What Is Metamodernism?

Metamodernism is the cultural code that comes after postmodernism.

Posted Apr 17, 2020

This blog is co-authored by Daniel Görtz. He is a sociologist, social theorist, and writer. He holds a Ph.D. in police ethnography from Lund University and has been active in publishing books and articles on metamodernism as a political and philosophical theory. He currently works for Radicle, Dubai, and One Project, San Francisco.

If a year ago, someone asked me (Gregg) the question, "What is metamodernism?" I would have answered that I had never heard the term. It turns out, however, that it refers to a new, powerful, emerging movement that brilliantly captures my basic sensibility (see here for how metamodernism can be thought of as a kind of cultural sensibility). Daniel Görtz is a leading figure in the movement, and I am happy to be co-authoring this blog with him.

The most basic way to conceptualize metamodernism is to consider it as the mindset or sensibility or cultural code that comes after postmodernism (see here for the Wiki entry). As such, it is helpful to briefly review modernism and its relationship to postmodernism, which, in turn, sets the stage for understanding the emerging metamodern movement. Modernism is a mindset and cultural code that is formed during the emergence of modern science and the Enlightenment (thus, it has been around for ~300 years). It emphasizes reason and rationality, the power of science in deciphering foundational truths about the universe, capitalism, and the idea of human progress. It also emphasizes individuality and universal human rights. Most "modern" industrial societies are primarily organized by these values and codes.

Postmodernism arose mostly in the back half of the 20th century. In direct contrast to modernism, the postmodern viewpoint offers a skeptical critique of modernist knowledge and concludes that the knowledge we generate is always contextual. The postmodern argument is that there is an inevitable fusion of truth with social power. It was consolidated by philosophers like Jaques Derrida, Paul Feyerabend, and Michel Foucault. It manifested in movements such as the massive civil rights and feminist positions that emerged in the 1960s, as people demanded changes in the existing power structures that were seen to be connected to a Christian, white male hegemony. In 1979, Jean-François Lyotard captured the essence of the postmodern sensibility as being the absence of the grand narrative.

At its broadest contours, the metamodern view can be considered a kind of higher-order synthesis that includes and transcends both the modernist thesis about rationality and science and the postmodern antithetical critique. In addition, metamodernists tend to view the current state of our knowledge to be overly chaotic and fragmented and advocate for a more integrated pluralism that allows for positive, constructive work on what some have called a "post-postmodern grand meta-narrative."

Metamodernism in six dimensions

In a recent post to the metamodern discussion group, Daniel Görtz laid out six different domains or dimensions to the construct. Specifically, according to Görtz, metamodernism is: 1) a cultural phase; 2) developmental stage of society; 3) stage of personal development (with different complexly intertwined sub-categories thereof); 4) an abstracted meta-meme; 5) a philosophical paradigm, and 6) a sociopolitical movement. We share these six domains here for you to get a flavor for the movement and its emerging stripes.

1. Metamodernism as a Cultural Phase

Here metamodernism refers to trends within the culture at large that include the visual arts, theatre, architecture, literature, music, film, and so forth. In this context, it is the movement that comes after and redeems the cynicism and irony of postmodernism. Some examples are seen in the work of Vermeulen and van der Akker, comparable to the work of cultural theorists on post-postmodernism, digimidernism, transmodernism, performativism, postconstructivism, and enactivism.

2. Metamodernism as a Developmental Stage of Society and Its Institutions

As reviewed by this blog, we can trace the evolution of cultural justifications and the instructions that support them via identifiable stages. These include pre-formal indigenous justification systems that characterize hunter-gatherer and horticultural societies. Here oral narratives, face-to-face exchanges, and magical/mythic ritualistic practices to cultivate participatory meaning-making are key features.

Three to four thousand years ago, we saw the emergence of pre-modern formal systems of justification. These are the great religious and philosophical traditions, like Buddhism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and the Judeo-Christian-Islamic belief system. These belief systems consist of sacred written texts, offer a formal narrative for what is and what ought to be, and function to coordinate huge numbers of people. Approximately 400 years ago, we saw modernism and then approximately 70 years ago, postmodernism. As elaborated by Hanzi Freinacht (see here and here), metamodernism can be considered a socio-political vision for the next developmental stage to emerge and stabilize after modern society (see also #6).

3. Metamodernism as a Relatively Late and Rare Stage of Personal Development

As noted by many developmental psychologists, and perhaps summarized and popularized most broadly by Ken Wilber, we can trace the development of moral, cognitive, emotional, existential, and relational stages. Across development lines, people move from pre-verbal stages at birth into concrete and relatively simple ways of thinking as young children into more abstract and conventional forms of thinking and relating and then into more holistic, integrated, and post-conventional ways of being. As such, metamodernism as a cultural code also lines up with a higher stage of personal development. (See work on ego development and self-transformation by such theorists and researchers as Robert Kegan, Hanzi Freinacht, Susanne Cook-Greuter, Michael L. Commons, Michael Basseches and Michael Mascolo, Kurt Fischer, Theo Dawson, Terri O'Fallon, Clare Graves, and Gerald Young.)

4. Metamodernism as a Meta-Meme

A meme is a cultural idea or icon that replicates and spreads. Some consider metamodernism to be a kind of meta-meme. This refers to a deep code that consists of pattern-of-patterns within the realm of meaning-making and symbols, with its own social, economic, and technological dynamics. Consider, for example, the concept of "emerge" as described here. This movement can be thought of as a meta-meme that signals themes that come together in a coherent, non-arbitrary manner, where the different parts resonate with one another and mutually reinforce each other, particularly around the emergence of a digitized internet society. This is explored in Hanzi Freinacht's upcoming work, The 6 Hidden Patterns of History, and it has a precedent in the work of Jean Gebser.

5. Metamodernism as a Holistic Philosophical Paradigm

Metamodernism is a way of viewing the world that emphasizes a kind of integrated pluralism. As such, we can think of it as a paradigm or model or schema that consists of a philosophy that includes a family of ideas concerning ontology, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics. Some examples include Karen Barad's agential realism and onto-epistemology and Quentin Meillassoux's speculative realism.

Metamodern philosophical paradigms tend to emphasize elements such as holism; complexity science, information theory, and cybernetics; developmental views on emergence; ways of reconciling the natural and social sciences; a focus on the potential that bridges scientific and humanistic considerations. As a metapsychology for the 21st century, the Unified Framework, grounded as it is in the Tree of Knowledge theory of knowledge, represents an example of a metamodern philosophy that transcends and includes the key ontological, epistemological, and ethical considerations of both modernism and postmodernism.

6. Metamodernism as a Societal and Political Project

Metamodernism can also be considered a political project. Emerging primarily in relatively "progressive" countries and segments of "developed" societies, it is driven by ideals of creating open, participatory processes, collective intelligence, inner work and "embodiment," co-development, and an experimental view on rituals as well as attempts to "re-construct" everyday life and social reality, as well as attempts to bridge and synthesize perspectives of the Left and Right and the different sides of the culture wars, e.g., between traditionalists and progressives. Metamodernists tend to emphasize inner development as a political and sociological issue, deliberation and perspective taking as political tools, and focus on the intersection of inner depth and outwards complexity. The demographics of this movement is primarily drawn from what Hanzi Freinacht has termed the "Quadruple-H population" (Hipsters, Hackers, Hippies, and Hermetics).


If you are interested in the Metamodern Movement, here are some links and resources: 


Bildung and Metamodernity

What is Emerging? (see especially the Emerge Podcast)

Metamodernism at Abs-Traction

Notes on Metamodernism

Rebel Wisdom

Intellectual Deep Web

The Theory of Knowledge Society