Is modernism v postmodernism a relevant discussion?

Peter Bednar, Christine Welch

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


As travellers, we are usually aware that a map is not the territory it represents. However, as researchers, inquiring into practice, are we always aware of the domain within which that practice is situated? Descriptions of practice sometimes suggest that this is not the case. For example, do engineers actually believe that the models they develop and use are reflections of some reality? It is likely that an engineer never actually follows his models when developing an artefact or process. Similarly, we can ask ourselves whether we believe that a chef actually cooks by following a recipe. Possibly, only someone who does not know how to cook would think so. These idealised are simply the basis for discussion/reflection and experimentation? It is sometimes the case, however, that descriptions of practice are produced based in a kind of rationality that suggests these misapprehensions are appropriate. In the context of research, can we say that postmodernism has any relevance? If, in the field of practice, only the uninitiated ever had illusions that the 'grand theories' of 'modernism' could be directly applicable, then informed research must recognize this also. To those with no illusions, such 'grand theories' were a basis for reflection and critique. Thus, to this extent we have always been 'modern' and still are. Rather than espousing a Postmodernist perspective, we might point to 'Hypermodernism' – a recognition that the 'grand theories' can only be used as metaphors, i.e. a basis for practical philosophy. By adopting such a stance, it is possible to avoid a false step of fighting 'straw men' and dismissing as worthless research which could be useful material for reflection and learning when juxtaposed with other perspectives on practice. Models and explanatory frameworks within which research has been conducted need not be rejected as 'modernist' if there is recognition of their useful role as metaphor. At the same time, we suggest a need for a critically-informed approach to research which sheds light upon taken-for-granted assumptions and naïve rationalities, illuminating metaphor and stimulating reflection.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 7th European conference on research methods for business and management studies
EditorsA. Brown
Place of PublicationReading
PublisherAcademic Publishing Limited
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9781906638030
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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