Postmodernism is an intellectual stance or mode of discourse defined by an attitude of skepticism toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism, as well as opposition to epistemic certainty and the stability of meaning. It questions or criticizes viewpoints associated with Enlightenment rationality dating back to the 17th century, and is characterized by irony, eclecticism, and its rejection of the "universal validity" of binary oppositions, stable identity, hierarchy, and categorization. Postmodernism is associated with relativism and a focus on ideology in the maintenance of economic and political power. Postmodernists are generally "skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races," and describe truth as relative. It can be described as a reaction against attempts to explain reality in an objective manner by claiming that reality is a mental construct. Access to an unmediated reality or to objectively rational knowledge is rejected on the grounds that all interpretations are contingent on the perspective from which they are made; as such, claims to objective fact are dismissed as naive realism.
Postmodern thinkers frequently describe knowledge claims and value systems as contingent or socially-conditioned, describing them as products of political, historical, or cultural discourses and hierarchies. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence. Postmodernism is often associated with schools of thought such as deconstruction and post-structuralism. Postmodernism relies on critical theory, which considers the effects of ideology, society, and history on culture. Postmodernism and critical theory commonly criticize universalist ideas of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, language, and social progress.
Initially, postmodernism was a mode of discourse on literature and literary criticism, commenting on the nature of literary text, meaning, author and reader, writing, and reading. Postmodernism developed in the mid- to late-twentieth century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism as a departure or rejection of modernism. Postmodernist approaches have been adopted in a variety of academic and theoretical disciplines, including political science, organization theory, cultural studies, philosophy of science, economics, linguistics, architecture, feminist theory, and literary criticism, as well as art movements in fields such as literature and music. As a critical practice, postmodernism employs concepts such as hyperreality, simulacrum, trace, and difference, and rejects abstract principles in favor of direct experience.
Criticisms of postmodernism are intellectually diverse, and include arguments that postmodernism promotes obscurantism, is meaningless, and adds nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge. Some philosophers, beginning with the pragmatist philosopher Jürgen Habermas, say that postmodernism contradicts itself through self-reference, as their critique would be impossible without the concepts and methods that modern reason provides. Various authors have criticized postmodernism, or trends under the general postmodern umbrella, as abandoning Enlightenment rationalism or scientific rigor.