Poststructuralism – Another label to be avoided?


Saint Foucault
Saint Foucault by Sándor Iskender via Flickr

Poststructuralism could be defined as an approach to knowledge that appeared in the social sciences during the 1960s to 70s as a reaction to or outgrowth of structuralism.

The term poststructuralism was chic within academic circles during the mid-1980s to early-90s, after which time ‘postmodernism’ became the trendy 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 more to postmodernism.

Postmodernism being the broader term, it includes questions posed by poststructuralism.

Michel Foucault said he didn’t wish to be pigeonholed as any particular type of theorist, but academics in the 1980s often described his later work as poststructuralist. And several other theorists have resisted the label ‘poststructuralist.’

The distinction between poststructuralism and postmodernism arguably remains unclear because representative or designated thinkers of each orientation tend to eschew clear-cut, linear modes of reasoning, along with the notion of consistent theory. And they usually embrace the task of deconstructing the assumptions and practices associated with traditional approaches to knowledge.

Jean Baudrillard lecturing at European Graduat...
Jean Baudrillard lecturing at European Graduate School, Saas-Fee, Switzerland. (European Graduate School, June 12, 2004, http://www.egs.edu/). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With regard to structuralism, the poststructuralist/postmodern disputes the structuralist belief in universal patterns comprised of binary opposites.

The meaning of the term poststructuralism continues to evolve, especially with the turn to integrating spirituality within a poststructural paradigm, or lack of one.

With the arrival of the internet, broadband, dramatically increased computing power, and a dazzling array of software, digital media and mobile devices, some suggest that poststructuralism and postmodernism are yesterday’s news, these giving way to newer trends 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 – in favor of playing with hypnotizing gizmos or, perhaps, escaping or being distracted through fake news, Facebook likes, and other superficial pursuits?

Let’s hope not.

¹ See http://www.performatism.de/What-is-Performatism

² Alan Kirby’s Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture

Related » Comparative Religion, Counter-Discourse, Discourse, Power, Marx (Karl)

Highlights by Liner http://lnr.li/VZq8J/

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3 comments

  1. I had to look into poststructuralism carefully, since my daughter had a professor at CUNY who is one – Patricia Clough.
    After a lot of reading and reflection, I concluded that these thinkers are a case of mass dissociation attributable in the beginning to the many sources of emotional trauma in mid-20th-century France. So I wrote two long essays about the epistemology of Jacques Derrida and Patricia Clough. They are available on my website — http://www.thesecular spirit.com

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    • Thanks for your thought-provoking comment.

      I’d prefer to say that those with no central sense of self or meaningful spirituality are configured – or permitted to be – that way by God for some reason.

      I don’t think so-called ‘postmodernism’ is all bad. Deconstructing pernicious taken for granted truth claims can be a good thing. The trick, for me anyhow, is to sort through various offerings to discern what I find helpful.

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