These developments can be described as an evolutionary drift from being what I have called a paradigmatic social order to its current and possibly permanent postparadigmatic social condition. Paradigmatic contexts are those that realize a high degree of consensual meanings, shared meanings that tend to fit together almost seamlessly, since they are of ten experienced as being derived from a smaller number of master paradigms that, in turn, are all authorized by some universally shared, ultimate source of truth. Thus patriarchy as a cultural practice described (and proscribed) patterns of behavior, not only within the family but also between the monarch and the subject, the employer and the employee, the healer and the patient, the priest and the parishioner, and the teacher and the student. As individuals moved from role to role, the dominant cultural styles remained constant. Ultimately, the principle of hierarchy was viewed as being as natural and as universal as the relationship between the individual and God the father.

Postparadigmatic contexts are those where this seamless integration of consensual meanings begins to dissolve. Appearing in pluralized forms, with their underlying assumptions stripped of their unquestionable authority, even the most familiar aspects of social life become sites for conflicting or alternative options. This can be observed where the legacy of modernism meets the legacy of traditional society, since there are currently as many alternative forms of psychotherapy as there are forms of religious practice. Even more expressive of the impact of postmodernity are the wide divergences of practice and theory within most current religions and schools of psychotherapy.

In effect, postparadigmatic conditions are precisely what occasion this dense introduction. One can less and less assume that there is any depth of shared meanings or common knowledge, particularly when discussing that in which we are all participants—the human experience. The mid-century’s dream of realizing a systematically integrated human science remains just that—a dream, possibly a deceptive and deceiving dream and, like all dreams, regulated more by a wish than by reality.

Much of the foregoing might best be paraphrased in the concluding remarks of Ernest Gellner in his recent work, Reason and Culture:

In a stable traditional world, [persons] had identities, linked to their social roles, and confirmed by their overall vision of nature and society. Instability and rapid change both in knowledge and in society has deprived such self-images of the erstwhile feel of reliability. Identities are perhaps more ironic and conditional than once they were, or at any rate, when confident unjustifiably so.

(Gellner 1992:182)