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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N045-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Post-structuralism is a late-twentieth-century development in philosophy and literary theory, particularly associated with the work of Jacques Derrida and his followers. It originated as a reaction against structuralism, which first emerged in Ferdinand de Saussure’s work on linguistics. By the 1950s structuralism had been adapted in anthropology (Lévi-Strauss), psychoanalysis (Lacan) and literary theory (Barthes), and there were hopes that it could provide the framework for rigorous accounts in all areas of the human sciences.

Although structuralism was never formulated as a philosophical theory in its own right, its implicit theoretical basis was a kind of Cartesianism, but without the emphasis on subjectivity. It aimed, like Descartes, at a logically rigorous system of knowledge based on sharp explicit definitions of fundamental concepts. The difference was that, for structuralism, the system itself was absolute, with no grounding in subjectivity. Post-structuralist critiques of structuralism typically challenge the assumption that systems are self-sufficient structures and question the possibility of the precise definitions on which systems of knowledge must be based.

Derrida carries out his critique of structuralist systems by the technique of deconstruction. This is the process of showing, through close textual and conceptual analysis, how definitions of fundamental concepts (for example, presence versus absence, true versus false) are undermined by the very effort to formulate and employ them. Derrida’s approach has particularly influenced literary theory and criticism in the USA. In addition, Richard Rorty, developing themes from pragmatism and recent analytic philosophy, has put forward a distinctively American version of post-structuralism.

Citing this article:
Gutting, Gary. Post-structuralism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N045-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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