Leading into the Future VII: Constructivism and Postmodernism
Concepts of a postmodern world come from four sources. A first source is the intellectual debates and dialogues in Europe (primarily France) regarding structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, post-capitalism, critical theory and feminism. This work is very difficult to understand, let alone summarize or typify. Some say it is difficult because the ideas are subtle, elusive or complex. Others say it is difficult because the authors purposefully make their points in an obscure or convoluted manner.
The second source of postmodern thought is the much more accessible—some would say “popularized”—critique of contemporary art forms (particularly architecture, literature and painting) and contemporary life styles (for example, advertising, fashion, and the colloquial use of language). This, in turn, relates to many of the critiques offered by the first source—in particular those involving deconstructionist and feminist reinterpretations of cultural history. Some of the clearest, but most controversial, writers in this feminist tradition are those who study and write about alternative versions of world (and especially Western) history (for example, Eisler ) and alternative ways of knowing in the world (for example, Gilligan; Belenky and Associates ).
A third source is the social analysis of the work place and economy, as represented by the work of Daniel Bell (who first coined the phrase post-industrial era), Kenneth Boulding (who wrote prophetically of the emergence of the intersect organization), and Peter Drucker (who first spoke of the privatization of public functions). Popular books written by Nesbitt and, at an earlier time, Toffler also have contributed, as has Thomas Peters (who accurately portrays the inadequacies of modern management responses to postmodern conditions). Finally, post-modernism is beholding, in an indirect manner, to work in the physical sciences that is usually labeled chaos or complexity theory. This work has been made accessible to the lay public through the journalistic writings of Gleick and Waltrup and the more technical, but nevertheless fascinating, writings of Ilya Prigogine and Stuart Kauffman
In this essay and several of the following essays, I briefly summarize the contributions to be made by each of these four sources, thereby setting the stage for the application of these ideas and others to our subsequent discussion regarding leadership. I specifically focus on four themes that are often associated with postmodernism and briefly indicate how one or more of the four postmodern sources have contributed to the elucidation of this theme. I focus in this issue on the theme of constructivism and its relationship to postmodernism.