The issues setting the agenda of postmodernism, simultaneously observable within many contexts, tend to share several elements or perhaps several ways of describing the same fundamental phenomena. The most common of these is an emergent consensus about a seeming absence of consensus. And perhaps this is not so much an absence of consensus as a sense of being forced to an unexpected and often discomforting pluralism. Marxism, neo-Darwinism, and Freudianism all seem to have undergone refurbishing, with no one intellectual tendency appearing to dominate; the marketplace of ideas has come to resemble a surreal carnival midway. More importantly, rarely has the gap between theory and ongoing research been so wide; the more global the aspirations of theory and the more technologically involved the research, the wider the gap appears.

One positive aspect of this new pluralism is the movement towards an abandonment of linear, one-dimensional concepts of intellectual progress, an abandonment of the promise of bringing a contingent and malleable reality into closer harmony with the essential (permanent) principles guiding life. This pluralism has brought with it a corresponding reappraisal of a model of incremental, incorporative progress in science, a concept of science that can be seen as having yielded little beyond coercive and latently ideological banalities when extended to consideration of human sexuality. In the postmodern debate, there is an increased acceptance of the possibility that the broad realm of human behavior creates a relativity that condemns us to what is, in some sense, permanent failure, or at least to an obligatory sense of the provisional. Karen Homey’s observation of a half century ago that “there is no such thing as a normal psychology which holds for all [of humanity]” (1937 [1964] :19) has a kind of renewed currency that lessens the risk of deceiving ourselves regarding the culturally and historically circumscribed aspect of our work. Recent historical research too abundantly reveals that the efforts at framing the “facts” of a specific time and place in the language of the timeless and the universal serves neither science nor society.