According to postmodern perspectives, existing theories have been unsuccessful in explaining social hfe in contemporary societies that are characterized by postfndustrhtlizutlou, consumerism, and global comruuulcutious, Postmodern social theorists reject the theoretical perspectives we have previously discussed, as well as how those thinkers created the theories (Ritzer, 1996). These theorists oppose the grand narratives that characterize modern thinking and believe that boundaries should not be placed on academic disciplines-such as philosophy, literature, art, and the social sciences-when much could be learned by sharing ideas.
Just as functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist perspectives emerged in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, postmodern theories emerged after World War II (in the late J 940s) and reflected the belief that some nations were entering a period of post industrialization. Postmodern (or "post industrial") societies are characterized by an information explosion and an economy in whih large numbers of people either provide or apply information, or they are employed in professional occupations (such as lawyers and physicians) or service jobs (such as fast-food servers and health care workers). There is a corresponding rise of a consumer society and the emergence of a global village in which people around the world communicate with one another by electronic technologies such as television, telephone, fax, e-mail, and the Internet. Jean Baudrillard, a well-known French social theorist, is one of the key figures in postmodern theory, even though he would dispute this label. Baudrillard has extensively explored how the shift from production of goods (such as in the era of Marx and Weber) to consumption of information, services, and products in contemporary societies has created a new form of social control. According to Baudrillard's approach, capitalists strive to control people's shopping habits, much like the output of factory workers in industrial economies, to enhance their profits and to keep everyday people from rebelling against social inequality (1998/1970). How does this work? When consumers are encouraged to purchase more than they need or can afford, they often sink deeper in debt and must keep working to meet their monthly payments. Instead of consumption being related to our needs, it is based on factors such as our "wants" and the need we feel to distinguish ourselves from others. Wewill look at this idea in more detail in the next section, where we apply a postmodern perspective to shopping and consumption. We will also return to BaudriLlard's general ideas on postmodern societies in Chapter 3 ("Culture").
Today, postmodern theory remains an emerging perspective in the social sciences. How influential will this approach be? It remains 10 be seen what influence postmodern thinkers will have on the social sciences. Although this approach opens up broad new avenues of inquiry by challenging existing perspectives and questioning current belief systems, it also tends to ignore many of the central social problems of our time-such as inequalities based on race, class,and gender, and global political and economic oppression (Ritzer, 1996).