The term postmodern was first used around the 1870s. John Watkins Chapman suggested "a Postmodern style of painting" as a way to move beyond French Impressionism. J. M. Thompson, in his 1914 article in The Hibbert Journal (a quarterly philosophical review), used it to describe changes in attitudes and beliefs in the critique of religion: "The raison d'etre of Post-Modernism is to escape from the double-mindedness of Modernism by being thorough in its criticism by extending it to religion as well as theology, to Catholic feeling as well as to Catholic tradition."
In 1917, Rudolf Pannwitz used the term to describe a philosophically-oriented culture. His idea of post-modernism drew from Friedrich Nietzsche's analysis of modernity and its end results of decadence and nihilism. Pannwitz's post-human would be able to overcome these predicaments of the modern human. Contrary to Nietzsche, Pannwitz also included nationalist and mythical elements in his use of the term.
In 1921 and 1925, postmodernism had been used to describe new forms of art and music. In 1942 H. R. Hays described it as a new literary form. However, as a general theory for a historical movement it was first used in 1939 by Arnold J. Toynbee: "Our own Post-Modern Age has been inaugurated by the general war of 1914-1918."
In 1949 the term was used to describe a dissatisfaction with modern architecture, and led to the postmodern architecture movement, perhaps also a response to the modernist architectural movement known as the International Style. Postmodernism in architecture is marked by the re-emergence of surface ornament, reference to surrounding buildings in urban architecture, historical reference in decorative forms, and non-orthogonal angles.
After that, postmodernism was applied to a host of movements, many in art, music, and literature, that reacted against tendencies in the imperialist phase of capitalism called "modernism," and are typically marked by revival of historical elements and techniques. Walter Truett Anderson identifies Postmodernism as one of four typological world views. These four world views are the Postmodern-ironist, which sees truth as socially constructed; the scientific-rational, in which truth is found through methodical, disciplined inquiry; the social-traditional, in which truth is found in the heritage of American and Western civilization; and the neo-romantic, in which truth is found through attaining harmony with nature and/or spiritual exploration of the inner self.
Postmodernist ideas in philosophy and the analysis of culture and society expanded the importance of critical theory and has been the point of departure for works of literature, architecture, and design, as well as being visible in marketing/business and the interpretation of history, law and culture, starting in the late 20th century. These developments—re-evaluation of the entire Western value system (love, marriage, popular culture, shift from industrial to service economy) that took place since the 1950s and 1960s, with a peak in the Social Revolution of 1968—are described with the term Postmodernity, Influences on postmodern thought, Paul Lützeler (St. Louis) as opposed to Postmodernism, a term referring to an opinion or movement. Postmodernism has also been used interchangeably with the term post-structuralism out of which postmodernism grew, a proper understanding of postmodernism or doing justice to the postmodernist thought demands an understanding of the poststructuralist movement and the ideas of its advocates. Post-structuralism resulted similarly to postmodernism by following a time of structuralism. It is characterized by new ways of thinking through structuralism, contrary to the original form. "Postmodernist" describes part of a movement; "Postmodern" places it in the period of time since the 1950s, making it a part of contemporary history.
The idea of Postmodernism in architecture began as a response to the perceived blandness, inhumanity, and failed Utopianism of the Modern movement. Modern Architecture, as established and developed by Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, was focused on the pursuit of a perceived ideal perfection, and attempted harmony of form and function, and dismissal of "frivolous ornament." Critics of modernism argued that the attributes of perfection and minimalism themselves were subjective, and pointed out anachronisms in modern thought and questioned the benefits of its philosophy. Definitive postmodern architecture such as the work of Michael Graves and Robert Venturi rejects the notion of a 'pure' form or 'perfect' architectonic detail, instead conspicuously drawing from all methods, materials, forms and colors available to architects.
Modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is associated with the phrase "less is more"; in contrast Venturi famously said, "Less is a bore." Postmodernist architecture was one of the first aesthetic movements to openly challenge Modernism as antiquated and "totalitarian", favoring personal preferences and variety over objective, ultimate truths or principles.
It is this atmosphere of criticism, skepticism, and emphasis on difference over and against unity that distinguishes the postmodernism aesthetic. Among writers defining the terms of this discourse is Charles Jencks, described by Architectural Design Magazine as "the definer of Post-Modernism for thirty years" and the "internationally acclaimed critic..., whose name became synonymous with Post-modernism in the 80s".
Postmodernism is a rejection of 'totality', of the notion that planning could be 'comprehensive', widely applied regardless of context, and rational. In this sense, Postmodernism is a rejection of its predecessor: Modernism. From the 1920s onwards, the Modern movement sought to design and plan cities which followed the logic of the new model of industrial mass production; reverting to large-scale solutions, aesthetic standardisation and prefabricated design solutions. Postmodern also brought a break from the notion that planning and architecture could result in social reform, which was an integral dimension of the plans of Modernism. Furthermore, Modernism eroded urban living by its failure to recognise differences and aim towards homogenous landscapes. Within Modernism, urban planning represented a 20th-century move towards establishing something stable, structured, and rationalised within what had become a world of chaos, flux and change. The role of planners predating Postmodernism was one of the 'qualified professional' who believed they could find and implement one single 'right way' of planning new urban establishments. In fact, after 1945, urban planning became one of the methods through which capitalism could be managed and the interests of developers and corporations could be administered.
Considering Modernism inclined urban planning to treat buildings and developments as isolated, unrelated parts of the overall urban ecosystems created fragmented, isolated, and homogeneous urban landscapes (Goodchild, 1990). One of the greater problems with Modernist-style of planning was the disregard of resident or public opinion, which resulted in planning being forced upon the majority by a minority consisting of affluent professionals with little to no knowledge of real 'urban' problems characteristic of post-Second World War urban environments; slums, overcrowding, deteriorated infrastructure, pollution and disease, among others. These were precisely the 'urban ills' Modernism was meant to 'solve', but more often than not, the types of 'comprehensive', 'one size fits all' approaches to planning made things worse., and residents began to show interest in becoming involved in decisions which had once been solely entrusted to professionals of the built environment. Advocacy planning and participatory models of planning emerged in the 1960s to counter these traditional elitist and technocratic approaches to urban planning. Furthermore, an assessment of the 'ills' of Modernism among planners during the 1960s, fuelled development of a participatory model that aimed to expand the range of participants in urban interventions.
Jane Jacobs's 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities was a sustained critique of urban planning as it had developed within Modernism and marked a transition from modernity to postmodernity in thinking about urban planning. However, the transition from Modernism to Postmodernism is often said to have happened at 3:32pm on the 15th of July in 1972, when Pruitt Igoe; a housing development for low-income people in St. Louis designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, which had been a prize winning version of Le Corbusier's 'machine for modern living' was deemed uninhabitable and was torn down. Since then, Postmodernism has involved theories that embrace and aim to create diversity, and it exhaults uncertainty, flexibility and change. Postmodern planning aims to accept pluralism and heighten awareness of social differences in order to accept and bring to light the claims of minority and disadvantaged groups. It is important to note that urban planning discourse within Modernity and Postmodernity has developed in different contexts, even though they both grew within a capitalist culture. Modernity was shaped by a capitalist ethic of Fordist-Keynesian paradigm of mass, standardized production and consumption, while postmodernity was created out of a more flexible form of capital accumulation, labor markets and organisations. Also, there is a distinction between a postmodernism of 'reaction' and one of 'resistance'. A postmodernism of 'reaction' rejects Modernism and seeks to return to the lost traditions and history in order to create a new cultural synthesis, while Postmodernity of 'resistance' seeks to deconstruct Modernism and is a critique of the origins without necessarily returning to them. As a result of Postmodernism, planners are much less inclined to lay a firm or steady claim to there being one single 'right way' of engaging in urban planning and are more open to different styles and ideas of 'how to plan'.