Poststructuralism could be defined as an ‘approach to knowledge’ that appeared in the social sciences during the 1960s to 1970s as a reaction against or outgrowth of structuralism.
The term was arguably most chic within academic circles during the mid-1980’s to early-1990’s, after which time ‘postmodernism’ seemed to become the more mainstream term, aided perhaps by figures like Jean Baudrillard who made headline-grabbing comments about America’s involvement in the Gulf War.
In its heyday, the term poststructuralism generally contained elements found in postmodernism but referred more to social theory and the history of ideas rather than to art, music and architecture–these applying to postmodernism.
Postmodernism being the broader term, it includes questions posed by poststructuralism.
Although Michel Foucault said he didn’t wish to be pigeonholed as any particular type of theorist, academics in the 1980s often described his later work as poststructuralist.
The distinction between poststructuralism and postmodernism remains unclear, arguably because representative thinkers for each orientation tend to eschew clear-cut, linear modes of reasoning, along with the notion of ‘consistent theory.’ And they all embrace the task of deconstructing the assumptions and related practices associated with traditional approaches to knowledge.
Moreover, the meaning of these terms continues to evolve, especially with the recent turn to spirituality and attempts to integrate this within a poststructural rubric, or lack of one.
With the arrival of the internet, broadband, dramatically increased computing power, and a potentially baffling array of software, digital media and wireless mobile devices, some suggest that poststructuralism and postmodernism are yesterday’s news, these trends giving way to the newer ones of ‘performatism’¹ and ‘digimodernism.’²
However, this seems a bit rash. Have we really stopped deconstructing accepted and acceptable truth claims — i.e. thinking critically — while playing with a mass of hypnotizing gizmos or, perhaps, escaping through superficial, feelgood fantasies?
Let’s hope not.
¹ See, for instance, post-post modernism: “performatism” http://tantra.tribe.net/thread/e877372f-0574-4054-b8ad-bd8c89a4c564
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