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Anthropology (Pitzer)

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Frederick Jameson, Postmodernism, Capitalism, American culture


It has become commonplace for anthropologists, historians, and other researchers to discuss the cultural and historical construction of "selves." One now-classic description of this sort is the historian E. P. Thompson's account (1963, 1967) of the way industrial capitalism created a greater time consciousness among English factory workers. More recently, the literary critic Frederic Jameson has written about the psychological effects of late-20th-century capitalism. Using as his evidence works of architecture, poetry, music, and other artistic and intellectual productions, he has argued that (at least in the United States, the focus of his description) the standardization of our environment, saturation of our consciousness by mass media, and local dislocations caused by the globalization of production have produced a new dominant consciousness: a postmodern schizo-fragmentation (1991:372) characterized by floating emotions, inability to "organize . . . past and future into coherent experience” (1991:25), and compartmentalization of diverse bits of information in unconnected mental regions.1 Jameson's discussion, like Thompson's, has become an influential account of the psychological effects of political-economic change. His stimulating analysis deserves a thorough investigation. How well does it fit late-20th-century U.S. Americans?

On the basis of my interviews with some urbanites and suburbanites in the United States, I will argue that Jameson's account of "postmodern schizo-fragmentation" is only partly right. Each person whose talk I have analyzed did have disparate schemas that can be traced to heterogeneous social discourses and practices.3 However, emotionally salient life experiences mediated their internalization of social discourses and led to a partial cognitive integration of them. This was true across boundaries of age, ethnicity, color, class, and gender for my interviewees, suggesting problems with not only Jameson's account but also others that expect a "rupture of narrativity" among marginal or exploited groups in this society (e.g., Ortner 1991). My research also throws suspicion on studies that infer general forms of consciousness from art works or theories created for an elite audience.


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Contents: Jameson on Late Capitalism, Postmodernism, and Psychological Fragmentation; Looking for Postmodern Subjects; Theories Meet People, Part I: Evidence for the Partly Fragmented Self; Theories Meet People, Part II: Evidence for the Partly Integrated Self; Conclusions; Notes

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© 1997 American Anthropological Association. Any inquiries regarding permission to reprint or use in any manner the following material should be directed to both the American Anthropological Association and Wiley-Blackwell.

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