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Essay International Post Relations Structuralism

The contention surrounding post-structuralism makes it an interesting theory to study. Few fields have invited as much criticism towards its very principles and methods, which have been chided as failing to “establish any authentic theoretical innovations.”[1] In this essay I will examine what ‘critique’ means in the context of post-structuralism, and will then discuss the post-structural treatment of ‘power’ in international politics. I will argue that despite its shortcomings, post-structuralism has an important role to play when it comes to interpreting international politics today. Before beginning however, it is important to first define exactly what ‘post-structuralism’ is.

A label initially created by US academics, ‘post-structuralism’ refers to a wave of academic output that was largely defined with its opposition to the structuralist movement, which emerged from France during the 1950s to the 1960s. According to Michael Merlingen, structuralism had posited that any social element exists “only in patterned, structured relations linking them to other elements in a system,”[2] and that the most productive way of understanding the social world is to approach it through examination of these systems. Post-structuralists, however, seek to challenge this theory and reject its scientific and positivist aspirations. Often making use of techniques of discourse analysis to support their arguments, they believe that language is key and that words and sentences do not reflect or represent any external reality. Bearing in mind the centrality that post-structuralists accord to language, the concept of ‘power’ is perhaps better understood as a representative phenomenon rather than a concrete, material entity.

As the work of post-structuralists is mainly concerned with challenging the aims and motives of existing theories and discourses, it is perhaps more accurate to think of post-structuralism in the field of international politics as a method or tool of analysis. This is particularly because, as it is examined throughout this essay, post-structuralism generally does not seek to present a specific worldview of its own. In other words, it is only by looking at how post-structuralists engage in providing critique over other viewpoints that we can really begin to understand how they think. As Michel Foucault argues, post-structuralist critique “only exists in relation to something other than itself.”[3] With this in mind, this paper will assess the nature and motivation of post-structuralist critique with particular reference to its interaction with the concept of ‘state sovereignty’.

How does ‘critique’ differ from ‘criticism’?

“Do you know up to what point you can know?”,[4] once asked the French writer Michel Foucault. His question encapsulates the essence of post-structuralism, as the very act of posing it instantly challenges existing structures of knowledge and thus becomes an act of ‘critique’. Yet where post-structuralism is concerned, the terms ‘critique’ and ‘criticism’ should not necessarily be used interchangeably. According to Judith Butler, Foucault viewed ‘critique’ as a practice that “suspends judgment” and “offer[s] a new practice of values based on that very suspension.”[5] In other words, post-structuralists do not seek to make value judgements when they engage in critique. They believe that to make such judgments or to suggest a replacement action or thought, one surely has to be operating from within (and thus accepting) an existing framework of generally agreed boundaries, definitions and principles. Through ‘critique’, however, the goal of the post-structuralist is rather to engage in a kind of critical thinking that problematizes and destabilizes a framework that would otherwise be taken for granted, thereby making room for the possibility of a new reality (or set of realities). In short, post-structural critique differs from standard ‘criticism’ because it seeks to problematize rather than replace. William Connolly says this is because the post-structuralist thinker “swims in the culture” that establishes social settings, and so it is simply not possible for him to establish a space outside this culture.[6] All too aware that they are a product of their own environments, post-structuralists can do not more than suggest we try and think of other possibilities.

Post-structuralists believe that language is key when seeking to explain the social world. They argue that there is no reality external to the language we use. They draw inspiration from Nietzsche who, as cited in Bleiker & Chou, argued that “when we say something about the world we also inevitably say something about our conception of the world – something that is linked not to the facts and phenomena we try to comprehend but to the assumptions and conventions of knowing that we have acquired over time and that have become codified in language.”[7] They believe that all aspects of the human experience are fundamentally textual. So, for post-structuralists, critiquing a text and/or a discourse is to critique the world itself.

Much post-structuralist critique is concerned with identifying the presence of binaries and dichotomies. Jacques Derrida argues that the very structure of thought in the Western tradition was drawn from such binary oppositions; in other words, things are defined largely by what they are not.[8] The colour red is red in large part because it is not blue, green or any other colour. Post-structuralists claim to show that the deployment of these binaries penetrates to the very core of political life. Concerning the field of IR, Connolly argues that ‘international relations’ as we know and aspire to understand them today were largely compounded from the “intertext between the old world and the new.”[9] He highlights the historical context within which these relations were formed, having drawn much of their character from “time-honored practices in Christianity,” which relied on a process of othering when it encountered someone or something considered deviant from the faith. Connolly believes that we can only truly understand what he calls the “enigma of otherness” if we look at the epistemological context whence it emerged in the sixteenth century, and that by doing so we can begin to challenge it.[10] Connolly adds that the use of binaries, beginning with couples such as faith/heresy, purity/sin, monotheism/paganism and conquest/conversion, seeped from this Christian context into secular academic life through the vehicle of an ambiguous “must”; the command structure of an indefinable but completely ‘sovereign’ bearer of truth.[11] Most post-structuralists would likely argue that this same device is still being deployed today in the name of the sovereign state.

By tracing the use of binary oppositions and other linguistic devices from the late-medieval Christian context to the present day, Connolly, Jacques Derrida and the other similar thinkers have employed what is known as the genealogical method. By using genealogy post-structuralists seek to interrogate pieces of knowledge, to ask where they originated and who they benefit. Connolly’s ideas follow on from those of Foucault who, according to Mariana Valverde, believed that the concept of sovereignty was first promoted by “highly political” European thinkers who “lacked the independence and disinterestedness” of the “autonomous universities” that twentieth-century political theorists would go on to enjoy.[12] Foucault argued that these thinkers on sovereignty had vested interests in defending particular institutions, which at the time fell under the auspices of the monarchy. Foucault believed that despite the profound political changes that have occurred since these ideas on sovereignty were initially formed, the dominance of the ‘sovereign voice’ has endured: “the representation of power has remained under the spell of monarchy. In political thought and analysis, we still have not cut off the head of the king.”[13] By highlighting the late-medieval origins of the concept of sovereignty, Foucault claims to have called into question its perceived timelessness and its suitability as a staple element of today’s political system.

Foucault wrote that “there is something in critique that is akin to virtue” and “this critical attitude [is] virtue in general.”[14] He believed that post-structural genealogical critique was not simply an exercise in knowledge, but also played an important ethical role. Valverde argues that Foucault’s main purpose was “to provide a genealogy of discourses of/on sovereignty that could be used to shed light on those phenomena in twentieth-century political history that loomed over Foucault’s generation,” which included “state-organised mass murders of whole human groups declared to be enemies not just of the state but of the nation itself.”[15] Foucault sees post-structural critique, then, as a way to hold those in power to account. As Judith Butler suggests: “perhaps what he is offering us by way of ‘critique’ is an act, even a practice of freedom.”[16]

Another method oft-employed by post-structuralists is that of the double reading. This involves an analysis of a discourse or theory in two parts: firstly, a reading which takes the subject matter at face value and interprets it in the way the author intends it to be understood; and secondly, a reading which challenges the subject matter, asks who it may benefit and explores what it neglects to mention. According to Richard Devetak these mutually inconsistent readings are in “a performative (rather than logical) contradiction,” as the goal of the double reading is not to demonstrate truth but to “expose how any story depends on the repression of internal tensions in order to produce a stable effect of homogeneity and continuity.”[17]

Richard Ashley is one post-structuralist writer who has used the method of double reading to critique the sovereign state and the wider realist paradigm, which he refers to as the anarchy problématique. Ashley claims that his first reading of the paradigm has the characteristics of a monologue, in that it allows the controlling sovereign presence to have “an existence prior to and independent of the representations” and is “fixed and originary.”[18] Ashley argues that allowing the discourse under analysis to hold unquestioned dominance sets up a dilemma for the reader, because he/she is “left either to enter the enclosure of a discourse and honour its powerful representations of a problematique or to stand aloof.”[19] By contrast, Ashley’s second reading of the anarchy problématique has the characteristics of a dialogue, as the reader will “be disposed to explore how practices involved in the production of a text or discourse move to absorb and destroy, affirm and negate, anticipate and answer an innumerable variety of alien texts in an ambiguous, indeterminate, and productive dialogue.”[20] By carrying out this double reading, Ashley claims not to have destroyed the discourse but to have deconstructed it, giving “an opening to new possibilities where formerly there was only the pretence of closure.”[21] In Jonathan Culler’s words, this technique of deconstruction “undermines the philosophy it asserts… by identifying in the text the rhetorical operations that produce the supposed ground of argument, the key concept or premise.”[22] The boundaries of the discourse are called into question and space is created for further debate because, according to Ashley, it is show that the foundations of the discourse “were never so secure as they might have seemed.”[23] Through Ashley’s performative double reading, the locus of sovereign power has allegedly been destabilised.

The ‘power/knowledge nexus’

Marking a departure from mainstream positivist scholarship in IR, post-structuralists treat the production of knowledge as an “aesthetic, normative and political matter.”[24] Their emphasis on the essentiality of language in the production of knowledge means that language becomes, in Devetak’s words, “less a neutral, pure medium of communication, than a mediating set of habits, conventions, values and prejudices enabling us to make sense of the world.”[25] Viewed through this lens, knowledge and power thus become intertwined in what Foucault calls a “nexus of knowledge-power,”[26] where the two are “mutually supportive” and “directly imply one another.”[27] As Valverde argues, Foucault’s use of post-structuralist genealogy was down to his interest in “writing the history of political thought not as a history of ideas but as a history of power struggles.”[28]

Derrida saw deconstruction as a key tool for breaking into the perceived intimate relationship between power and knowledge and for locating “elements of instability” that threaten the cohesion of conceptual oppositions in general.[29] Crucially, he believed that although both halves of any binary initially seem to be equal to one another, one conceptual partner is in fact more powerful and dominates the other. Viewed in this way, deconstruction is also a useful method for analysing power dynamics. One pairing Derrida was especially concerned with was that of ‘speech/writing’. Rather than being two equal branches of language, Derrida posited that speech was in fact widely regarded as “primary and authentic” and writing merely a derivative of it. He argues that rather than thinking of writing as a poorer relation of speech we should treat speech as if it were part of a generalised form of writing.[30]

Jenny Edkins and Maja Zehfuss argue that a parallel can be drawn with the power struggle of the ‘sovereign domestic/anarchic international’ binary in global politics, where the international is always set up to fail when viewed through the criteria of a ‘sovereign’ domestic system of order that is already considered superior. They imagine that if we were to conceive of an alternative interpretation of world politics without the dividing lines of domestic/international (inside/outside the sovereign entity), the location and nature of power would change drastically. They envision a world where “the idea of homogenous groups of people sharing common values and a common culture over time would not be taken as given.”[31] This not only debunks the primordial domestic/international dichotomy, but also challenges other, accompanying ones such as inside/outside, good/evil, order/chaos, secure/insecure, legal/illegal, and so on – all of which are used to reinforce the dominant power of one of the two partners. Using the example of 9/11 and the ensuing ‘War on Terror’, Edkins and Zehfuss claim that although the US government described the US as less secure than before the attacks, it was in fact experiencing a return of a security not experienced since the end of the Cold War because it once again had a clearly-identifiable enemy (“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”[32]). They argue the US government exploited this to its power advantage, justifying heightened securitisation ‘at home’ and military activities ‘abroad’.[33]

The work of Edkins and Zehfuss rings true with the belief of many post-structuralists that the sovereign state is, as David Campbell writes, “predicated on discourses of danger.”[34] Many post-structuralists believe the ruling classes in a sovereign state reinforce their power through deployment of the inside/outside paradigm.[35] Rather than being ‘originary’ and having an existence prior to political practice, post-structuralists believe that sovereign states are “performatively constituted.”[36] This also fits in with the concept of ‘virtue’ that Foucault saw in post-structural critique. Jennifer Sterling-Folker argues that through critiquing sovereignty, post-structuralists want to show how the current setup of global politics engenders the “subjugation and social injustices that are uncritically and continually reproduced as if they were inevitable.”[37] As Foucault writes, “critique is the movement by which the subject gives himself the right to question truth on its effects of power and question power on its discourses of truth.”[38]

Conclusion

Mervyn Frost has claimed that post-structuralists’ concern with the location of power means they would be more accurately described as “super-realists.”[39] While he may have a point, this overlooks the key difference that while realists claim that their theory acts as a mirror reflecting a pre-existing and static reality, post-structuralists are sceptical of the very ‘realities’ presented by discourses and theories in mainstream IR and encourage use to view the world differently. It could be argued that post-structuralism’s concern with problematizing existing theories of reality is a severe flaw because it effectively leaves them homeless, having lost a base from whence to formulate useful thoughts and ideas. It could also be asked: “what good is thinking otherwise, if we don’t know in advance that thinking otherwise will produce a better world?”[40] However, in response to this it should be stressed that post-structuralists are not seeking to form new ethical guidelines. As Butler writes, “I think we can assume that the answers that are being proffered do not have reassurance as their primary aim.”[41]

As this paper has shown, post-structuralists are merely introducing the mere possibility of viewing international politics from a different starting point – a possibility that is disallowed by many positivist strands in the social sciences. This paper has also shown that post-structuralists are effective in highlighting the complex and intimate relationship between knowledge and power; the malleability of the former acting largely to reinforce the latter. In doing so, they claim to have questioned the relevance of the sovereign state, considered by many the only legitimate actor in international relations today. Even if, as Blair claims, post-structuralism does not present any concrete “theoretical innovations” in IR, its methods nonetheless encourage us to think outside the constrains of traditional paradigms.[42] In the context of the largely unpredicted political changes that have occurred over the past year especially, this open-minded attitude is perhaps as much needed now as ever.

Bibliography

Ashley, Richard K. (1988) ‘Untying the Sovereign State: A Double Reading of the Anarchy Problématique’, Millennium, 17, pp. 227-286.

Ashley, Richard and Walker, R. B. J. (1990) ‘Speaking the Language of Exile’, International Studies Quarterly 34 (3).

Blair, Brook M. (2011) ‘Revisiting the “Third Debate” (Part I)’, Review of International Studies, 37 (2), 2011, pp. 825-854.

Bleiker, R., & Chou, M. (2010) ‘Nietzsche’s Style : On Language, Knowledge and Power in International Relations’ in Cerwyn Moore, Chris Farrands (Eds.), International Relations Theory and Philosophy: Interpretive dialogues (United Kingdom : Routledge), pp. 8-19.

Bush, George W., Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, Office of the Press Secretary, The White House (20 September 2001).

Butler, Judith (2001) What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue, at http://eipcp.net/transversal/0806/butler/en/ [accessed 27 December 2016].

Campbell, David (1998) Writing Security, United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

Campbell, David (1998) ‘MetaBosnia’, Review of International Studies 24, pp. 261-281.

Campbell, David & Shapiro, Michael J. (eds.) (1999) Moral Spaces: Rethinking Ethics and World Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

Connolly, William (1991) Identity/Difference. Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox, Expanded Edition (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press).

Culler, Jonathan D. (1982) On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism (Cornell University Press).

Devetak, Richard (2013) ‘Post-structuralism’ in Theories of International Relations, Scott Burchill et al (eds.), (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 187-216.Edkins, Jenny & Zehfuss, Maja (2005) ‘Generalising the international’, Review of International Studies, 31, 2011, pp. 451–472.

Foucault, Michel (1997) ‘What is Critique?’ in The Politics of Truth, Sylvère Lotringer and Lysa Hochroth (eds.) (New York: Semiotext).

Foucault, Michel (1978) The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction, trans. R Hurley. (New York: Pantheon, 1978).

Frost, Mervyn, Language and Power: Post-Structuralist Approaches to International Relations’, lecture delivered at King’s College London (5 December 2016).

Merlingen, Michael (2013) Is Poststructuralism a Useful IR Theory? What About Its Relationship to Historical Materialism?, at http://www.e-ir.info/2013/05/08/is-poststructuralism-a-useful-ir-theory-and-what-about-its-relationship-to-historical-materialism/ [accessed 8 January 2017].

Sterling-Folker, J. (ed.) (2006) Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner).

Valverde, Mariana (2011) ‘Law Versus History – Foucault’s Genealogy of Modern Sovereignty’ in Dillon, Michael and Neal, Andrew (eds.), Foucault on Politics, Security and War (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

Walker, R. B. J. (1993) Inside/Outside: International Relations as Political Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Notes

[1] Blair, Brook M. (2011) ‘Revisiting the “Third Debate” (Part I)’, Review of International Studies, 37 (2), 2011, pp. 825-854.

[2] Merlingen, Michael (2013) Is Poststructuralism a Useful IR Theory? What About Its Relationship to Historical Materialism?, at http://www.e-ir.info/2013/05/08/is-poststructuralism-a-useful-ir-theory-and-what-about-its-relationship-to-historical-materialism/ [accessed 8 January 2017].

[3] Foucault, Michel (1997) ‘What is Critique?’ in The Politics of Truth, Sylvère Lotringer and Lysa Hochroth (eds.) (New York: Semiotext), p. 24.

[4] Ibid., p. 46.

[5] Butler, Judith (2001) What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue, at http://eipcp.net/transversal/0806/butler/en/ [accessed 27 December 2016].

[6] Connolly, William (1991) Identity/Difference. Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox, Expanded Edition (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press), p. 182.

[7] Bleiker, R., & Chou, M. (2010) ‘Nietzsche’s Style : On Language, Knowledge and Power in International Relations’ in Cerwyn Moore, Chris Farrands (Eds.), International Relations Theory and Philosophy: Interpretive dialogues (United Kingdom : Routledge), p. 9.

[8] Edkins, Jenny & Zehfuss, Maja (2005) ‘Generalising the international’, Review of International Studies, 31, 2011, pp. 451–472.

[9] Connolly, William (1991) Identity/Difference. Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox, Expanded Edition (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press), p. 38

[10] Ibid., p. 39.

[11] Ibid., p. 39.

[12] Valverde, Mariana (2011) ‘Law Versus History – Foucault’s Genealogy of Modern Sovereignty’ in Dillon, Michael and Neal, Andrew (eds.), Foucault on Politics, Security and War (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), p. 137.

[13] Foucault, Michel (1978) The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction, trans. R Hurley. (New York: Pantheon, 1978), p 88.

[14] Foucault, Michel (1997) ‘What is Critique?’ in The Politics of Truth, Sylvère Lotringer and Lysa Hochroth (eds.) (New York: Semiotext).

[15] Valverde, Mariana (2011) ‘Law Versus History’, p. 139.

[16] Butler, Judith (2001) What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue, at http://eipcp.net/transversal/0806/butler/en/ [accessed 27 December 2016].

[17] Devetak, Richard (2013) ‘Post-structuralism’ in Theories of International Relations, Scott Burchill et al (eds.), (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), p. 197.

[18] Ashley, Richard K. (1988) ‘Untying the Sovereign State: A Double Reading of the Anarchy Problématique’, Millennium, 17, pp. 227-286. (all emphases are Ashley’s).

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Culler, Jonathan D. (1982) On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism (Cornell University Press), p. 86.

[23] Ashley, Richard K. (1988) ‘Untying the Sovereign State’, pp. 227-286.

[24] Campbell, David & Shapiro, Michael J. (eds.) (1999) Moral Spaces: Rethinking Ethics and World Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

[25] Devetak, Richard (2013) ‘Post-structuralism’ in Theories of International Relations, Scott Burchill et al (eds.), (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), p. 188.

[26] Foucault, Michel (1997) ‘What is Critique?’ in The Politics of Truth, Sylvère Lotringer and Lysa Hochroth (eds.) (New York: Semiotext).

[27] Devetak, Richard (2013) ‘Post-structuralism’, p. 188.

[28] Valverde, Mariana (2011) ‘Law Versus History – Foucault’s Genealogy of Modern Sovereignty’ in Dillon, Michael and Neal, Andrew (eds.), Foucault on Politics, Security and War (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

[29] Devetak, Richard (2013) ‘Post-structuralism’ in Theories of International Relations, Scott Burchill et al (eds.), (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), p. 196.

[30] Edkins, Jenny & Zehfuss, Maja (2005) ‘Generalising the international’, Review of International Studies, 31, 2011, p. 463.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Bush, George W., Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, Office of the Press Secretary, The White House (20 September 2001).

[33] Edkins, Jenny & Zehfuss, Maja (2005) ‘Generalising the international’, p. 463.

[34] Campbell, David (1998) Writing Security, United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

[35] Andrew Walker is one notable example.

[36] Devetak, Richard (2013) ‘Post-structuralism’, p. 208.

[37] Sterling-Folker, J. (ed.) (2006) Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner), p. 159.

[38] Foucault, Michel (1997) ‘What is Critique?’ in The Politics of Truth, Sylvère Lotringer and Lysa Hochroth (eds.) (New York: Semiotext).

[39] Frost, Mervyn, Language and Power: Post-Structuralist Approaches to International Relations’, lecture delivered at King’s College London (5 December 2016).

[40] Butler, Judith (2001) What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue, at http://eipcp.net/transversal/0806/butler/en/ [accessed 27 December 2016].

[41] Ibid.

[42] Blair, Brook M. (2011) ‘Revisiting the “Third Debate” (Part I)’, Review of International Studies, 37 (2), 2011, pp. 825-854.


Written by: Harry Darkins
Written at: King’s College London
Written for: Mervyn Frost
Date written: January 2017

Post-structuralism is associated with the works of a series of mid-20th-century French, continental philosophers and critical theorists who came to be known internationally in the 1960s and 1970s.[1][2][3] The term is defined by its relationship to the system before it— Structuralism, an intellectual movement developed in Europe from the early to mid-20th century which argues that human culture may be understood by means of a structure—modeled on language (i.e., Structural Linguistics)—that differs from concrete reality and from abstract ideas—a "third order" that mediates between the two.[4]

Post-structuralist authors all present different critiques of structuralism, but common themes include the rejection of the self-sufficiency of Structuralism and an interrogation of the binary oppositions that constitute those structures.[5] Writers whose work are often characterised as post-structuralist include: Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, Jean Baudrillard and Julia Kristeva, although many theorists who have been called "post-structuralist" have rejected the label.[6]

Existential phenomenology is a significant influence; Colin Davis has argued that Post-structuralists might just as accurately be called "post-phenomenologists".[7]

Theory[edit]

Post-structuralist philosophers like Derrida and Foucault did not form a self-conscious group, but each responded to the traditions of phenomenology and Structuralism. The idea that knowledge could be centred on the beholder is rejected by Structuralism, which claims to be a more secure foundation for knowledge.[8] In phenomenology, this foundation is experiential in itself. In Structuralism, knowledge is founded on the "structures" that make experience possible: concepts, and language or signs. By contrast, Post-structuralism argues that founding knowledge either on pure experience (phenomenology) or systematic structures (Structuralism) is impossible. This impossibility was not meant as a failure or loss, but rather as a cause for "celebration and liberation."[8]

A major theory associated with Structuralism is binary opposition. This theory proposes that there are frequently used pairs of opposite but related words, often arranged in a hierarchy. Examples of common binary pairs include: Enlightenment/Romantic, male/female, speech/writing, rational/emotional, signifier/signified, symbolic/imaginary. Post-structuralism rejects the notion of the dominant word in the pair being dependent on its subservient counterpart. The only way to properly understand the purpose of these pairings is to assess each term individually, and then its relationship to the related term.[clarification needed]

Post-structuralism and Structuralism[edit]

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 way of studying how knowledge is produced and critiques Structuralist premises. It argues that because history and culture condition the study of underlying structures, both are subject to biases and misinterpretations. A Post-structuralist approach argues that to understand an object (e.g., a text), it is necessary to study both the object itself and the systems of knowledge that produced the object.

Historical vs. descriptive view[edit]

Post-structuralists generally assert that Post-structuralism is the historical context surrounding the arts, while Structuralism is considered descriptive of the present.[citation needed] This terminology is derived from Ferdinand de Saussure's distinction between the views of historical (diachronic) and descriptive (synchronic) 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 the same concepts are understood by readers in the present. For example, Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization is both an observation of history and an inspection of cultural attitudes about madness. The theme of history in modern Continental thought can be linked to such influences as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals and Martin Heidegger's Being and Time.

Scholars between both movements[edit]

The uncertain distance between Structuralism and Post-structuralism is further blurred by the fact that scholars rarely label themselves as Post-structuralists. Some scholars associated with Structuralism, such as Roland Barthes and Foucault, also became noteworthy in Post-structuralism.

Controversy[edit]

Some observers from outside the Post-structuralist camp have questioned the rigor and legitimacy of the field. American philosopher John Searle[9] 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[10] 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."[11]

David Foster Wallace has stated:

"The deconstructionists (“deconstructionist” and “poststructuralist” mean the same thing, by the way: “poststructuralist” is what you call a deconstructionist who doesn’t want to be called a deconstructionist) . . . see the debate over the ownership of meaning as a skirmish in a larger war in Western philosophy over the idea that presence and unity are ontologically prior to expression. There’s been this longstanding deluded presumption, they think, that if there is an utterance then there must exist a unified, efficacious presence that causes and owns that utterance. The poststructuralists attack what they see as a post-Platonic prejudice in favor of presence over absence and speech over writing. We tend to trust speech over writing because of the immediacy of the speaker: he’s right there, and we can grab him by the lapels and look into his face and figure out just exactly what one single thing he means. But the reason why poststructuralists are in the literary theory business at all is that they see writing, not speech, as more faithful to the metaphysics of true expression. For Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault, writing is a better animal than speech because it is iterable; it is iterable because it is abstract; and it is abstract because it is a function not of presence but of absence: the reader’s absent when the writer’s writing, and the writer’s absent when the reader’s reading.
For a deconstructionist, then, a writer’s circumstances and intentions are indeed a part of the “context” of a text, but context imposes no real cinctures on the text’s meaning, because meaning in language requires a cultivation of absence rather than presence, involves not the imposition but the erasure of consciousness. This is so because these guys–Derrida following Heidegger and Barthes Mallarme and Foucault God knows who–see literary language as not a tool but an environment. A writer does not wield language; he is subsumed in it. Language speaks us; writing writes; etc."[12]

History[edit]

Post-structuralism emerged in France during the 1960s as a movement critiquing Structuralism. According to J.G. Merquior[3] a love–hate relationship with Structuralism developed among many leading French thinkers in the 1960s.

In a 1966 lecture "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences", 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."

In 1967, Barthes published "The Death of the Author" 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.

The period was marked by the rebellion of students and workers against the state in May 1968.

Major works[edit]

Barthes and the need for metalanguage[edit]

Barthes in his work, Elements of Semiology (1967), advanced the concept of the "metalanguage". 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 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[edit]

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 colloquium at Johns Hopkins University in 1966 titled "The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man", to which such French philosophers as Derrida, Barthes, and Lacan were invited to speak.

Derrida's lecture at that conference, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Human Sciences," 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 interpreted in a linguistic sense, based on a general tendency towards puns and humour, while social constructionism as developed in the later work of Michel Foucault is said to create play in the sense of strategic agency by laying bare the levers of historical change. Many see the importance of Foucault's work to be in its synthesis of this social/historical account of the operation of power (see governmentality).[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Authors[edit]

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

References[edit]

Sources[edit]

  • Angermuller, J. (2015): Why There Is No Poststructuralism in France. The Making of an Intellectual Generation. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Angermuller, J. (2014): Poststructuralist Discourse Analysis. Subjectivity in Enunciative Pragmatics. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • 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.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[edit]

  1. ^Bensmaïa, Réda Poststructuralism, article published in Kritzman, Lawrence (ed.) The Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought, Columbia University Press, 2005, pp.92-93
  2. ^Mark Poster (1988) Critical theory and poststructuralism: in search of a context, section Introduction: Theory and the problem of Context, pp.5-6
  3. ^ abMerquior, J.G. (1987). Foucault (Fontana Modern Masters series), University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-06062-8.
  4. ^Deleuze, Gilles. 2002. "How Do We Recognise Structuralism?" In Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974. Trans. David Lapoujade. Ed. Michael Taormina. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents ser. Los Angeles and New York: Semiotext(e), 2004. 170-192. ISBN 1-58435-018-0. p.171-173.
  5. ^Craig, Edward, ed. 1998. Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Vol. 7 (Nihilism to Quantum mechanics). London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-18712-5. p.597.
  6. ^Harrison, Paul; 2006; "Post-structuralist Theories"; pp122-135 in Aitken, S. and Valentine, G. (eds); 2006; Approaches to Human Geography; Sage, London
  7. ^Davis, Colin; "Levinas: An Introduction"; p8; 2006; Continuum, London.
  8. ^ abColebrook 2002, pp. 2-4
  9. ^Searle, John. (1990). "The Storm Over the University," in The New York Times Review of Books, 6 December 1990.
  10. ^Sokal, Alan. (1997) "Professor Latour's Philosophical Mystifications," originally published in French in Le Monde, 31 January 1997; translated by the author.
  11. ^Holland, Norman N. (1992) The Critical I, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-07650-9, p. 140.
  12. ^Biblioklept (2010-12-22). "David Foster Wallace Describes Poststructuralism". Biblioklept. Retrieved 2017-05-25. 

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