Transmodernity: A New Paradigm

Transmodernity: A New Paradigm1

Rosa María Rodríguez Magda

(Translation by Jessica Aliaga Lavrijsen)

I do not know if one can become the owner of words, nonetheless terms emerge, they are coined and circulate, with greater or lesser success. In this case, since I have made it the axis of my reflections for more than twenty years, I have developed a theory about it and I do not know that it has been used before consistently, I think I can claim the maternity of the concept. Maternity in the open sense that such a process is: generation within one’s self, childbirth, attention, care, and finally release of the creature so that it can grow in the various interactions that the outside world offers.

As I said elsewhere,2 the term arose in a conversation that took place with Jean Baudrillard at his home in Paris, back in 1987. Reflecting on the postmodern school, which he refused to ascribe to, I told him that more than a “post” situation, if we took into account his appreciations on “transpolitique”, “transexualité”, in line with his theorisations about the empire of simulation and hyperreality, we might well call our time “Transmodernity”.

With this concept I have tried to demarcate what, in my view, constitutes a true paradigm shift that can illuminate gnoseological, sociological, ethical and aesthetic aspects of our present. And so I started to put it into my book La sonrisa de Saturno. Hacia una teoría transmoderna [Saturn’s Smile. Towards a Transmodern Theory], developing other aspects in El modelo Frankenstein. De la diferencia a la cultura post
[The Frankenstein model. From Difference to the Culture of Post], and concretizing its theorizing in Transmodernidad [Transmodernity].

Certainly, it is logical that a denomination composed by the incorporation of a prefix to a concept like “Modernity”, axis of many debates in the last decades, will emerge spontaneously and independently in different disciplines and with various ideological proposals (although, I insist, I have no record that it has used before I coined it in 1989, as a new theoretical configuration, with a structured foundation, beyond a mere random and punctual use). However, if we want to outline the history of the various meanings of the term, we shall quote my dear friend Enrique Miret Magdalena, who told me that, years ago, he had used the term in a conference, which was never published, as a way of exemplifying a new synthetic period. Nevertheless, he did not resume the term until 2004 in a chapter of one of his books, La vida merece la pena ser vivida [Life is Worth Living] (2004). Also Jüri Talvet, Estonian Hispanic Philologist, has also used it occasionally to denominate the present poetry which seeks to escape the exhausted postmodern canon. I cite these two coincidences, of the many scattered that have occurred and will no doubt continue to emerge. However, there are only three authors or schools, who, after 1989, have tried to apply the concept with theoretical pretensions.

Thus,   the   Argentine-Mexican   philosopher   Enrique   Dussel,   from   his   book
Postmodernidad, Transmodernidad [Postmodernity, Transmodernity] (1999), frames it in the context of the philosophy of liberation and reflection on Latin-American identity, taking as transmodern theories those that, coming from the Third World, claim a proper place facing Western modernity, incorporating the look of the Postcolonial subaltern other.

With varying meanings, the notion of “transmodernity” has appeared sporadically in the framework of meetings related to the culture of peace, intercultural dialogue or the philosophy of law. Especially, Marc Luyckx has reiterated the concept, using it from 1998 onwards, since the seminar “Gouvernance et Civilisations”, which he coordinated in Brussels, organized by The Prospecting Cell of The European Community, in collaboration with the World Academy of Arts and Sciences. According to the way he applies it, transmodernity would hope for a synthesis between premodern and modern stands, constituting a model in which the coexistence of both is accepted, in order to reconcile the notion of progress with the respect for cultural and religious difference, trying to stop the rejection, mainly from Islamic countries, to the Western
view of modernity. Ziauddin Sardar, Etienne Le Roy and Christoph Eberhard have also used it in this same sense of dialogue between cultures.
A third area where a certain theorisation has been developed is architecture. In 2002 the Austrian Cultural Forum of New York programmed the exhibition: “TransModernity. Austrian Architects”. And Marcos Novak, who co-managed with Paul Virilio between 1998 and 2000 the Fondation Transarchitectures in Paris, has strengthened the notion of transarchitecture as the liquid architecture of the new virtual space. The personal and intellectual closeness of Virilio and Baudrillard are remarkable, and thus Novak’s use of the term, still focused on a specific area, is more akin to the worldview I use as a starting point and that I have developed theoretically.
All these coincidences in the use of a term, beyond the diversity of meanings, show the same grasp of the contradictions of modernity and the search for a new model that will explain the changes that operate in our present. From this common perception, I will expose my conception of Transmodernity, convinced as I am that we should not only be alert to the transformations that are operating in the contemporary scene, but also that it is necessary, beyond disperse and punctual enunciation, to develop a consistent theory, which will clearly define what, in my view, is an effective paradigm shift. Reducing Transmodernity to a dialogue of civilizations or to a model that palliates the weaknesses of Western modernity represents a voluntarism, no doubt praiseworthy, but still modern. We must start, abandoning old illusions, from the analysis of the crisis of modernity, of postmodern criticism, until we arrive at the configuration of the new conceptual and social paradigm. “Trans” is not a miracle prefix, or the longing for an angelic multiculturalism; it is not the synthesis of modernity and premodernity, but of modernity and postmodernity. It constitutes, in the first place, the description of a globalized, rhizomatic, technologic society, developed from the first world, confronted with its others, while at the same time it penetrates and assumes them; and secondly, it constitutes the effort to transcend this hyperreal, relativistic enclosure. As I have previously written: “Transmodernity is not an NGO for the third world, and it is good that they know as soon as possible, just as we should lucidly understand that it is neither a new technological and happy utopia. It is the place where we are, the place where the excluded are not present. With that we all will have to deal with” (Rodríguez Magda,
Transmodernidad 16).
Nevertheless, we must explain this “not being present” of those who support antimodern stands, for, if Western modernity excluded certain cultures, peoples, ethnic
and religious groups, modernization itself draws the map where they emerge, also generating a sort of paradoxical synthesis between premodernity and postmodernity. Thus, for example, the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism develops its assets of spectacularity and operational strategy to a large extent thanks to the media and cybernetic society. Without belittling the tragedy of the victims, the 9/11 attacks would not have had such a strong impact without the live broadcasting of the destruction of the Twin Towers, and the Al-Qaeda reports would not have inoculated the indomitable danger outside the propagation of encrypted messages that the network’s agility provides. The challenge to Western society is not exercised from pre and anti-modern positions, such as Radical Evil; the alien and inassimilable Other, while holding the domain of the real by its despise of death, circulates transmodernly through the veins of our transmodern society; it is physically and specularly structured in the same reticular form, and that is what causes us a diffuse anguish, an unavoidable terror.

The transmodern culture that I describe departs from the perception of the present common to various authors and which they have referred to in different ways, also offering varied answers, such as Jameson’s “late capitalism”, Bauman’s “liquid modernity”, Beck’s “second modernity”, Lipovetsky’s “hypermodernity” or Žižek’s “desert of the real”. While some focus on the elements of rupture with the modern and postmodern phases, others postulate a continuity that, in my view, tarnishes the perception of the paradigm shift that should serve to outline the conceptual weapons with which to face our contemporaneity.
Modernity was intended to be postulated as an articulated whole, despite its heterogeneity, as a positioning for consistent rationality and ethical-social progress. Knowledge adopted the objective and scientific model, validated by experience and the progressive control of nature, and supported by the development of technique. At the same time, an achievable horizon of emancipation of individuals, freedom and social justice was needed. In this sense, Modernity affirms the necessity and legitimacy of global or systemic discourses. The postmodern crisis will denounce the impossibility of such postulates. As is well known, Lyotard, in The Postmodern Condition, proclaimed the end of the Grand Narratives of unitary paradigms, showing the present as the space for microtechnologies, heterogeneity, fragmentation and hybridity. Under the birth of the French Théorie and of Cultural Studies, great propagandists from American postmodern trends, ideas spread in the academic world and the media, following simplified readings, such as: discourse is power (Foucault), textuality (Derrida), subject of desire (Deleuze), and everything,is simulacrum (Baudrillard). It only needed to be joined by Fukuyama proclaiming the end of history. Literary criticism spreads, as a school dogma, from the 80s until nowadays, what the post-structuralist philosophy had elaborated, with greater strength, years before.3

But when thought becomes scholastic and commonplace, it betrays the critical impulse that leads to the emergence of novel conceptualizations. It seems it is time to evaluate not the rupture that postmodernity represented, but its own bankruptcy, this is, the crisis of crisis. Can we today, as we enter the 21st century, continue to repeat without self-criticism all the rhetoric of the post that was a rupture more than twenty years ago? The foundational thesis of post theorizations was the impossibility of the Grand Narratives, of a new theoretical totality. Postmodernity meant the emergence of multiplicity, fragmented and centrifugal, and joyfully irreconcilable. And yet, in recent times, this myriad of dispersed particles appear to have regrouped into a chaotic, totalizing whole, emerging a New Grand Story, of previously unprecedented proportions: Globalization. A New Grand Story, which does not accept the theoretical or social emancipation of modern metanarratives, but to the unexpected effects of communication technologies, the new dimension of the markets and geopolitics. Economic, political, technological, social, cultural, ecological globalization... where everything is interconnected, configuring a new fluctuating diffuse magma, but impregnably all-embracing. It is clear that I am referring not to a certain neoliberal discourse, which others have called monolythic thinking, but to a real situation, which in fact includes and surrounds both the incipient theorizations in its favour as well as the anti-globalization mobilizations: the totalizing locus in which the real conditions of our present and its explanatory connate emerge.

This “polycentric world politics”, in the definition by Rosenau, at the same time also global, is characterised, according to Beck, by the emergent presence of the following elements: transnational organizations (from the World bank to multinational companies, from NGOs to the Mafia...), transnational problems (monetary crises, climate change, drugs, AIDS, ethnic conflicts...), transnational events (wars, sports competitions, mass culture, solidarity mobilizations...), transnational communities (based on religion, generational lifestyles, ecological responses, racial identities...), transnational structures (labour, cultural, financial...). From all this it seems that we can conclude the following: The postmodern affirmation of the impossibility of Grand Narratives results out-dated; there is a new Grand Narrative, or rather a new Grand Fact, which must launch innovative theoretical devices: Globalization. Therefore it would be convenient to contemplate the configuration of the present with the modifications from a New paradigm. To characterize the new situation, rather than the prefix “post”, the most appropriate prefix is “trans”, since it connotes the current form of transcending the limits of modernity; it speaks to us of a world in constant transformation, based, as we have pointed out, not only on transnational phenomena, but also on the primacy of the transmissibility of information in real time, impregnated in transculturality, in which creation refers to transtextuality and in which artistic innovation is thought as transavantgarde. Therefore, if modern culture corresponded to industrial society, and postmodern society to postmodern culture, a globalized society corresponds to the type of culture I call transmodern.

To outline the characteristics of this new paradigm, I will return to some of the views already set forth in my book La sonrisa de Saturno. Transmodernity prolongs, continues and transcends Modernity; it is the return, the copy, the survival of a weak, reduced, light Modernity. The contemporary area is transited by all trends, memories, possibilities; transcendent and all-appearance at the same time, voluntarily syncretic in its “multichrony”. A distanced, ironic return that accepts its useful fiction. Transmodernity is the postmodern without its innocent breaking-the-rules; it is image, series, Baroque fugue and self-reference, catastrophe, loop, fractal and inane repetition; entropy of the obese, bruised data inflation; aesthetics of the full and of its disappearance, entropic, fatal. Its key is not the post, the break, but the transubstantiation of paradigms through communicating vessels. Transmodernity is not a desire or a goal; it is simply there, as a strategic situation, complex and non-eligible, random; it is neither good nor bad, neither beneficial nor unbearable... and it is everything together... It is the abandonment of representation, the realm of simulation, of the simulation that is known to be real (Rodríguez Magda, La sonrisa de Saturno. Pp. 141-42).

The primacy of the virtual places us, after the death of old metaphysics, in the challenges of a new cyberontology, of the hegemony of digital reason. But it is not the festive celebration, without any ethical and political commitment, of a supposed death of reality, but rather of the necessary consideration of how material reality has been amplified and modified by virtual reality. This cannot shut ourselves up in the realm of signs; after the contributions of semiotics, which read reality as a set of signifiers, a whole field must be opened up to a demiurgy on signs4 or an analysis of how signs generate reality, developing a “simulocracy”, that is, the study of how simulacra produce spaces and effects of power.

The prefix “trans” connotes not only the aspects of transformation that I have been pointing out, but also the necessary transcendence of the crisis of modernity, taking up its outstanding ethical and political challenges (equality, justice, freedom...), but assuming postmodern criticism. Post-political statements or postduty cannot be solved in nihilism, but in the formulation of a horizon that assumes the ontological vacuum as a rational, creative and committed challenge. For this we do not need the firm soil of the noumenon, whose inaccessibility Kant had already noted; the realm of fundamentals can be replaced by a phenomenology of absence, which nevertheless, factually, is not muddled in the inaction of relativism. It can also be replaced by a regulative, formal use of values and ideas, without recurrence to a metaphysical essentialism, deliberation and choice of the rules of the game for the various practices, a strategically-situated subject, the assumption of the ontological commitment of the individual’s defence, a certain sceptical irony towards the new clashes of fundamentalisms, but without undermining the Enlightment’s democratic ideal as a required horizon.

Such was the proposal already developed in my book El modelo Frankenstein. De la diferencia a la cultura post. Transmodernity takes up the open challenges of Modernity after the collapse of the Enlightment’s project. Nowadays, not giving up theory, History, Social Justice and the autonomy of the Subject, assuming postmodern criticism, means delimiting a possible horizon for reflection that escapes nihilism, without compromising with outdated projects, but without forgetting them. It is necessary to recover values, after the loss of their metaphysical basis, as regulative ideals, operational simulacra agreed upon for the necessary pragmatics, logical and social. These are values of a public nature, perhaps not universal, but universalizable. We are talking, then, of social transformation, of transcendence of mere practical management, of argumentative transactions, of the questioning that they go through, transforming and transforming, the rational (Rodríguez Magda, El modelo Frankenstein, 18).

Globalization introduces us to the primacy of simultaneity, the territoriality is replaced by cyberspace, where the global and the local coexist, shaping the “glocal” (in R. Robertson’s accurate expression), offering a panorama which is not post or multi but transculcultural, beyond the reactive postcolonial drift that seems to return to a premodern identity. To left and right the darts appear to be sharpened by a weak thinking that would have relativised the criteria. But I think we should be cautious; postmodern criticism evidenced a whole series of fallacies and unquestioned pretensions. The need of solid criteria cannot make us forget these precautions and lead us to the point of departure, nor fundamentalisms, nor tradition, nor theology, nor naturalism nor communitarianism can offer an alternative. It is not about reaction, but about the future.

Transmodernity shows itself as a hybrid formula, totalizing, dialectic synthesis of the modern thesis and the postmodern antithesis. There is no rupture (hence the necessary abandonment of the prefix post), but a fluid return of a new configuration of the previous steps. A comparison of the characteristics of the three moments as an approximate propaedeutic, even at the risk of simplifying, can give us a more intuitive view of the process and of our current time.

End of History
Monolythic thinking
Skeptical antifundamentalism



Integrated chaos

Risk society

New economy






Static connectivity

Obscenity of privacy

Caring or empathic






High culture
Popular culture
Customized popular








Gutenberg Galaxy
McLuhan Galaxy
Microsoft Galaxy

Past revival
Final Fantasy

(Rodriguez Magda, Transmodernity 34)

 When we look at the three columns, we perceive in the first the impulse of strong modern thinking; in the second the heterogeneous rupture, and in the third a change of record, which recasts both in the fulfilment of an incongruous, fictitious, but real whole. It is not, I insist, a proposal, but a description. It is a matter of considering what is unique in the present situation, of perceiving how it shapes a different paradigm. It is the previous step for our understanding, its analysis and its subsequent transformation.

Let’s take a closer look at the process.

Modern thinking did not question reality, but considered it to be dynamic and susceptible of being transformed by the social actors. The postmodern linguistic shift strengthened the semiotic sphere; the sign acquired predominance over the referent, the world looked like a series of painless simulacra for consumers. Transmodernity offers us a synthesis between material and fiction. Virtual reality is without existence, it is not reduced to mere fictionalization, but it becomes true reality. The subject is no longer bogged down in the physical, but it is not relegated to its passive attenuation in the face of the excess of data either; it is telepresent and in this way interactive. The Empire of the Same with its systemic modern motivation will break into the post fragmentation of the heterogeneous, to finally be converted into assimilable diversity, identities reappear as specific consumer groups. Is the own cyber-media universe that gives them visibility, be they ethnic or sexual minorities, anti-globalization movements or terrorist organizations.

Faced with the idea of a founding centre, postmodern critique intended itself as rhizomatic, dispersed, irreconcilable; the transmodern present articulates itself around the metaphor of the network, which institutes a kind of equilibrium, unstable but interconnected. Modern temporality was progressive and linear. To this, the “end of history” opposed. Today celerity becomes quasi-static; instantaneity is a permanently updated present.

The Enlightenment bequeathed us a self-critical but strong Reason; Postmodern thinking underwent a meticulous deconstruction; in these moments, the postmetaphysical era seems tempted by the equivocal totalization of monolythical thinking. The ideal of modern knowledge based on reason attempted to reach universality. The criticism of “post” thrived on relativism and contextualism. Transmodernity seeks to redirect the myriad of information calling itself “knowledge society”. Modern states were national. Their fracture generated firstly postnationality, beyond rupture, the panorama that we find today is decidedly transnational. The economy, culture, communication, the future of the environment are conceived nowadays as an interdependent whole.
The modern State has a simple global imaginary, that is, a universalist longing for its culture, and an imperialist vocation as to its political expansion: it seeks to consolidate its territory and project beyond itself. This simple global imaginary was harshly criticized by postmodern thinking. The momentary attraction for the local is assumed in this surrounding set that includes the specific, the Glocal. Modern imperialism was answered by the creation of a postcolonial thought, which becomes more and more stalled in communitarianist differentialism, while social reality imposes a transcultural transethnicity that must still build its own cosmopolitanism.
The modern project delimited its goals of optimistic progress, the disenchantment of the “post”, cradled among the cottons of the welfare state, enthroned the happy Yuppie style of hedonistic individualism. The present gives us a more insecure and precarious panorama, instability must be managed strategically. Scientific innovation no longer guarantees the safety of its sustainability, transmodern contemporaneity is a “risk society”, from the difficult geopolitics between the East and the West regarding the threat of climate change.

If the modern era was contemporaneous with the industrial revolution, the postindustrial society changed the concepts of production, consumption, class, social actor; but nowadays it is the “new economy” based on financial globalization and new communication technologies that which sets up a new stadium. The determination of its own territory, the settlement of modern national states, has even ceased being a palpable fact. The city becomes a megacity and the spatial model of the centre/periphery is no longer an alternative or an accommodated lifestyle or an analysis of power. The ubiquity of transfrontiers establishes a new cartography.
The notion of citizenship struggles to prolong the modern formula of political action. But beyond the postmodern individual locked in his or her hedonistic bubble, exhausted and indifferent, the announced dangers of autism have remained annulled by new forms of relationship, social networks (such as chatting sites, Facebook, Twitter), a style of static connectivity, through which groups communicate and interact. Again we find a random transmodern synthesis in which action and subject acquire an unsuspected face, sometimes trivial, others supportive or combative. Reality is not circulation of goods, objects, and information (bites). The spirit is replaced postmodernly by the rhetoric of the body, it is converted by means of cyborg technology and sex, beyond eroticism in cybersex, completing the passage from culture and counterculture into cyberculture. It is a consumption à la carte in which the Internet meets a qualitative leap, true hegemony of the screen, of a process that, when it was born with photography, acquired a new dimension with the apparition of cinema and later with television. It passes from the Guttemberg Galaxy of a modernity that revolves around the printing press to the McLuhan Galaxy, postmodern symbol of the mass media, and it finally arrives at the cyber-technological empire of what we could today call the Microsoft Galaxy.
Globalization as an all-encompassing whole thus constitutes a new situation that requires a renewed conceptual paradigm. We are no longer in the post but in the trans. It is a perverse dialectical fulfilment that includes all the attempts to situate themselves outside, from anti-globalization discourses to fundamentalist terrorism. There is no “outside”, as in this world everything happens and with the strategies and instruments that the present gives us. Accepting it is the first step to think about its geostrategic, economic, cultural complexity. The archaic bursts, premodern or countermodern appeals are also the shrapnel of this multiform Chaos. Death, destruction, challenge...
they are on the Internet as well. This is the condemnation, but also the challenge that Transmodernity will offer us, the sharpening of the weapons of reason, our sole bastion.


1 Published originally in 2011. Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 1(1). Also available at: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/57c8s9gr

2 2004. “Introduction”, Transmodernity.

3 For more on this see François Cusset’s excellent book French Theory. Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze & Cía. Y las mutaciones de la vida intelectual en Estados Unidos (2005).

4 Rodriguez Magda uses the word “semiurgia”, creating a neologism based on the words “sema” (sign) and “demiurg”.

Works cited

Beck, Ulrich. ¿Qué es la globalizacción? Barcelona: Paidós, 1998.

Cusset, François. French Theory. Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze & Cía. Y las mutaciones de la vida intelectual en Estados Unidos. Barcelona: Melusina, 2005.
Dussel, Enrique. Postmodernidad, transmodernidad, postmodernidad y transmodernidad. Puebla: Universidad Iberoamericana, 1999.

Lyotard, Jean-François. La condición postmoderna [The Postmodern Condition]. Madrid: Cátedra, 1984.
Miret Magdalena, Enrique. La vida merece la pena de ser vivida. Madrid: Espasa, 2004. Rodríguez Magda, Rosa María. El modelo Frankenstein. De la diferencia a la cultura

post. Madrid: Tecnos, 1997.

______. La sonrisa de Saturno. Hacia una teoría transmoderna. Barcelona: Anthropos, 1989.
______. Transmodernidad. Barcelona: Anthropos, 2004.

Rosenau. James, Turbulence in World Politics. Brighton: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990.