Life Itself is currently undertaking the exciting project of mapping the emerging “metamodern” ecosystem. This ecosystem is centered on a radical, alternative approach to social change – one that is simultaneously paradigmatic, integrated and engaged. To learn more about the project, visit our website here.
This post is the first in a series of essays summarizing key traditions of influence in this emerging ecosystem. Today we are beginning with the ecosystem’s central concept: metamodernism.
Metamodernism is a term used to articulate developments in contemporary culture and society that, some argue, represent a move beyond postmodernism. Metamodernism can be characterized as a move from the irony and cynicism characteristic of postmodernism, towards a yearning for sincere and constructive expression and progression. It is the emergence of an ostensible collective desire for change.
Central Ideas and Claims
Metamodernism posits that our era represents an oscillation between aspects of both modernism and postmodernism.
Modernism was ushered in with the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. The ‘modern’ worldview emphasized reason and rationality, the power of science in deciphering foundational truths about the universe, capitalism, and the idea of human progress. It also emphasized individuality and universal human rights. Most ‘modern’ industrial societies are primarily organized by these values and codes.
The postmodern viewpoint, consolidated by philosophers like Jaques Derrida, Paul Feyerabend, and Michel Foucault, casts a skeptical and critical eye over modernist knowledge. Postmodernists are skeptical of grand narratives and explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races. Instead, postmodernists focus on the relative truths of each person, rejecting the possibility of unmediated reality or objectively rational knowledge. Claims to objective fact are dismissed as naive realism. Postmodernism is manifested in movements such as the civil rights and feminist positions that emerged in the 1960s, as people demanded changes in existing power structures.
The discourse surrounding metamodernism moves away from the cynicism characteristic of postmodernism, engaging instead with a more sincere and hopeful worldview. Metamodern discourse is open to the potential for grand narratives and universal truths, whilst holding on to the learnings and understandings gained in the postmodern era. In practice, metamodernism can be seen as a kind of pragmatic idealism. Artist and writer Luke Turner said: “Metamodernism does not propose any kind of utopian vision, although it does describe the climate in which a yearning for utopias, despite their futile nature, has come to the fore.1Turner, L. Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction. 2015. http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/01/12/metamodernism-a-brief-introduction/
Metamodernism as a political ideology
Hanzi Freinachet, author of The Listening Society (2017) and Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two (2019), poses metamodernism as a political ideology as well as an aesthetic movement and a stage of cultural development following postmodernism.
Metamodernism as a political ideology is driven by ideals of creating open, participatory processes, collective intelligence, inner work and “embodiment,” and co-development.
UK cultural-political network, Alter Ego, which has adopted the metamodern viewpoint, says: ‘Political problems are never “just” political; they are always also emotional, psychological and (what some call) “spiritual” problems… Politics has neglected the most fundamental questions of human life—those related to meaning, purpose and transcendence… The personal development of individuals must be taken seriously if we want to transform society.’2https://www.philosophyforlife.org/blog/on-metamodernism-and-the-listening-society.
The use of the prefix meta here derives from Plato’s metaxis, describing an oscillation and simultaneity between and beyond diametrically opposed poles. This usage was first proposed by Dutch cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker in their 2010 essay, “Notes on Metamodernism”.3Vermeulen, T. and van den Akker, R. Notes on metamodernism. Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 2(1), 2010. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3402/jac.v2i0.5677
Modernism emerged approximately 400 years ago with the Scientific Revolution. Features of postmodernist thinking began to arise in the 1940s, and gained ascendancy over modernism in the 1960s. Metamodernism is the mindset, sensibility or cultural code that follows postmodernism.
- Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker: Dutch cultural theorists who first proposed the use of the term “metamodernism” in 2010.
- Hanzi Freinacht: author of The Listening Society and Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two. Freinacht is a fictional invented by Emil Ejner Friis, a Danish philosopher and activist in the Danish Alternative Party; and Daniel Gortz, a PhD student in sociology at Lund University in Sweden.
- Freinacht, H. The Listening Society. Metamoderdena, 2017
- Freinacht, H. Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two. Metamoderdena, 2019.
- Vermeulen, T. & van den Akker, R. Notes on metamodernism. Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 2:1., 2010. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3402/jac.v2i0.5677?needAccess=true
- Henriques, G. ‘What Is Metamodernism?’. Psychology Today. 17 April, 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/theory-knowledge/202004/what-is-metamodernism
- Philosophy for Life. ‘On Metamodernism and The Listening Society’. 2017 https://www.philosophyforlife.org/blog/on-metamodernism-and-the-listening-society.
- The Institute of Art and Ideas. ‘The New World of Metamodernism’. 2021. https://iai.tv/articles/the-new-world-of-metamodernism-auid-1923
- Turner, L. ‘Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction’. 2015. http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/01/12/metamodernism-a-brief-introduction/
- Vermeulen, T. and van den Akker, R. ‘Notes on Metamodernism’. Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 2(1), 2010. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3402/jac.v2i0.5677
- What Is Metamodern?: a catalog of cultural products and artifacts that bear an aesthetic signature that exemplifies metamodernism.