I just discovered an obscure video on YouTube about transmodernism. This video offers one of the best and most concise descriptions of transmodernism that I’ve seen. Transmodernism is a lesser-known movement that combines the best parts of pre-modernism, modernism and postmodernism. The movement embraces the ethos of liberation theology, as well as the anti-eurocentrism, and anti-imperialism of the post-modernist movement while also expressing reverence for family, tradition and spiritual life. Above all, transmodernism rejects the extreme relativism of post-modernism as well as its claims that all the world’s relations are exclusively about power and dominance.
What I like about this philosophy is that it agrees with many of the most rational and functionally useful strands of the Left which -through the influence of postmodernism’s emphasis on deconstruction- rejects the idea that a single overarching story of any one powerful social group can represent so called “human history”. What makes transmodernism attractive to me is that this framework goes further than post-modernism by not allowing deconstruction of power dynamics and analysis of political systems to succumb to the relentless articulation of differences and power imbalances between identity groups.
This belief in an over-arching story that can represent all groups of people is called the “meta-narrative” in post-modernist language, and it is considered an important task to deconstruct meta-narratives that serve dominant groups -whether intentionally or unintentionally constructed- to allow space for other narratives (stories/life experiences) to emerge into view.
This is why the progressive/Leftist/liberal approach to the world is to search for power imbalances and invisible narratives and to lift up those groups who suffer under these conditions and place them front and center. Hence, we see a propping up of People of Color (PoC), gay people, lesbians and bisexuals, transgender people (including non-binary), followers of unpopular religions, indigenous peoples, immigrants, and other groups who have traditionally been pushed (or indirectly placed) to the margins.
At the same time, the transmodernist approach does not reduce all human phenomena to power/dominance relations and does not reject the existence of objective reality. Recognizing that these two fundamentally fixed ideological positions of the postmodernist perspective almost inevitably lead to a cynical, jaundiced view of reality and human relations, transmodernism puts forth a more open-minded (even open-hearted?) vision that allows for a freer more open and inquisitive relationship to reality and human relationships and enough room to see reality as it is -not as we wish it to be or fear it to be.
So, one can say that the transmodernist approach can be appealing to people in the West who question the dogmatism of modern social justice approaches to human rights (or social justice) because it leaves room for tradition and some degree of shared history (without leaving out narratives of minority groups), and respect for what works in institutions.
Transmodernism, that is, does not rely solely on de-constructing, tearing down, interrogating, and destroying institutions or the hold on power of certain groups in order to re-create a perfect Utopian vision. Rather, critical analysis is used as a tool for analyzing oppressive systems without relying on the presupposed claim that ALL systems and certain “dominant groups” are inherently and totally oppressive. This again, allows for more flexibility (and accuracy) of interpretation and thus more objectively reachable solutions to problems that are discovered.
All in all, the transmodernist approach synthesizes the impulse to dream freely, the drive to innovate, and the moral imperative to critique, understand and reconstruct when those things run afoul of human rights, dignity and freedom. In such a vision, entrepreneurship, innovation, and brilliance do not compete with human rights, dignity and freedom, but serve as their chief protectors.
How the transmodernist vision can be put into practice can’t be summed up in a single blog. Plus, I don’t personally know at this time what that might look like as a practice on a large enough scale to make a noticeable difference.
But, I think the relationship to peacemaking is obvious, as the transmodernist conception of society, productive and justice cuts against the chief claims that drive the most doctrinaire adherents of both the radical left (all the world is comprised of power and oppression and certain groups of one-dimensional people are inherently to blame) and the hard right (all the world exists for unmitigated use by whomever gets to the top of the mountain, and might makes right to keep that group in power).
The prefix trans is Latin for “beyond”. If we are to transcend hardened dualities between conceptions of reality and tribes of people within that reality, it’s time to search for new frameworks that seek to take modern life far beyond even what may be considered post-modern.
Transmodernism offers such a framework.
****A tip of the hat to Suffolk Law University Professor David Yamada, whose blog piece, “The Social Responsibility of Intellectuals at a Time of Extraordinary Need” inspired both this piece and my other essay on Robert Greenleaf’s model of servant leadership. It is with David’s permission that I have included the “extraordinary need” phrase in some of the titles of my essays. David Yamada was recently named the 30th most influential organizational psychologist alive today, and is the author of the Healthy Workplace Bill in 37 states. I had the pleasure of participating in two workshops he designed for professionals who are contributing to the healthy workplace movement.