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Post-Structuralism

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Post-structuralism differs from structuralism in two major ways - post-structuralists do not believe that there are underlying realities that can explain all cultural behaviour or that one could even be objective enough to analyse the behaviour in such a way to determine 'realities'.

Formal Definition

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Poststructuralism is defined most often by its objections to aspects of structuralism, as poststructuralists tend to resist being labeled as such and thus are thought never to really have created a true "manifesto". The main point is that poststructuralists do not believe that there are identifiable truths that can be found to be underlying cultural practices or beliefs. The evolution of poststructuralism was based in the increasing disillusionment in France in the late 1960s of aspects of Marxism. As a number of other schools of thought emerged, including feminism and phenomenology, the common link seemed to be the critique of Western thought, and poststructuralism supported this and was able in some respects to justify it.

Many poststructuralists noted the impossibility of studying objectively any 'realities' or 'truths' underlying cultural understandings. Sarup explained it as follows: "The new movement [poststructuralism as opposed to structuralism] implies a shift from the signified to the signifier: and so there is a perpetual detour on the way to a truth that has lost any status or finality. Post-structuralists have produced critiques of the classical Cartesian conception of the unitary subject - the subject/author as originating consciousness, authority for meaning and truth. It is argued that the human subject does not have a unified consciousness but is structured by language. Post-structuralism, in short, involves a critique of metaphysics, of the concepts of causality, of identity, of the subject, and of truth" (1)


Poststructuralist feminism rejects the modernist concept of universals, based on the analysis of differences to understand existing power relationships and identification of areas and strategies for change (Bensimon, 1995).

Recommended Reading

(1) Sarup, (1993) An Introductory Guide to Post-structuralism and Postmodernism. University of Georgia Press. http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/SESLL/EngLit/ugrad/hons/theory/(Post)Structuralism.htm

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