What Is a Metanarrative?

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  • Topic: Jean-François Lyotard, Postmodernism, The Postmodern Condition
  • Pages : 3 (955 words )
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  • Published : November 10, 2011
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What is a metanarrative and why should we be sceptical toward them?

A significant influential philosopher whose work focused on the postmodern condition was Jean Francois Lyotard. As Jean-François Lyotard explains in his book ‘The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge’ (1984) he is concerned with ‘the condition of knowledge in highly developed societies’ (Lyotard, 1979). For the purpose of discussions regarding Lyotard, it is prudent to note that the use of the term "postmodernism" is not to be understood as a historical era following the modern period. In ‘The Postmodern Condition’ Lyotard insists that the postmodern occurs within the modern period as “incredulity toward meta-narratives" (Lyotard, 1979). The meaning of a metanarrative (or grand narrative) is unique to Lyotard's theory. He defines it to mean a narrative with a legitimating function and states that metanarratives themselves require no further justification. In sociology, the concept of a meta-narrative is sometimes referred to as ‘high level theory’. In postmodern philosophy, a meta-narrative is an untold story that unifies and totalises the world, and that justifies a culture’s power structures. Sociological perspectives such as Functionalism, Marxism and Feminism are all examples of what post-modernists call metanarratives precisely because they attempt to account for all aspects of a society in terms of the perspective and the various theories it proposes. According to Lyotard, the sciences and late twentieth-century societies were in the middle of a legitimation crisis because of an inability to provide a justification in the form of a ‘primary explanation of the relations between science, technology, and society’ (Nola, R., Irzik, G., 2002). He reveals how knowledge has, up until the end of the 1950’s been legitimated by the metanarratives of science and he examines developments of knowledge since the end of World War II, insisting that this has led to the discrediting of...
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