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Post-structuralism

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Post-structuralism is a term used in an English-language context to designate some French-language scholarship and Anglo-American derivatives that washed ashore as the tide of structuralism receded. The substance of its existence is contentious; arguably it is a buzzword and often some combination of derogatory, hapless, and polemical in use.

Interest in structuralism in the United States drove a 1966 conference at Johns Hopkins University that invited scholars thought to be prominent structuralists, including Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Lacan. The trouble was that by that point many invitees already flagged in their enthusiasm for structuralism. Derrida's lecture at that conference "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Human Sciences" often appears in collections as a manifesto against structuralism. Accordingly the term "post-structuralism" has been applied to those who, for whatever reasons, moved on to criticize structuralism and reduce their association with it. Rarely does one find those represented as founders of post-structuralism identifying themselves as such, although one finds academics in American contexts so identifying themselves, particularly from the 1980s when works categorized post-structuralists became readily available in translation. Its existence was reinforced use of the term for sections in reader collections gathering work from scholars whose reception in the United States was far from untroubled.

Where structuralism attempted to find a level of generalizable and self-sufficient metalanguage capable of describing configurations of elements variably anthropological, literary, linguistic, historical, or psychoanalytic (collectively known as the "human sciences" in French) and analyze their relations without being mired by the identity of these elements as such, post-structuralism is said to share a general concern for identifying and challenging hierarchies implicit in identification of binary oppositions which generally characterize not only structuralism but Western metaphysics. More grandly, it is said that this reductionism is violent, and that post-structuralism identifies this with Western civilization and objectionable excesses of colonialism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and the like. The element of "play" in the title of Derrida's essay is often erroneously taken to be play in a linguistic sense based on a general tendency towards puns and humour, while social constructionism as it is said to be developed in the later work of Michel Foucault is said to create a sense of strategic agency by laying bare the levers of historical change. Following the premise that these characterizations are valid, post-structuralism is dismissed as a grab-bag of tricks used to argue for relativism, perspectivism, and ultimately nihilism from the academic left. It is also often claimed that "post-structuralists" are also more or less self-consciously "post-modernists". No small number of those so designated have expressed consternation at these terms, even as so many claiming devotion to them found their way into university teaching positions, notably in America. It is beyond dispute that arguments between those said to be post-structuralists were at least as strident as their objections to structuralism.

The term is also used as a shorthand for what is seen as a radicalization of the French academic left and its American cousins following the failure of the May 1968 student protests in France to produce a much-hoped-for revolution.

In addition to those discussed above, the following are often said to be post-structuralists or to have had a post-structuralist period:

See also

de:Poststrukturalismus he:פוסט סטרוקטורליזם zh:後結構主義

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