The Screen of (Post)Modern Society: American Sociology and Its Discontents
This thesis is structured around a single observation: Jean Baudrillard is very marginal in American sociology and has become increasingly marginal since his death in 2007. We are living in a social world where the tenets of postmodernism seem more actualized now than they were when first introduced in the 1970s and 1980s. In light of this backdrop, the marginality of Baudrillard is intriguing because he was the only formally trained sociologist associated with French postmodernism. If the postmodernism assessment of the social world is becoming increasingly accurate, should American sociologists not be interested in what the only sociologist associated with this intellectual movement had to say? Exploring the possibilities surrounding Baudrillard’s marginality, I argue that it corresponds with and is symptomatic of the decline of the role of theory in sociology. From the vantage point of American sociology, Baudrillard appears to be irrelevant, and his work has to be marginalized, in order to distract from the fact that he and his work ought to be relevant and should be central, given that he illuminates troubling realties that American sociology deems import. I illustrate this by drawing a distinction between what sociology ought to do, as characterized by the goals, purposes, and methods that structured the initial formation of sociology as a discipline, and how American sociology appears, as defined by a trajectory of practicing sociology that gained increasing prominence and value (in terms of institutional prestige and research dollars) in the 1960s and 1970s. I then partially explicate Baudrillard’s theoretical position by focusing on two relatively neglected aspects of his theory, his concepts of symbolic exchange and reversibility. By explicating these concepts, I endeavor to demonstrate how they challenge the practices of contemporary American sociology which largely focuses on reproducing the social system we exist in rather than trying to illuminate the underlying tensions that are driving (post)modern society. I end by explaining how, against most other assessments, Baudrillard qualifies as meeting the tenets for what sociology ought to do. In the face of the impending challenges of critiquing Surveillance Capitalism, Baudrillard provides inspiration for productively facing the future.
View the full text of this thesis here: https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_gradthes/6280/