Post-structuralism

Post-structuralism

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Post-structuralism is a label formulated by American academics to denote the heterogeneous works of a series of French intellectuals who came to international prominence in the 1960s and '70s. The label primarily encompasses the intellectual developments of prominent mid-20th-century French and continental philosophers
Continental philosophy
Continental philosophy, in contemporary usage, refers to a set of traditions of 19th and 20th century philosophy from mainland Europe. This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and...

 and theorists.

The post-structuralist movement is difficult to summarize, but may be broadly understood as a body of distinct responses to Structuralism
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

. An intellectual movement developed in Europe from the early to mid-20th century, Structuralism argued that human culture may be understood by means of a structure-—modeled on language (ie., structural linguistics
Structural Linguistics
Structural linguistics is an approach to linguistics originating from the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. De Saussure's Course in General Linguistics, published posthumously in 1916, stressed examining language as a static system of interconnected units...

)—that is distinct both from the organizations of reality and the organization of ideas and imagination—a "third order." The precise nature of the revision or critique of structuralism differs with each post-structuralist author, though common themes include the rejection of the self-sufficiency of the structures that structuralism posits and an interrogation of the binary opposition
Binary opposition
In critical theory, a binary opposition is a pair of related terms or concepts that are opposite in meaning. Binary opposition is the system by which, in language and thought, two theoretical opposites are strictly defined and set off against one another. It is the contrast between two mutually...

s that constitute those structures. Writers whose work is often characterised as post-structuralist include Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction and his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy...

, Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

, Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze , was a French philosopher who, from the early 1960s until his death, wrote influentially on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular works were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus , both co-written with Félix...

, Judith Butler
Judith Butler
Judith Butler is an American post-structuralist philosopher, who has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy, and ethics. She is a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley.Butler received her Ph.D...

 and Julia Kristeva
Julia Kristeva
Julia Kristeva is a Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, sociologist, feminist, and, most recently, novelist, who has lived in France since the mid-1960s. She is now a Professor at the University Paris Diderot...

.

The movement is closely related to postmodernism
Postmodernism
Postmodernism is a philosophical movement evolved in reaction to modernism, the tendency in contemporary culture to accept only objective truth and to be inherently suspicious towards a global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. Postmodernist thought is an intentional departure from the...

. As with structuralism, antihumanism
Antihumanism
Antihumanism is a term referring to a number of perspectives that are opposed to the project of philosophical anthropology...

, as a rejection of the enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 subject
Subject (philosophy)
In philosophy, a subject is a being that has subjective experiences, subjective consciousness or a relationship with another entity . A subject is an observer and an object is a thing observed...

, is often a central tenet. Existential phenomenology is a significant influence; one commentator has argued that post-structuralists might just as accurately be called "post-phenomenologists."

Some have argued that the term "post-structuralism" arose in Anglo-America
Anglo-America
Anglo-America is a region in the Americas in which English is a main language, or one which has significant British historical, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural links...

n academia as a means of grouping together continental philosophers who rejected the methods and assumptions of analytical philosophy. Further controversy owes to the way in which loosely-connected thinkers tended to dispense with theories claiming to have discovered absolute truths about the world. Although such ideas generally relate only to the metaphysical
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 (for instance, metanarrative
Metanarrative
A metanarrative , in critical theory and particularly postmodernism, is an abstract idea that is thought to be a comprehensive explanation of historical experience or knowledge. According to John Stephens, it "is a global or totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge...

s of historical progress, such as those of dialectical materialism
Dialectical materialism
Dialectical materialism is a strand of Marxism synthesizing Hegel's dialectics. The idea was originally invented by Moses Hess and it was later developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels...

), many commentators have criticized the movement as relativist
Relativism
Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration....

, nihilist
Nihilism
Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value...

, or simply indulgent to the extreme. Many so-called "post-structuralist" writers rejected the label and there is no manifesto.

Origins


Post-structuralism emerged in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 during the 1960s as an antinomian movement critiquing structuralism
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

. According to J.G. Merquior
José Guilherme Merquior
José Guilherme Merquior was a Brazilian diplomat, academic, writer, literary critic and philosopher.-Biography:...

 a love–hate relationship with Structuralism developed amongst many leading French thinkers in the 1960s.

The period was marked by political anxiety, as students and workers alike rebelled against the state in May 1968, nearly causing the downfall of the French government. At the same time, however, the support of the French Communist Party
French Communist Party
The French Communist Party is a political party in France which advocates the principles of communism.Although its electoral support has declined in recent decades, the PCF retains a large membership, behind only that of the Union for a Popular Movement , and considerable influence in French...

 (FCP) for the oppressive policies of the USSR contributed to popular disillusionment with orthodox Marxism
Orthodox Marxism
Orthodox Marxism is the term used to describe the version of Marxism which emerged after the death of Karl Marx and acted as the official philosophy of the Second International up to the First World War and of the Third International thereafter...

. As a result, there was increased interest in alternative radical philosophies, including feminism
Feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

, western Marxism
Western Marxism
Western Marxism is a term used to describe a wide variety of Marxist theoreticians based in Western and Central Europe, in contrast with philosophy in the Soviet Union...

, anarchism
Anarchism
Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations...

, phenomenology, and nihilism
Nihilism
Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value...

. These disparate perspectives, which Michel Foucault later labeled "subjugated knowledges," were all linked by being critical of dominant Western philosophy and culture. Post-structuralism offered a means of justifying these criticisms, by exposing the underlying assumptions of many Western norms.

Two key figures in the early post-structuralist movement were Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction and his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy...

 and Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes
Roland Gérard Barthes was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, anthropology and...

. In a 1966 lecture "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Science", Jacques Derrida presented a thesis on an apparent rupture in intellectual life. Derrida interpreted this event as a "decentering" of the former intellectual cosmos. Instead of progress or divergence from an identified centre, Derrida described this "event" as a kind of "play."

Although Barthes was originally a structuralist, during the 1960s he increasingly favored post-structuralist views. In 1967, Barthes published “The Death of the Author”
Death of the Author
The Death of the Author is a 1967 essay by the French literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes. Barthes's essay argues against traditional literary criticism's practice of incorporating the intentions and biographical context of an author in an interpretation of a text, and instead argues that...

 in which he announced a metaphorical event: the "death" of the author as an authentic source of meaning for a given text. Barthes argued that any literary text has multiple meanings, and that the author was not the prime source of the work's semantic content. The "Death of the Author," Barthes maintained, was the "Birth of the Reader," as the source of the proliferation of meanings of the text.

In a 1976 lecture series, Foucault briefly summarized the general impetus of the post-structuralist movement:
Post-structuralist philosophers like Derrida and Foucault did not form a self-conscious group, but each responded to the traditions of phenomenology and structuralism
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

. Phenomenology, often associated with two German philosophers Edmund Husserl
Edmund Husserl
Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl was a philosopher and mathematician and the founder of the 20th century philosophical school of phenomenology. He broke with the positivist orientation of the science and philosophy of his day, yet he elaborated critiques of historicism and of psychologism in logic...

 and Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being."...

, rejected previous systems of knowledge and attempted to examine life "just as it appears" (as phenomena). Both movements rejected the idea that knowledge could be centred on the human knower, and sought what they considered a more secure foundation for knowledge.

In phenomenology this foundation would be experience itself; in structuralism, knowledge was to be founded on the "structures" that make experience possible: concepts, and language or signs. Post-structuralism, in turn, argued that founding knowledge either on pure experience (phenomenology) or systematic structures (structuralism) was impossible. This impossibility was meant not to be a failure or loss, but a cause for "celebration and liberation."

General practices


Post-structural practices generally operate on some basic assumptions:
  • Post-structuralists hold that the concept of "self
    Self (philosophy)
    The philosophy of self defines the essential qualities that make one person distinct from all others. There have been numerous approaches to defining these qualities. The self is the idea of a unified being which is the source of consciousness. Moreover, this self is the agent responsible for the...

    " as a separate, singular, and coherent entity is a fictional construct. Instead, an individual comprises tensions between conflicting knowledge claims (e.g. gender, race, class, profession, etc.). Therefore, to properly study a text a reader must understand how the work is related to his or her own personal concept of self. This self-perception plays a critical role in one's interpretation of meaning. While different thinkers' views on the self (or the subject) vary, it is often said to be constituted by discourse(s). Lacan
    Lacan
    Lacan is surname of:* Jacques Lacan , French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist** The Seminars of Jacques Lacan** From Bakunin to Lacan: Anti-Authoritarianism and the Dislocation of Power, a book on political philosophy by Saul Newman** Lacan at the Scene* Judith Miller, née Lacan...

    's account includes a psychoanalytic dimension, while Derrida stresses the effects of power on the self. This is thought to be a component of post-modernist theory.

  • The author's intended meaning, such as it is (for the author's identity as a stable "self" with a single, discernible "intent" is also a fictional construct), is secondary to the meaning that the reader perceives. Post-structuralism rejects the idea of a literary text having a single purpose, a single meaning, or one singular existence. Instead, every individual reader creates a new and individual purpose, meaning, and existence for a given text. To step outside of literary theory, this position is generalizable to any situation where a subject perceives a sign. Meaning (or the signified
    Course in General Linguistics
    Course in General Linguistics is an influential book compiled by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye that is based on notes taken from Ferdinand de Saussure's lectures at the University of Geneva between the years 1906 and 1911...

    , in Saussure
    Ferdinand de Saussure
    Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics...

    's scheme, which is as heavily presumed upon in post-structuralism as in structuralism) is constructed by an individual from a signifier
    Course in General Linguistics
    Course in General Linguistics is an influential book compiled by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye that is based on notes taken from Ferdinand de Saussure's lectures at the University of Geneva between the years 1906 and 1911...

    . This is why the signified is said to 'slide' under the signifier, and explains the talk about the "primacy of the signifier."

  • A post-structuralist critic must be able to use a variety of perspectives to create a multifaceted interpretation of a text, even if these interpretations conflict with one another. It is particularly important to analyze how the meanings of a text shift in relation to certain variables, usually involving the identity of the reader (for example: class, racial, or sexual identity).

Destabilized meaning


In the post-structuralist approach to textual analysis, the reader replaces the author as the primary subject of inquiry. This displacement is often referred to as the "destabilizing" or "decentering" of the author, though it has its greatest effect on the text itself. Without a central fixation on the author, post-structuralists examine other sources for meaning (e.g., readers, cultural norms, other literature, etc.). These alternative sources are never authoritative, and promise no consistency.

In his essay "Signification and Sense," Emmanuel Lévinas
Emmanuel Lévinas
Emmanuel Levinas was a Lithuanian-born French Jewish philosopher and Talmudic commentator.-Life:Emanuelis Levinas received a traditional Jewish education in Lithuania...

 remarked on this new field of semantic inquiry:

Deconstruction


A major theory associated with Structuralism was binary opposition
Binary opposition
In critical theory, a binary opposition is a pair of related terms or concepts that are opposite in meaning. Binary opposition is the system by which, in language and thought, two theoretical opposites are strictly defined and set off against one another. It is the contrast between two mutually...

. This theory proposed that there are certain theoretical and conceptual opposites, often arranged in a hierarchy, which human logic has given to text. Such binary pairs could include Enlightenment/Romantic, male/female, speech/writing, rational/emotional, signifier/signified, symbolic/imaginary.

Post-structuralism rejects the notion of the essential quality of the dominant relation in the hierarchy, choosing rather to expose these relations and the dependency of the dominant term on its apparently subservient counterpart. The only way to properly understand these meanings is to deconstruct the assumptions and knowledge systems which produce the illusion of singular meaning. This act of deconstruction illuminates how male can become female, how speech can become writing, and how rational can become emotional.

Structuralism vs. Post-structuralism


Structuralism
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

 was an intellectual movement in France in the 1950s and 1960s that studied the underlying structures in cultural products (such as texts) and used analytical concepts from linguistics, psychology, anthropology and other fields to interpret those structures. It emphasized the logical and scientific nature of its results.

Post-structuralism offers a study of how knowledge is produced and a critique of structuralist premises. It argues that because history and culture condition the study of underlying structures it is subject to biases and misinterpretations. To understand an object (e.g. one of the many meanings of a text), a post-structuralist approach argues, it is necessary to study both the object itself and the systems of knowledge that produced the object.

Historical vs. descriptive view


Post-structuralists generally assert that post-structuralism is historical, and classify structuralism as descriptive. This terminology relates to Ferdinand de Saussure's
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics...

 distinction between the views of historical (diachronic)
Historical linguistics
Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:* to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages...

 and descriptive (synchronic)
Descriptive linguistics
In the study of language, description, or descriptive linguistics, is the work of objectively analyzing and describing how language is spoken by a group of people in a speech community...

 reading. From this basic distinction, post-structuralist studies often emphasize history to analyze descriptive concepts. By studying how cultural concepts have changed over time, post-structuralists seek to understand how those same concepts are understood by readers in the present. For example, Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization
Madness and Civilization
Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason by Michel Foucault, is the English edition of Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique, a 1964 abridged edition of the 1961 Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique. An English translation of the complete 1961...

is both a history and an inspection of cultural attitudes about madness. The theme of history in modern Continental
Continental philosophy
Continental philosophy, in contemporary usage, refers to a set of traditions of 19th and 20th century philosophy from mainland Europe. This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and...

 thought can be linked to such influences as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher, one of the creators of German Idealism. His historicist and idealist account of reality as a whole revolutionized European philosophy and was an important precursor to Continental philosophy and Marxism.Hegel developed a comprehensive...

, Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

's On the Genealogy of Morals and Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being."...

's Being and Time
Being and Time
Being and Time is a book by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Although written quickly, and despite the fact that Heidegger never completed the project outlined in the introduction, it remains his most important work and has profoundly influenced 20th-century philosophy, particularly...

.

Structuralists also seek to understand the historical interpretation of cultural concepts, but focus their efforts on understanding how those concepts were understood by the author in his or her own time, rather than how they may be understood by the reader in the present.

Scholars between both movements


The uncertain distance between structuralism and post-structuralism is further blurred by the fact that scholars generally do not label themselves as post-structuralists. In some cases (e.g. Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes
Roland Gérard Barthes was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, anthropology and...

), scholars associated with structuralism became noteworthy in post-structuralism as well. Three of the most prominent post-structuralists were first counted among the so-called "Gang of Four" of structuralism par excellence: Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced France's...

, Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes
Roland Gérard Barthes was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, anthropology and...

, and Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

. The works of Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction and his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy...

, Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze , was a French philosopher who, from the early 1960s until his death, wrote influentially on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular works were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus , both co-written with Félix...

, and Julia Kristeva
Julia Kristeva
Julia Kristeva is a Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, sociologist, feminist, and, most recently, novelist, who has lived in France since the mid-1960s. She is now a Professor at the University Paris Diderot...

 are also counted as prominent examples of post-structuralism.

The critical reading carried out by these thinkers sought to find contradictions that an author includes, supposedly inevitably, in his work. Those inconsistencies are used to show that the interpretation and criticism of any literature is in the hands of the reader and includes that reader's own cultural biases and assumptions. While many structuralists first thought that they could tease out an author's intention by close scrutiny, they soon argued that textual analysis discovered so many disconnections that it was obvious that their own experiences lent a view that was unique to them.

Some observers from outside the post-structuralist camp have questioned the rigor and legitimacy of the field in academia. American philosopher John Searle
John Searle
John Rogers Searle is an American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.-Biography:...

 argued in 1990 that "The spread of 'poststructuralist' literary theory is perhaps the best known example of a silly but noncatastrophic phenomenon." Similarly, physicist Alan Sokal
Alan Sokal
Alan David Sokal is a professor of mathematics at University College London and professor of physics at New York University. He works in statistical mechanics and combinatorics. To the general public he is best known for his criticism of postmodernism, resulting in the Sokal affair in...

 in 1997 criticized "the postmodernist/poststructuralist gibberish that is now hegemonic in some sectors of the American academy." Literature scholar Norman Holland argued that post-structuralism was flawed due to reliance on Saussure's linguistic model, which was seriously challenged by the 1950s and was soon abandoned by linguists: "Saussure's views are not held, so far as I know, by modern linguists, only by literary critics and the occasional philosopher. [Strict adherence to Saussure] has elicited wrong film and literary theory on a grand scale. One can find dozens of books of literary theory bogged down in signifiers and signifieds, but only a handful that refer to Chomsky
Chomsky
Chomsky Khomsk ") is a Belarus'-origin surname, and may refer to:* Aviva Chomsky , American historian* Carol Chomsky , American linguist and wife of Noam Chomsky* Elsie Chomsky, American educator...

."

Eco and the open text


When The Open Work was written by Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco Knight Grand Cross is an Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, literary critic, and novelist, best known for his novel The Name of the Rose , an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory...

 (1962) it was in many (or all) senses post-structuralist. The influence of this work is, however, complex: Eco worked closely with Barthes, and in the second Preface to the book (1967), Eco explicitly states his post-structuralist position and the assonance with his friend's position. The entire book is a critique of a certain concept of "structure" and "form," giving to the reader a strong power in understanding the text.

Barthes and the need for metalanguage


Although many may have felt the necessity to move beyond structuralism, there was clearly no consensus on how this ought to occur. Much of the study of post-structuralism is based on the common critiques of structuralism. Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes
Roland Gérard Barthes was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, anthropology and...

 is of great significance with respect to post-structuralist theory. In his work, Elements of Semiology (1967), he advanced the concept of the "metalanguage
Metalanguage
Broadly, any metalanguage is language or symbols used when language itself is being discussed or examined. In logic and linguistics, a metalanguage is a language used to make statements about statements in another language...

". A metalanguage is a systematized way of talking about concepts like meaning and grammar beyond the constraints of a traditional (first-order) language; in a metalanguage, symbols replace words and phrases. Insofar as one metalanguage is required for one explanation of first-order language, another may be required, so metalanguages may actually replace first-order languages. Barthes exposes how this structuralist system is regressive; orders of language rely upon a metalanguage by which it is explained, and therefore deconstruction
Deconstruction
Deconstruction is a term introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his 1967 book Of Grammatology. Although he carefully avoided defining the term directly, he sought to apply Martin Heidegger's concept of Destruktion or Abbau, to textual reading...

 itself is in danger of becoming a metalanguage, thus exposing all languages and discourse to scrutiny. Barthes' other works contributed deconstructive theories about texts.

Derrida's lecture at Johns Hopkins


The occasional designation of post-structuralism as a movement can be tied to the fact that mounting criticism of structuralism became evident at approximately the same time that structuralism became a topic of interest in universities in the United States. This interest led to a 1966 conference at Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

 that invited scholars who were thought to be prominent post-structuralists, including Derrida, Barthes, and Lacan.

Derrida's lecture at that conference, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Human Sciences," often appears in collections as a manifesto against structuralism. Derrida's essay was one of the earliest to propose some theoretical limitations to structuralism, and to attempt to theorize on terms that were clearly no longer structuralist.

The element of "play" in the title of Derrida's essay is often erroneously taken to be "play" in a linguistic sense, based on a general tendency towards puns and humour, while social constructionism
Social constructionism
Social constructionism and social constructivism are sociological theories of knowledge that consider how social phenomena or objects of consciousness develop in social contexts. A social construction is a concept or practice that is the construct of a particular group...

 as developed in the later work of Michel Foucault is said to create a sense of strategic agency by laying bare the levers of historical change. The importance of Foucault's work is seen by many to be in its synthesis of this social/historical account of the operations of power (see governmentality
Governmentality
Governmentality is a concept first developed by the French philosopher Michel Foucault in the later years of his life, roughly between 1977 and his death in 1984, particularly in his lectures at the Collège de France during this time...

).

Judith Butler and Gender Trouble


A major American thinker associated with post structuralist thought is Judith Butler
Judith Butler
Judith Butler is an American post-structuralist philosopher, who has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy, and ethics. She is a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley.Butler received her Ph.D...

. Trained in Continental philosophy and published on Hegel, Butler is better known for her engagement with feminist theory
Feminist theory
Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical, or philosophical discourse, it aims to understand the nature of gender inequality...

 and as the 'mother' (along with English literature scholar Eve Sedgwick) of Queer Theory
Queer theory
Queer theory is a field of critical theory that emerged in the early 1990s out of the fields of LGBT studies and feminist studies. Queer theory includes both queer readings of texts and the theorisation of 'queerness' itself...

. In Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Butler explored the persistence of biological sex in feminist theory as the source and cause of the unequal social treatment and status of women. Using ideas about power and subjectification first broached by Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

 in Discipline and Punish, and the linguistic theories of J. L. Austin
J. L. Austin
John Langshaw Austin was a British philosopher of language, born in Lancaster and educated at Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford University. Austin is widely associated with the concept of the speech act and the idea that speech is itself a form of action...

, Butler argued that sex was an effect rather than the cause of social gender difference, and that the fiction of a stable core gender identity was maintained through socially coerced performances of gender. Butler's ideas depend greatly on the notion of "performativity
Performativity
Performativity is an interdisciplinary term often used to name the capacity of speech and language in particular, as well as other non-verbal forms of expressive action, to intervene in the course of human events. The term derives from the work in speech act theory originated by the analytic...

" and she is widely credited with introducing the term into gender studies
Gender studies
Gender studies is a field of interdisciplinary study which analyses race, ethnicity, sexuality and location.Gender study has many different forms. One view exposed by the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said: "One is not born a woman, one becomes one"...

. Austin described performative words as those which both describe and produce a thing. The classic example is a minister's statement, "I now pronounce you husband and wife," which both describes and produces two people as married. Similarly, Butler argued that repetitive socially coerced gender performances, which aspire to replicate a normative gender ideal, actually produce the sexed body and gender identity. In Gender Trouble, Butler also relied on deconstructionist language theory and Freudian psychoanalysis to argue that heterosexuality is structured in an ongoing series of losses stemming from a repudiation of homosexuality; as such homosexuality can be seen as constitutive of heterosexuality, necessitating its repeated repudiations. Butler embraced the Foucauldian notion that there is no "outside" to culture, and therefore resistance--even consciousness, volition, the self--to forms of oppression is always already structured in terms of that oppression. Therefore, resistance can only take the form of failed imitations of social norms, whose very failure reveals the structures of power that often masquerade as natural or inevitable. For this reason, Butler's work has been taken up by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people because it re-imagines sexual and gender non-conformity --not to mention the way that heterosexual and cisgender norms are often reproduced in gay and lesbian culture and relationships-- as a form of resistance to a heteronormative society that attempts (but always fails) to naturalize the relationship between sex, gender, and sexual orientation.

See also



Authors


The following are often said to be post-structuralists, or to have had a post-structuralist period:

Sources


  • Barry, P. Beginning theory: an introduction to literary and cultural theory. Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2002.
  • Barthes, Roland. Elements of Semiology. New York: Hill and Wang, 1967.
  • Cuddon, J. A.
    J. A. Cuddon
    John Anthony Bowden Cuddon , was an English author, dictionary writer, and school teacher. Known best for his Dictionary of Literary Terms , Cuddon also produced the large Dictionary of Sport and Games, as well as several novels, plays, travel books, and other published works.Cuddon also edited two...

     Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory. London: Penguin, 1998.
  • Eagleton, T. Literary theory: an introduction Basil Blackwell, Oxford,1983.
  • Matthews, E. Twentieth-Century French Philosophy. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996.
  • Ryan, M. Literary theory: a practical introduction. Blackwell Publishers Inc, Massachusetts,1999.
  • Wolfreys, J & Baker, W (eds). Literary theories: a case study in critical performance. Macmillan Press, Hong Kong,1996.


External links