Wikipedia on Derrida and deconstruction, Foucault and structuralism, postmodernism and discourse

March 1, 2009

Jacques Derrida (15 July 1930 – 8 October 2004) was a French philosopher born in Algeria, who is known as the founder of deconstruction.

Deconstruction involves the close reading of texts in order to demonstrate that, rather than being a unified whole, any given text has irreconcilably contradictory meanings

Michel Foucault (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984) was a French philosopher, historian, intellectual, critic and sociologist. […] Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions, most notably psychiatry, medicine, the human sciences, and the prison system, as well as for his work on the history of human sexuality. Foucault’s work on power, and the relationships between power, knowledge, and discourse, has been widely discussed. In the 1960s Foucault was often associated with the structuralist movement. Foucault later distanced himself from structuralism. Though sometimes characterised as postmodernist, Foucault always rejected the post-structuralist and postmodernist labels.

Structuralism is an approach to the human sciences that attempts to analyze a specific field (for instance, mythology) as a complex system of interrelated parts. […] there are four common ideas regarding structuralism that form an ‘intellectual trend’. Firstly, the structure is what determines the position of each element of a whole. Secondly, structuralists believe that every system has a structure. Thirdly, structuralists are interested in ‘structural’ laws that deal with coexistence rather than changes. And finally structures are the ‘real things’ that lie beneath the surface or the appearance of meaning.

Postmodernism literally means ‘after the modernist movement’. While “modern” itself refers to something “related to the present”, the movement of modernism and the following reaction of postmodernism are defined by a set of perspectives.


Social construction, structuralism, poststructuralism

Often opposed to deconstruction are social constructionists […] Michel Foucault was also a structuralist but then turned to what would be termed poststructuralism, although he himself declined to call his work either poststructuralist or postmodern. Structuralism historically gave way to poststructuralism; often the role of postmodernism within the analytic tradition is played down, although works by major figures of the analytic tradition in the 20th century […] show a similarity with works in the continental tradition for their lack of belief in absolute truth as well as in the pliability of language.

Discourse means either “written or spoken communication or debate” or “a formal discussion or debate.” The term is often used in semantics and discourse analysis.

In semantics, discourses are linguistic units composed of several sentences; in other words, conversations, arguments, or speeches. In discourse analysis, which came to prominence in the late 1960s, the word “discourse” is shorthand for “discursive formation,” which is what Michel Foucault called communication that involves specialized knowledge of various kinds. It is in this sense that the word is most often used in academic studies.



Feminists have explored the complex relationships that exist among power, ideology, language and discourse. Feminist theory talks about “doing gender” and/or “performing gender.” It is suggested that gender is a property, not of persons themselves but of the behaviours to which members of a society ascribe a gendering meaning. “Being a man/woman involves appropriating gendered behaviours and making them part of the self that an individual presents to others. Repeated over time, these behaviours may be internalized as ‘me’—that is, gender does not feel like a performance or an accomplishment to the actor, it just feels like her or his ‘natural’ way of behaving.” Feminist theorists have attempted to recover the subject and “subjectivity.” Chris Weedon, one of the best known scholars working in the feminist poststructuralist tradition, has sought to integrate individual experience and social power in a theory of subjectivity. Weedon defines subjectivity as “the conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions of the individual, her sense of herself, and her ways of understanding her relation to the world.” Judith Butler, also another well known post structuralist feminist scholar, explains that the performativity of gender offers an important contribution to the conceptual understanding of processes of subversion. She argues that subversion occurs through the enactment of an identity that is repeated in directions that go back and forth which then results in the displacement of the original goals of dominant forms of power.


One Response to “Wikipedia on Derrida and deconstruction, Foucault and structuralism, postmodernism and discourse”

  1. msruthmoss Says:

    Wow, that’s a lot to take in for a Sunday morning! Impressive!

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