people do not follow his lead). His theory allows
for looking at issues from many vantage points and it does not ascribe to any one particular ideology as “foundational.”
His theory maintains a sense of tentativeness and evolution (i.e., there will always be more to learn; more
voices to incorporate; more changes). He also did not throw out the desires of people to analyze from their "Marxist
perspectives" and had even invited Peter McLaren to critique his early concepts of bricolage.
Kincheloe's work, as I have demonstrated in my dissertation, is based on a highly developed philosophical foundation, which
he had presented as a "unified world view" in his book, Critical Constructivism. Again, he took epistemological liberties with this term which
might be better represented as a "multidimensional critical complex constructivism." He acknowledged the many
voices, including the many voices of Marxism and critical pedagogy; he in no way shut people down. However,
the way Marxism is highlighted in this article that he allegedly has had a hand in writing does exactly that: by making
Marxism the foundation of bricolage, many voices are essentially disregarded and shut down. For example, as I state on page
64 of my dissertation:
Sandy Grande (2004) raises important questions in relation
to Marxists and their “socialist commitment” [citing McLaren & Frahmandpur, 2001, p.
306)], including questions about assuming that “the ‘egalitarian distribution’ of colonialized lands constitute
greater justice for Indigenous peoples” and how it can be considered “liberatory for American Indians”
as long as “power, exchange, and labor remain tied to whitestream notions of property” (p. 49). As much as Kincheloe
has stressed Indigenous perspectives, it seems blatantly wrong to form a quilt of his work by juxtaposing out-of-context
“cut-and-paste” excerpts from his critical bricolage articles alongside Marxist dialogue that is fixated on
Western notions of property, economics, and materialism, as has been done with his work after his death.
Do the true authors of this chapter about bricolage in Denzin and Lincoln's Sage Handbook of
Qualitative Research Handbook understand Kincheloe's work, or do they not care? They certainly
are not helping new bricoleurs come to understand bricolage, much less Kincheloe's conceptualization. They seem to have their
own agenda, one of which suspiciously appears to be to cloud Kincheloe’s work. This is all interpretation, of
course and I do not know what goes on behind the closed doors of the education publishing business, but one thing is certain:
students will not understand Kincheloe’s critical complex bricolage from reading this article and they may even come
away with the message that bricolage is "copy-and-paste." And what's even more distressing is that this very same
article has been published in at least three works relating to research, demonstrating the tactic, if it's said enough times,
people will believe it.
My advice, with a concept as important and complex as this is to go to
the primary source - Kincheloe and Berry's works. I've included more information and direct links to Kincheloe's seminal
articles here on this website. I will clarify that my writing about Kincheloe's work is, of course, my own interpretation
as supported by text from his writings and based on my research.
Kincheloe’s purpose was to work toward solving
the social ills, providing a quality education to everyone, and alleviating suffering. In this article/chapter under
discussion, his purpose has been fettered with, diminished, and counteracted -- and the article does not begin to provide
readers with an understanding of critical bricolage; it has clouded and confused what critical bricolage research involves. The
way Kincheloe's Great Work has been diminished, in my view, is a most debased form of oppression; he can
hardly defend himself from where he is – but sadly, it also seems to be an accurate representation of the true
Janus face of education today. And this very type of behavior has been going on for thousands of years; even the Bible
was changed to serve an elite King.
Education today is especially psychopathological and harmful -- and
it must change. It is time to take action and join in on Kincheloe's "perpetual revolution."
Gibson, R. (1994). The promethean
literacy: Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of reading, praxis, and liberation. [Doctoral dissertation.]. Retrieved from http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~rgibson/freirall.htm
Grande, S. (2004).
Red pedagogy: Native American social and political thought. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield
Kincheloe, J. L. (2005a). On to
the next level: Continuing the conceptualization of the bricolage. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(3), 323–350.
Kincheloe, J. L. (2005b). Critical constructivism. New York: Peter Lang.
Kincheloe, J.L. (POSTHUMOUSLY?),
McLaren, P., & Steinberg, S. (2011). Critical pedagogy and qualitative research: Moving to the bricolage. In N. Denzin
& Y. Lincoln, (2011) (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:
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