Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999


Michael Peters (1999) '(Posts-) Modernism and Structuralism: Affinities and Theoretical Innovations'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 3, <>

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Received: 17/3/1999      Accepted: 13/7/1999      Published: 30/9/1999


This paper argues that "poststructuralism" can be distinguished from "structuralism" in terms of an important set of theoretical and historical differences that can be most easily understood by recognizing the difference between their theoretical objects of study: poststructuralism takes as it theoretical object "structuralism", whereas postmodernism takes as its theoretical object "modernism". Each movement is an attempt to supersede in various ways that which went before. The two movements can be distinguished by a peculiar set of theoretical concerns most clearly seen in their respective historical genealogies. Poststructuralism ought to be seen as a specific philosophical response - strongly motivated by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger - against the social scientific pretensions of structuralism.

Derrida; Foucault; Heidegger; Lyotard.; Modernism; Nietzsche; Postmodernism; Poststructuralism; Structuralism


In this paper I will provide an account of poststructuralism, distinguishing it from postmodernism, and from its predecessor movement, structuralism. It is important to devote some space to defining postmodernism because the term is often confused or deliberately conflated with poststructuralism. While there are philosophical and historical overlaps between the two movements, it is important to distinguish between the two in order to appreciate their respective intellectual genealogies and their theoretical trajectories and applications. For the purposes of this paper I want to argue that there is an important set of theoretical and historical differences that can be most easily understood by recognizing the difference between their theoretical objects of study. Poststructuralism takes as it theoretical object "structuralism", whereas postmodernism takes as its theoretical object "modernism". Each movement is an attempt to supersede in various ways that which went before. The two movements - poststructuralism and postmodernism - while now intertwined and often equate with the other or their terms and meanings conflated, can be distinguished by a peculiar set of theoretical concerns most clearly seen in their respective historical genealogies. The main argument is the paper is that the two sets of binaries can and should be distinguished; that this can be done most easily by tracing their genealogies; and that, poststructuralism, in particular, ought to be seen as a specific philosophical response - strongly motivated by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger - against the social scientific pretensions of structuralism.

My main argument for this latter part of the paper is that the theoretical development of French structuralism during the late 1950s and 1960s led to the institutionalization of a transdisciplinary "mega-paradigm" which helped to integrate the humanities and the social sciences but did so in an overly optimistic and scientistic conception of the social sciences. It's claim to the status of a "mega-paradigm" was based around the centrality of language and its scientific analysis in human social and cultural life, considered as self-reflexive signifying or semiotic systems or sub-systems. It was, in this sense, part of the broader "linguistic turn" taken by Western philosophy. The tradition of structuralist linguistics had its origins in late nineteenth century European formalism and under the combined influence of Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson developed into the dominant research program in linguistics. In the hands of Claude Lévi-Strauss, A. J. Greimas, Roland Barthes, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, and many others, it made its way into anthropology, literary criticism, psychoanalysis, Marxism, history, aesthetic theory and studies of popular culture, developing into a powerful over-arching framework for the semiotic and linguistic analysis of society, economy and culture, considered as a series of functionally interrelated sign systems.

I shall interpret poststructuralism, then, as a specifically philosophicalresponse to the alleged scientific status of structuralism -- to its status as a mega-paradigm for the social sciences -- and as a movement which, under the inspiration of Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and others, sought to decenter the "structures", systematicity and scientific status of structuralism, to critique its underlying metaphysics and to extend it a number of different directions, while at the same time preserving central elements of structuralism's critique of the humanist subject.

In this argument and analysis I draw upon the work of Alan Schrift (1995: 4) who argues that one of the most important differences between the discourses of structuralism and poststructuralism is the renewal of philosophical discourse: "The structuralist rediscovery of Freud and Marx along with Heidegger's retrieval of Nietzsche, set the stage for the emergence of poststructuralism as a distinctly philosophical response to the privileging of the human sciences that characterized the work of the structuralists."

The influence of the first generation poststructuralists has been immense: inside France it has lead to exciting developments at the forefront of feminist research, psychoanalysis, literary theory, anthropology, sociology and history. It has also led to important cross-fertilizations and interpenetrations among the disciplines and to intellectual advances in newly configured fields such as film theory, media studies, queer theory, postcolonial studies, Afro-American and Hellenistic studies. Outside France and especially in the American academy, the influence of poststructuralism has been strongly felt in literary studies (e.g., Jonathon Culler, Shoshana Felman, Vincent Leitch) and is strongly evident in the work of the Yale literary school (e.g., Paul de Man, Hillis Miller). Within the Western academy more generally it has influenced the traditional disciplines of sociology (e.g., Zygmunt Bauman, Barry Smart), philosophy (e.g., Cornel West, Paul Patton, Hubert Dreyfus), politics (e.g., Colin Gordon, William Connolly, Barry Hindess), anthropology (e.g., James Clifford, Paul Rabinow), history (e.g., Hayden White, Mark Poster, Dominick La Capra), geography (e.g., Edward Soja, David Harvey), as well as the newly emergent fields of feminist and gender studies (e.g., Judith Butler, Chris Weedon), postcolonial studies (e.g., Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha), and cultural studies (e.g., Stuart Hall, Simon During) .

In the first part of the paper I distinguish between modernism and postmodernism, at the same time noting differences between the two pair of binaries. Just as postmodernism is to be defined with respect to modernism, so poststructuralism is to be defined against the background of French structuralism. This is the subject matter of the second half of the paper. Poststructuralism shares some features in common with structuralism, with also differing from it in certain respects. In the second half of the paper I discuss the main theoretical tendencies and innovations, distinguishing both its affinities and continuities with structuralism as well as its theoretical innovations and differences.

Modernism and Post-Modernism

Poststructuralism has often been confused with its kinship term, postmodernism, and, indeed, some critics have argued that the latter term, through patterns of established usage, has come to subsume poststructuralism. In order to further distinguish between the two terms we need to define both "structuralism" and "modernism" in a preliminary way, and to discuss the kind of relations each has to its own theoretical and historical object. I shall begin with the term "modernism' which has two uses: the first refers to movements in the arts from around the end of the nineteenth century; the second is historical and philosophical, referring to "the modern", meaning "modernity" -- the age or period following the medieval period. There is a relationship between these two senses that can be expressed simply by saying "modernism" and "the modern" involves a self-conscious break with the old, the classical, and the traditional, and an emphasis on the new or the present. We might add that it also involves the general belief or underlying assumption, contrary to classicism or traditionalism, that the modern is in some sense better than the old, simply because, in the sequence of historical development, it comes later. Philosophical speaking, modernism in philosophy begins with the Renaissance -- with the thought of Francis Bacon in England and RenéDescartes in France.

"Modernism", in the first sense of referring to developments in the arts from the end of the nineteenth-century, is typically used to characterize the method, style, or attitude of modern artists, and, in particular, a style in which the artist deliberately breaks away from classical and traditional methods of expression based on assumptions of realism and naturalism. One author describes modernism in the following terms:

modernism in art, literature, and philosophy involved novelty, break with tradition, progress, continuous development, knowledge derived from either the position of the subject or from claims to objectivity ... [It] involved a shift ... to the stream of consciousness, lived and internal time-consciousness, transcendental subjectivity, narrated remembrance and awareness (Silverman, 1996: 353)

In philosophy (and theology), modernism can be seen as a movement sustained by a belief in the advancement of knowledge and human progress, made on the basis of experience and scientific method. It is epitomized, perhaps, by Immanuel Kant's "critical" philosophy and by the idea that advancement in knowledge comes with subjecting traditional beliefs to criticism. The American literary critic, Clement Greenberg, defined modernism as the historical tendency of an art practice towards complete self-referential autonomy. He writes in his now famous essay on modernist painting:

I identify Modernism with the intensification, almost the exacerbation, of this self-critical tendency that began with the philosopher Kant. Because he was the first to criticize the means itself of criticism, I conceive of Kant as the first real Modernist. The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize itself -- not in order to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence. Kant used logic to establish the limits of logic, and while he withdrew much from its old jurisdiction, logic was left in all the more secure possession of what remained to it (Greenberg, 1973: 66).

M. H. Abrams (1981) suggests that modernism involves a self-conscious and radical break with the traditional bases of Western culture and Western art and that the precursors of this break are artists and thinkers who questioned our cultural certainties, including, Western conceptions of the self.

Postmodernism, thus, has also two general meanings related to the senses of the term modernism: it can be used, aesthetically, to refer specifically to developments in the arts subsequent to or in reaction to modernism; or, in a historical and philosophical sense, to refer to a period -- "postmodernity" -- or ethos. In the second sense it could be argued that it represents a transformation of modernity or a radical shift in the system of values and practices underlying modernity. This is the way that Oxford English Dictionary defines "postmodernism", giving its root meaning and etymology:

post-modern, a. Also post-Modern. Etymology: post- B. 1 b. Subsequent to, or later than, what is 'modern'; spec. in the arts, esp. Archit., applied to a movement in reaction against that designated 'modern' (cf. modern a. 2 h). Hence post-modernism, post-modernist a. and sb.

The OED then proceeds to enumerate its senses according to its earliest known usages. It is useful in this context to review these as it provides a context for the term's appropriate use.

1949 J. HUDNUT Archit. & Spirit of Man ix.108 (heading) - Post-modern house. 1949 J. HUDNUT Archit. & Spirit of Man ix. 108 (heading 119 )- He shall be a modern owner, a post-modern owner, if such a thing is conceivable. Free from all sentimentality or fantasy or caprice. 1956 A. TOYNBEE Historian's Approach To Relig. ii. xi. 146 - Our post-Modern Age of Western history. 1959 C. W. MILLS Sociol. Imagination ix. 166 - Just as Antiquity was followed by several centuries of Oriental ascendancy... so now the Modern Age is being succeeded by a post-modern period. Perhaps we may call it: The Fourth Epoch. 1965 L. A. FIEDLER in Partisan Rev. XXXII. 508, - I am not now interested in analyzing... the diction and imagery which have passed from Science Fiction into post-Modernist literature. 1966 F. KERMODE in EncounterApr. 73/1 - Pop fiction demonstrates 'a growing sense of the irrelevance of the past' and Top [sic] writer ('post-Modernists') are catching on. 1966 N. PEVSNER in Listener29 Dec. 955/2 - The fact that my enthusiasms cannot be roused by... Churchill College.., does not blind me to the existence today of a new style, successor to my International Modern of the nineteen-thirties, a post-modern style, I would be tempted to call it, but the legitimate style of the nineteen-fifties and nineteen-sixties. 1977 N.Y. Rev. Bks. 28 Apr. 30/3 - A process that culminates, by a curious but inexorable logic, in the post-modernist demand for the abolition of art and its assimilation to 'reality'. 1979 Jrnl. R. Soc. Arts Nov. 743/1 - Many Post-Modern architects us motifs... in questionable taste. 1979 Jrnl. R. Soc. Arts 751/1 - Post-Modernists have substituted the body metaphor for the machine metaphor, because so much research has shown that we unconsciously project bodily states into architecture. 1979 Time 8 Jan. 53/1 - The nearest man Post-Modernism has to a senior partner is, in fact, the leading American architect of his generation: Philip Cortelyou Johnson. 1980 Times Higher Educ. Suppl. 7 Mar. 16/1 - Postmodernism, structuralism, and neo-dada (formerly known as 'concrete poetry') all represent a reaction against modernism.

What this rather long list demonstrates clearly is that in its recorded uses from 1949 through until 1980 the term is applied first to architecture (by Hudson and, later, Pevsner), then in history, sociology, literature, and art. In these cases it is used to represent a new epoch (by both Toynbee and Mills) or a new style (by Fiedler, Kermode, Pevsner) that is seen as a reaction against modernism. Only in the very last entry is structuralism mentioned, alongside postmodernism and neo-dadaism. So we can conclude that the process of recognising commonalties between postmodernism and structuralism - as reactions against modernism - etymologically speaking, begin quite late in the piece. Yet structuralism, while strongly associated historically both with European formalism and futurism in pre-Revolutionary Russia, was itself, never predominantly an artistic performance, practice or aesthetics. Rather, it began and developed as a form of poetics, literary criticism, and linguistic analysis of discourse (rather than the humanist model that interpreted particular texts as the unique expression of an author). The linguistic model, as conceived differently by Saussure and Jacobson, permitted the scientific analysis of language as a differential system with no positive terms-- a science of structures that undermined traditional humanist and romantic assumptions about intentionality, creativity and 'the author'. It is important to note that the meanings of the terms 'modernism' and 'postmodernism' are not fixed or stable, and that they have changed historically as the result of theoretical activity scholars have created new meanings and interpretations. In this sense, we might say that there is no definitional closure that can operate here simply because these terms are contestable and open to interpretation, especially as scholars put these terms to work for them theoretically. Indeed, it could be argued that when these definitions and meanings become fixed the theoretical discourse is exhausted.

One scholar, speaking of its application to the human sciences generally, suggests:

postmodernism can be recognized by two key assumptions. First, the assumption that there is no common denominator -- in "nature" or "truth" or "God" or "the future" -- that guarantees either the One-ness of the world or the possibility of natural or objective thought. Second, the assumption that all human systems operate like language, being self-reflexive rather than referential systems -- systems of differential function which are powerful but finite, and which construct and maintain meaning and value (Ermarth, 1998:587).

Another, discussing its relevance to political philosophy:

Postmodernism aims at exposing how, in modern, liberal democracies, the construction of political identity and the operationalization of basic values take place through the deployment of conceptual binaries such as we/them, responsible/irresponsible, rational/irrational, legitimate/illegitimate, normal/abnormal, and so on ... postmodernists draw attention to the ways in which the boundary between ... [these] terms is socially reproduced and policed (Lilly, 1998:591).

Both of these scholars display the tendency -- now a common strategy or usage -- to treat postmodernism synonymously with poststructuralism or to use 'postmodernism' as the all-embracing term. While such a strategy had been adopted by many theorists and commentators, I will insist upon the difference between the two terms, for to do so emphasizes the philosophical distinctiveness of poststructuralism, as a movement that begins in France in the early 1960s and has specific sources of inspiration in the work of two German philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. Postmodernism by contrast, grows out of the context of aesthetic high modernism, the history of the Western avant-garde, and, in particular, the artistic innovation and experimentalism that followed the crisis of representation that took place with Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism, the process of increasing abstraction thereafter (Suprematism, Constructivism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism), and, finally, the abandoning of the aesthetic process completely, with Marcel Duchamp's 'readymades', Josef Beuys installations, Andy Warhol's silkscreen mechanical reproductions, and the movement known as Conceptualism.

Matters become more complex when 'poststructuralist' thinkers began to systematically engage the term. An influential definition of postmodernism and one of the most debated comes from the poststructuralist thinker, Jean-François Lyotard, who in his celebrated The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Lyotard 1984, orig. 1979) analyzed the status of knowledge in the most advanced societies in ways that many critics believed signaled an epochal break not only with the so-called 'modern era' but also with various traditionally 'modern' ways of viewing the world. He writes in a now famous formulation:

I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse ... making explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of the Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth (Lyotard, 1984: xxii).

By contrast, he defines postmodern simply as "incredulity toward metanarratives" (p. xxiv). In The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard was concerned with the grand narratives that had grown out of the Enlightenment and had come to mark modernity. In The Postmodern Explained to Children, Lyotard (1992: 29) mentions specifically:

the progressive emancipation of reason and freedom, the progressive or catastrophic emancipation of labour ..., the enrichment of all through the progress of capitalist technoscience, and even ... the salvation of creatures through the conversion of souls to the Christian narrative of martyred love.

Grand narratives, then, are the stories that cultures tell themselves about their own practices and beliefs in order to legitimate them. They function as a unified single story that purports to legitimate or found a set of practices, a cultural self-image, discourse or institution (see Peters, 1995).

Lyotard (1984), in his very first footnote, acknowledges the sources for his notion of 'the postmodern': the sociology of postindustrial society (mentioning the work of Daniel Bell and Alain Touraine, the literary criticism of Ihab Hassan, studies of 'performance' in postmodern culture by Michel Benamou and Charles Caramello, and M. Köhler's essay). These are useful sources to note as, taken together, they combine elements of the changing mode of economic and social organization of advanced societies with certain changes in culture. Lyotard's innovation as a theorist is to bring together under a narrative analysis elements that were previous kept discrete - that is, the economic (postindustrial) and the cultural (postmodern). He suggests that the status of knowledge is altered as societies enter the postindustrial age and cultures enter the postmodern age, actively indicating a structural homology between changes to the economic and cultural modes without assigning priority to one over the other. Some sociologists have begun to talk of this transition in terms of "postmodernization", in a similar way to which sociologists of a previous generation analyzed the transition from the traditional to the modern in terms of "modernization".

If we take the definition provided by Jean-François Lyotard (1984: 79) provided in his essay "Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?" (appended to the English translation of The Postmodern Condition) we would be driven to accept that postmodernism is "not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant. I have said and will say again the postmodern, signifies not the end of modernism, but another relation to modernism". What he is suggesting is that postmodernism as a movement in the arts is a continuation of modernism by other means -- the search for the new and the avant-garde experimentalism remain. That is, postmodernism entertains an ambivalent relation to modernism, considered as a category in aesthetics, and that it defines a style, an attitude or an ethos rather than a period (i.e., something that comes after modernism). In this sense, there are clearly many postmodernisms -- in the sense of defining a style in the arts and while they may come and go, the postmodern, as an episteme -- a philosophical stance, or historical periodisation -- like the modern, is here to stay.

Structuralism and Poststructuralism

(i) A Decade of French Structuralism, 1958-68

French structuralism had its origins in the developments of structural linguistics that took place at the hands of Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson at the turn of the century. Saussure offered a course in general linguistics during the years 1907-11 and after his death in 1913 students published his work reconstructed from their notes as Cours de linguistique in 1916. Saussure's Course in General Linguistics (Saussure 1959) established the systematic nature of the signification of language and the relational definition of its elements. He distinguishes his "scientific" or synchronic approach against the prevailing historical, developmental or diachronic study of languages through his distinction between la parole -- actual speech or speech events -- and la langue -- the formal language system which governs speech events. Saussure was interested in the function of linguistic elements rather than their cause. For instance, he defined "word", as a "sign" comprised of concept and sound -- the signified and the signifier. Neither causes the other, rather they are functionally related, each depending upon the other. Identity is relationally defined and is purely a function of differences within the system. The relationship of signified to signifier is entirely arbitrary. Saussure talks of the arbitrary nature of the sign. There is nothing in the world that causes a sound to be associated with a particular concept, as the fact that different languages have different signifiers for the same signified (or concept) testifies. One of the distinguishing features of Saussure's linguistics and an advance over the comparative grammar of the time, is his emphasis on the autonomous form of the system as a whole which comprises and organizes phonic and semantic elements not directly accessible in sensory experience. Jonathon Culler (1976: 49) explains the structuralistview of language developed by Saussure.

[It is] not simply that a language is a system of elements which are wholly defined by their relations to one another within the system, though it is that, but that the linguistic system consists of different levels of structure; at each level one can identify elements which contrast with one another and combine with other elements to form higher-level units, and the principles of structure at each level are fundamentally the same.

Part of the Saussurean legacy is the fact that, as the father of modern linguistics, Saussure established a general science of signs, placing the study of language as the system of signs on a sound methodological footing, and promoted semiology -- as he said, the "study of the life of signs within society" -- as central to the human sciences (see Gadet, 1989). It was Roman Jakobson and the link he created between Saussure's linguistics, Geneva and the formalism flourishing in Moscow, which was the decisive factor in making Saussure's views more widely known and giving birth to twentieth-century structuralism (see Selden, 1995).

Roman Jakobson is a central influence historical development of structural linguistics. He is an instrumental figure in Russian Formalism, helping to set up both the Moscow Linguistic Circle and the Society for the Study of Poetic Language (OPOJAZ) in St. Petersburg before moving to Czechoslovakia in 1920 to establish the Prague Linguistic Circle. Jakobson's formative years were greatly influenced by the tradition of the Kazan School (de Courtney on the notion of the phoneme), Saussure (whose work was brought back to Moscow by Sergej Karcevskij in 1917), and the strong Russian tradition of Hegelian and post-Hegelian dialectics. Linda R. Waugh and Monique Monville-Burston (Waugh and Monville-Burston 1990:4) suggest that "The strongest influence on Jakobson's thinking was the turbulent artistic movement of the early twentieth century. . ., including the work of the literary and artistic avant-garde: Picasso, Braque, Stravinsky, Joyce, Xlebnikov, Le Corbusier".

Jakobson help to found the Prague Linguistic Circle in 1926 and served as its vice-president until his departure from Czechoslovakia in 1939. It was Jakobson who first coined the term "structuralism" in 1929 to designate a structural-functional approach to the scientific investigation of phenomena, the basic task of which was to reveal the inner laws of the system. Jakobson (1973), following the success of the First Prague International Slavistic Congress, came to frame his programmatic statement in these terms:

Were we to comprise the leading idea of present-day science in its most various manifestations, we could hardly find a more appropriate designation than structuralism.. Any set of phenomena examined by contemporary science is treated not as a mechanical agglomeration but as a structural whole, and the basic task is to reveal the inner, whether static or developmental, laws of this system. What appears to be the focus of scientific preoccupations is no longer the outer stimulus, but the internal premises of the development: now the mechanical conception of processes yields to the question of their functions.

Jakobson emphasizes the way in which the Prague Linguistic Circle was closely linked with contemporary streams of both Western and Russian linguistics: "the methodological achievements of French linguistics", German phenomenology (Husserl), and the attempted synthesis of the Polish (de Courtenay) and Russian (Fortunatov) schools. It is important to note that Jakobson defined his theory of language structure against Saussure's, which he found both too abstract and static. Jakobson treated Saussure's dichotomous formulations (langue/parole, synchrony/diachrony) dialectically, insisting on the close relationship between form and meaning within a state of dynamic synchrony (Waugh and Monville-Burston,1990:9).

Jakobson introduced Claude Lévi-Strauss to structural linguistics at the New School for Social Science Research in New York in the early 1940s. Lévi-Strauss published an article relating structural linguistics and ethnology for the first time in Jakobson's newly established journal Wordin 1945. It becomes an early chapter of Anthropologie Structurale published in 1958, comprising a collection of papers written between the years 1944 and 1957. Lévi-Strauss (1968: 21) acknowledges his debt to Saussure and Jakobson and proceeds to describe method in anthropology focusing upon the notion of the unconscious structure:

If, as we believe to be the case, the unconscious activity of the mind consists in imposing forms upon content, and if these forms are fundamentally the same for all minds -- ancient and modern, primitive and civilized ... -- it is necessary and sufficient to grasp the unconscious structure underlying each institution and custom, in order to obtain a principle of interpretation valid for other institutions and other customs...

Lévi-Strauss (1968: 33) suggests that we apprehend the unconscious structure through the employment of the structural method developed by structural linguistics, declaring "Structural linguistics will certainly play the same renovating role with respect to the social sciences that nuclear physics, for example, has played for the physical sciences". And he goes on to define the structural method in terms of the programmatic statement made by Nikolai Troubetzkoy (a member of the Prague Linguistic School) in his seminal Principles of Phonology :

First, structural linguistics shifts from the study of conscious linguistic phenomena to the study of their unconscious infrastructure; second, it does not treat terms as independent entities, taking instead as its basis of analysis the relations between terms; third, it introduces the concept of system...; finally, structural linguistics aims at discovering general laws, either by induction [or deduction] (p. 33).

Employing this method, Lévi-Strauss (1968: 34) suggests that social science is able to formulate necessary relationships, "new perspectives ... open up" where the anthropologist can study kinship systems in the way the linguist studies phonemes: "like phonemes, kinship terms are elements of meaning; like phonemes, they acquire meaning only if they are integrated into systems" and kinship systems like phonemic systems "are built by the mind on the level of unconscious thought". Three years later in 1961 in his inaugural lectures at the Collège de France Lévi-Strauss publicly recognizes his debt to Saussure and defines anthropology as a branch of semiology.

After the publication of Anthropologie Structurale the structuralist revolution flourished in France, especially during the 1960s: Roland Barthes introduced to linguistics by A J. Griemas in the early fifties, publishes his Mythologies in 1957 and becomes Directeur d'etudes in the "sociology of signs, symbols and representations" at the École des Hautes Études in 1962; the avant-garde literary journal Tel Quel is founded by Philippe Sollers in 1960; Michel Foucault publishes Folie et deraison: histoire de la folie a l'age classique in 1961; and in 1963 Louis Althusser invites Jacques Lacan to hold his seminar at the École Normale and the productive dialogue between Marxism and psychoanalysis begins; in the year 1966 sees the publication of Louis Althusser's Pour Marx, Foucault's Les mots et les choses, and Lacan's Écrits (see Dosse, 1997).

Jean Piaget, the psychologist, publishes his book Le Structuralisme (Piaget 1968) at the point at when the structuralist bubble in France had burst and structuralism had already become identified with outdated and suspect political attitudes. Many interpreted the spontaneous events of May 1968 as a refutation of the structuralist critique of bourgeois humanism. Jean Piaget's Structuralism (1971: 5) is, nevertheless, both interesting and useful in defining structuralism:

As a first approximation, we may say that a structure is a system of transformations. Inasmuch as it is a system and not a mere collection of elements and their properties, these transformations involve laws: the structure is preserved or enriched by the interplay of its transformation laws, which never yield results external to the system nor employ elements that are external to it. In short, the notion of structure is compromised of three key ideas: the idea of wholeness, the idea of transformation, and the idea of self-regulation.

The notion of wholeness emerges from the distinction between structures and aggregates. Only the former are wholes, whereas the latter are formed of elements which are independent of the complexes into which they enter "the elements of a structure are subordinated to laws, and it is in terms of these laws that the structure qua whole or system is defined" (p. 7). The nature of structured wholes depends upon their laws of composition which in turn govern the transformations of the system, whether they be mathematical (e.g., 1+1 "makes" 2) or temporal. The notion of self-regulation entails both self-maintenance and closure and Piaget mentions three basic mechanisms of self-regulation: rhythm (as in biology), regulation (in the cybernetic sense) and operation (in the sense of logic).

Piaget discusses in turn: mathematical structures, physical and biological structures, psychological structures (Gestalt psychology, the genesis of intelligence), linguistic structuralism (including Chomsky's generative grammar), structural analysis in the social sciences (focusing on Lévi-Strauss' structural anthropology), and last structuralism and philosophy. In "Structuralism and Philosophy" (Chapter 7) Piaget (1971:120) discusses the relations between structuralism and the dialectic: "To the extent that one opts for structure and devaluates genesis, history, and function or even the very activity of the subject itself, one cannot but come into conflict with the central tenets of dialectical modes of thought". In this context Piaget, first, arbitrates in the debate between Lévi-Strauss and Sartre to conclude that there is no inherent conflict between structuralism and dialectic, and, second, discusses Foucault's Les mots et les chosesas "structuralism without structures" which he takes to demonstrate "that there cannot be a coherent structuralism apart from constructivism" (p.135). He suggests that rather than positing structures Foucault talks of epistemes tied to language and he suggests that for Foucault the human sciences are nothing more than the outcomes of mutations of epistemes which follow one another in time but according to no preordained or necessary sequence. Such archaeology of the human sciences spells the end of man. In his conclusion Piaget specifically address this most radical part of Foucault's work. He argues:

'structures' have not been the death of the subject or its activities ... in the first place, structuralism calls for a differentiation between individual subject ..., and epistemic subject ... In the second place, the always fragmentary and frequently distorting grasp of consciousness must be set apart from the achievements of the subject; what he knows is the outcome of his intellectual activity, not its mechanisms (Piaget, 1971: 139)

Foucault (1983) in a rare interview in which he directly engages the question of structuralism/poststructuralism makes it clear that structuralism was not a French invention and that the French moment of structuralism during the 1960s should be properly viewed against the background of European formalism. Foucault suggests that apart from those who applied structural methods in linguistics and comparative mythology none of the protagonists in the structuralist movement knew very clearly what they were doing. While Foucault (1983: 205) declared that he was never a structuralist, he acknowledges that the problem addressed by structuralism was a problem very close to his interests as he has defined them on a number of occasions: "that of the subject and the recasting of the subject".

The problem of structuralism is one that Foucault discusses in terms of a single point of convergence for otherwise completely different kinds of investigations: the focus on a philosophical opposition to "the theoretical affirmation of the primacy of the subject", which had dominated in France since the time of Descartes. It had served as the fundamental postulate for a range of philosophies and approaches during the thirties, forties and fifties, including, phenomenological existentialism, "a kind of Marxism that agonizes over the concept of alienation" (Foucault, 1991: 86), and tendencies in psychology which denied the unconscious. He also refers to the "problem of structuralism" in France as a consequence of more important problems in Eastern Europe, a deeper history to which most of the French academic community were blind (Foucault, 1991: 88). And yet, he suggests, Communists and other Marxists must have had a premonition that structuralism was about to bring to an end traditional Marxist culture in France: "A left culture that was not Marxist was about to emerge" (Foucault, 1991: 90).

Foucault's stance in relation to Marxism was a highly local one: he was reacting to the Stalinist-inclined French Communist Party and the philosophical dominance of an existentialist Marxism in France during the 1940s and 1950s. According to my approach there is nothing necessarily anti-Marxist or post-Marxist about either postmodernism or poststructuralism. Indeed, in the same way that Louis Althusser produced a structuralist reading of Marx, it is possible to develop a poststructuralist reading, a deconstructive reading or a postmodernist reading of Marx. It is entirely possible to produce a reading of Marx that is both postmodernist and poststructuralist. Indeed, Althusserian structuralist Marxism had a huge effect upon the generation of thinkers we now call poststructuralist and each of them in their own way has differently come to terms with Marx: for instance, examine Foucault's (1991) Remarks on Marx with the Italian Marxist Duccio Trombadori; or Derrida's (1994) Specters of Marx; or Lyotard's 'Marxist' commodification thesis in The Postmodern Condition. At the time of his death Deleuze was writing a book on Marx - he clearly regarded himself as a Marxist of some persuasion (see Deleuze, 1995: 171). Arguably, these poststructuralists all regard the analysis of capitalism a central problem: they attempt to comprehend the way in which capitalism transforms itself to avoid coming up against its own limitations, 'decoding' the new capitalist axiomatics that govern an increasingly global finance system clearly evident in 'societies of control' based on a symbolic economy (see Jameson, 1997).

The Emergence of Poststructuralism

Poststructuralism can be characterized as a mode of thinking, a style of philosophizing, and a kind of writing yet the term should not be used to convey a sense of homogeneity, singularity and unity. The very term 'poststructuralism' is not uncontested. Mark Poster (1989: 6) remarks that the term poststructuralism is American in origin and that "poststructuralist theory" names a uniquely American practice, which is based upon an assimilation of the work of a diverse range of theorists. More generally, we might say that the term is a label used in English-speaking academic community to describe a distinctively philosophical response to the structuralism characterizing the work Claude Lévi-Strauss (anthropology), Louis Althusser (Marxism), Jacques Lacan (psychoanalysis), and Roland Barthes (literature). Manfred Frank (1988), a contemporary German philosopher, for his part prefers the term "neo-structuralism" emphasizing a continuity with "structuralism", as does John Sturrock (1986: 137), who focusing upon Jacques Derrida the "Post-Structuralist" -- indeed, "the weightiest and most acute critic Structuralism has had" -- discusses the "post" in "post-Structuralism" in terms of "coming after and of seeking to extend Structuralism in its rightful direction". He continues: "Post-Structuralism is a critique of Structuralism conducted from within: that is, it turns certain of Structuralism's arguments against itself and points to certain fundamental inconsistencies in their method which Structuralists have ignored" (ibid.). Richard Harland (1987), by contrast, coins the term 'superstructuralism' as a single umbrella based on an underlying framework of assumptions common to "Structuralists, Poststructuralists, (European) Semioticians, Althusserian Marxists, Lacanians, Foucauldians, et al" (Harland, 1993: ix-x). All of these locutions "poststructuralism", "neo-structuralism" and "superstructuralism" entertain as central the movement's historical, institutional, and theoretical proximity to "structuralism". Yet poststructuralism can not be simply reduced to a set of shared assumptions, a method, a theory, or even a school. It is best referred to as a movement of thought -- a complex skein of thought -- embodying different forms of critical practice. It is decidedly interdisciplinary and has many different but related strands.

As a French and predominately Parisian affair, first-generation poststructuralism is inseparable from the immediate intellectual milieu which prevailed in postwar France, a history dominated by diverse intellectual forces: the legacy of Alexander Kojéve's and Jean Hyppolite's "existentialist" interpretations of Hegel's Phenomenology; Heidegger's phenomenology of Being and Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialism; Jacques Lacan's rediscovery and structuralist "reading" of Freud; the omnipresence of Georges Bataille and Maurice Blanchot; Gaston Bachelard's radical epistemology and Georges Canguilhelm's studies of science; and, perhaps, most importantly, the French reception of Nietzsche. It is also inseparable from the structuralist tradition of linguistics based upon the work of Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jacobson, and the structuralist interpretations of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Louis Althusser and (early) Michel Foucault. Poststructuralism, considered in terms of contemporary cultural history, can be understood as belonging to the broad movement of European formalism, with explicit historical links to both formalist and futurist linguistics and poetics, and the European avant-garde.

Decisive for the emergence of poststructuralism was, undoubtedly, the rediscovery of Friedrich Nietzsche's writings and Martin Heidegger's interpretation of them by a group of French thinkers, along with the structuralist readings of both Freud and Marx. Where Marx was seen to play out the theme of power in his work, and Freud gave a conceptual priority to the notion of desire, Nietzsche was read as a philosopher who did not prioritize or subordinate the one concept over the other. His philosophy offered a way forward that combined both power and desire.

The American reception of deconstruction and the influential formulation of "poststructuralism" in the English-speaking world, quickly became institutionalized from the point at which Derrida delivered his essay "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" to the International Colloquium on Critical Languages and the Sciences of Man at John Hopkins University in October 1966. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Macksey and Donato1970: x) described the conference as "the first time in the United States that structuralist thought had been considered as a cross-disciplinary phenomenon". Even before the conclusion of the conference, there were clear signs that the ruling transdisciplinary paradigm of structuralism had been superseded, yet only a paragraph in Macksey's "Concluding Remarks" signaled the importance of Derrida's "radical reappraisals of our [structuralist] assumptions" (p. 320).

In the now classic essay "Structure, Sign and Play", Derrida (1978: 279-80) questioned the "structurality of structure" or notion of "center" which, he argued, has served to limit the play of structure:

... the entire history of the concept of structure ... must be thought of as a series of substitutions of center for center, as a linked chain of determinations of the center. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the center receives different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies. Its matrix ... is the determination of being as presence in all senses of this word. It could be shown that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the center have always designated an invariable presence -- eidos, arche, telos, energeia, ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject) aletheia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth.

In this one paragraph Derrida both called into question the previous decade of French structuralism and intimated the directions of his own intellectual ambitions.

The "decentering" of structure, of the transcendental signified, and of the sovereign subject, Derrida suggests -- naming his sources of inspiration -- can be found in the Nietzschean critique of metaphysics and, especially, of the concepts of being and truth, in the Freudian critique of self-presence, as he says, "the critique of consciousness, of the subject, of self-identity and of self-proximity or self-possession" (ibid. 280), and, more radically, in the Heideggerian destruction of metaphysics, "of the determination of Being as presence" (ibid.). In the body of the essay, Derrida considers the theme of "decentering" in relation to Lévi-Strauss' ethnology and concludes by distinguishing two interpretations of structure. One, Hegelian in origin and exemplified in Lévi-Strauss' work, he argues, "dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin which escapes play and the order of the sign" and seeks the "inspiration of a new humanism". The other, "which is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms play and tries to pass beyond man and humanism..." (Derrida, 1978: 292). Humanism as a central motif of European liberal thought has tended to anchor all analysis and theory in the 'centered' subject while structuralism, at least on an Althusserian reading emphasizing a theoretical anti-humanism, came to regard subjects as simply bearers of structures. The poststructuralists in various ways continue to advance the structuralist understanding of the subject in relational terms as an element within structures and systems and yet they also question the philosophical construction of the subject in terms of specific histories: the questioning of the Cartesian-Kantian subject, the questioning of the Hegelian and phenomenological subject; the questioning of the subject of existentialism, the questioning of the Marxian collective subject.

The genealogy of French poststructuralism, then, can be understood as based, in part, upon its affiliations with Nietzsche's thought; in particular, with his critique of truth and his emphasis upon the plurality of interpretation; with his accent on style and the way style is central both philosophically but also aesthetically in overcoming oneself in a process of perpetual self-becoming; with an emphasis on the relations of power and knowledge through the concept of the will to power and its manifestations as will to truth and will to knowledge. These philosophical themes have been taken up, adopted and experimented with by the French poststructuralists in novel and interesting ways. Foucault, for instance, has developed Nietzschean genealogy as a form of critical history that resists the search for origins and essences but rather focuses upon notions of descent and emergence. Lyotard develops Nietzsche's aversion to the universalising tendencies of modern philosophy by analysing the pragmatics of language through the use of narratives and narratology. Derrida, following Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Saussure, challenges the assumptions that govern binary or oppositional thinking, demonstrating how binary oppositions always support a hierarchy or economy of value that operates by subordinating one term to another, and, through deconstruction, revealing, unraveling and reversing such hierarchies. Deleuze (1983, orig. 1962), inspired by Nietzsche, fixes upon difference as the distinguishing feature that substitutes Nietzsche for Hegel and privileges "games of the will to power' against the "labour of the dialectic". All these thinkers together emphasize the way meaning is an active construction radically dependent upon the pragmatics of context and, thereby, challenge the universality of truth claims. Foucault regards truth as a product of discursive regimes or genres, each with its own irreducible body of rules for constituting well formed sentences or statements. Following Nietzsche, they all question the Cartesian-Kantian humanistic subject as the autonomous, free, and transparently self-conscious subject that is traditionally regarded as the fount of all knowledge, and moral and political agency. By contrast and following Nietzsche's critique of liberal philosophy, they increasingly come to specify the subject in all its historical and cultural complexity - 'decentered' within the language system, discursively constituted, and positioned at the intersection of libidinal forces and socio-cultural practices. The subject, again influenced by Nietzsche, is seen as in concrete terms, embodied and engenderedphysiologically speaking, a temporal being that comes into existence and faces death and extinction as a body, yet malleable, infinitely flexible and subject to the practices and strategies of normalisation and individualisation that characterise modern institutions.

Certainly, Gilles Deleuze's (1983, orig. 1962) Nietzsche and Philosophy, which interpreted Nietzsche's philosophy as an attack upon the Hegelian dialectic, helped to create the conditions for the stress upon pure difference -- a "philosophy of difference" -- that emphasized difference not only as a constant in linguistic and symbolic systems but also as a necessary element in the process of creating social and cultural identity (see Peters, 1996, 1998).

In its first generation poststructuralism is exemplified in the work and writing of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Jean-François Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze, Luce Irigaray, Jean Baudrillard and many others. Historically, its early formation and institutional development can be charted in Philippe Soller's highly influential journal Tel Quel, and there are strong connections with literary figures such as Maurice Blanchot and Roland Barthes. In addition to work which engages directly with specific philosophers poststructuralist thinkers have developed distinctive forms of analysis (grammatology, deconstruction, archeology, genealogy, semanalysis) and often developed these forms as critiques of specific institutions (family, state, prison, clinic, school, factory, armed forces, university, even philosophy itself) and theorizations of a range of different media ("reading", "writing", teaching, television, the visual arts, the plastic arts, film, and forms of electronic communication).

Affinities/Continuities with Structuralism

I shall begin with the critique of Renaissance humanist philosophy and the rational, autonomous, self-transparent, subject of humanist thought. Poststructuralism shares with structuralism the suspicion of the privileging of human consciousness by both phenomenology and existentialism: both entertain a skepticism of human consciousness as autonomous, directly accessible, and as the only basis of historical understanding and action. Phenomenology and existentialism inherited the legacy of Renaissance humanist thought which assumed there is a stable, coherent, knowable self that knows both itself and the world through reason. This tradition, at least in the modern era, dates from Bacon and Descartes, and emphasizes a "scientific" mode of knowledge produced by the objective rational self that can provide universal truths about the world. Such scientific knowledge can be applied to all human institutions and practices and is considered the ultimate basis of what is true, and therefore of what is right, and what is good.

It is no exaggeration to say that both structuralism and poststructuralism (insofar as it continues the "decentering" of the subject) constitute an attack upon the "universalist" assumptions of rationality, individuality, autonomy, and self-presence that underlie the humanist subject. Structuralism represents a reaction to the subjectivism of Sartrean existentialism and the personal freedom and historical agency he granted the conscious ego. Poststructuralism, like structuralism, entertained a suspicion of Hegelian self-knowledge, suggesting that socio-cultural structures played an important role in forming self-consciousness.

Heidegger's investigation of "subjectivity" is crucial for poststructuralism. He argues that being-in-the-world precedes the subject's self-knowledge and autonomy. In his famous "Letter on Humanism", Heidegger he explicitly denies that his hermeneutical phenomenology is a humanism. Poststructuralism questions philosophies of the subject that do not take account of the external conditions of its own possibilities. The emphasis on absolute self-consciousness and its alleged universalism is regarded as socially exclusive and, ultimately, oppressive, of the other -- of social and cultural groups -- that operate with different cultural criteria. By contrast, poststructuralism emphasizes the discursive constitution of self (and self-regulation), its corporeality, its temporality and finitude, its unconscious and libidinal energies, and the historical and cultural location of the subject.

Foucault in his early work explores the historical conditions which make possible certain kinds of subjectivity and agency, and also the production of modern individualized subjects in institutions like the prison, hospital and the school. Derrida engages in a sustained critique of self-presence as the history of Western metaphysics. Both question the ontological and fictional unity of the literary author.

We can also distinguished a shared general theoretical understanding of language and culture in terms of linguistic and symbolic systems, where the interrelations of constituent elements are regarded as more important than the elements considered in isolation from one another. Both structuralism and poststructuralism take up the Saussurean belief -- and innovative methodologies based upon its insights -- that linguistic signs act reflexively rather than referentially. Systems of value work by through the self-reflexive operation of differences and most symbolic or coded systems of meaning (e.g., city, fashion, school, classroom), can be analyzed in similar semiotic terms. Poststructuralist thought has developed a range of different methods or approaches (e.g., "archeology", "genealogy", "deconstruction") that operate according to their own logics but tend to emphasize the notions of difference, local determinacy, historical breaks or discontinuities, serialization, repetition, and a "dismantling" or "disassembling" (read deconstruction) critique. Sometimes this is taken to indicate an anti-realism about meaning and reference, involving a rejection of the picture of knowledge as accurate representation and truth as correspondence to reality.

Poststructuralists display, perhaps -- especially in relation to literature -- a greater textual self-awareness and a complex understanding of the importance of style both to philosophy and the human sciences. These thinkers, acknowledging their debt to Jacobson and to Propp, have developed highly innovative and sophisticated philosophical strategies and approaches for the analysis of texts, text analogues, histories and cultures. In particular, the contemporary importance of narrative theory and narratology, owe their popularity to structuralist and poststructuralist modes of analysis.

This is a general shared belief in the Unconscious and in hidden structures or socio-historical forces that, to a large extent, constrain and govern our behavior. Much of the innovation of structuralism and poststructuralism is directly indebted to Freud. Freud's study of the Unconscious and his clinical investigations undermined the prevalent philosophical view of the pure rationality and self-transparency of the subject, substituting a greater complexity that called into question traditional distinctions of reason/unreason (madness). Much of the present emphasis within poststructuralist thought on the subject of desire, on the body, and on sexuality is due to Freud's influence. Jacques Lacan, returning to the critical spirit of Freud, offers a structuralist reading emphasizing the logico-linguistic structural conditions underlying the individual as a subject of desire and language. Rather than a subject as self-possessed (as in the Anglo-American tradition of psychoanalysis), Lacan regards the self in relation to language ("The unconscious is structured as a language"). As one author writes: "Lacan's theory describes an inevitablysplitsubject: a subject formed in the child's struggle to be represented by language as a speaker. the sexual specificity and desire of the resulting subject are irrevocable marks of this split or insufficiency" (Hengehold, 1998: 199).

This inheritance, perhaps, goes some way to explaining the emphasis in the work of Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and Deleuze and Guattari, on subjects of desire and sexuality; and, more recently, a similar but more gender-critical emphasis in the work of the French poststructuralist feminists, including Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray.

We can distinguish a common intellectual inheritance and tradition based upon Saussure, Jacobson, the Russian formalists, Freud, and Marx, among other thinkers. This shared intellectual history is like a complex skein that has many strands. We might call it European Formalism, beginning in pre-Revolutionary Russia, in Geneva, and in Jena, with simultaneous and overlapping developments in linguistics, poetics, art, science and literature.

A whole generation of structuralist thinkers were influenced by Alexander Kojéve's and Jean Hyppolite's 'existentialist' interpretations of Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind. Poststructuralism was strongly influenced by Nietzsche's critique of truth and his "will to power", Heidegger's critique of Western metaphysics, Maurice Merleau-Ponty's work on the body (corporeality), Emmanuel Levinas' ethics of the other, Jacques Lacan's structuralist reading of Freud, and Louis Althusser's structuralist reading of Marx.

Theoretical Innovations and Differences with Structuralism

Where structuralism sought to efface history through synchronic analyses of structures, poststructuralism brings about a renewed interest in a critical history through an re-emphasis on diachronic analyses, on the mutation, transformation, and discontinuity of structures, on serialization, repetition, "archeology" and, perhaps most importantly, what Foucault, following Nietzsche, calls genealogy. Genealogical narratives are seen to replace ontology, or, to express the same thought in a different way, questions of ontology becomes historized.

Poststructuralism challenges scientism in the human sciences, introduces an anti-foundationalism in epistemology and a new emphasis upon perspectivism in interpretation. The movement challenges the rationalism and realism that structuralism continues from positivism, with its promethium faith in scientific method, in progress, and in the capacity of the structuralist approach to discern and identify universal structures of all cultures and the human mind. One author writes: "Post-structuralist critiques of structuralism are typically based on two fundamental theses: (1) that no system can be autonomous (self-sufficient) in the way that structuralism requires; and (2) that the defining dichotomies on which structuralist system are based express distinctions that do not hold up under careful scrutiny ... Post-structuralists retain structuralism's elimination of the subject from any role as a foundation of reality or of our knowledge of it. But, in opposition to structuralism, they also reject any logical foundation for a system of thought (in, for example, its internal coherence). For post-structuralists, there is no foundation of any sort that can guarantee the validity or stability of any system of thought" (Gutting, 1998: 597). As Gutting goes on to explain "the logical structure of a system requires that its concepts be unambiguously defined" that means concepts are defined in terms of fundamental dichotomies or binary oppositions (for example, the distinction in Saussure of the distinction between signifier/signified). Poststructuralism challenges the status of such distinctions or dichotomies: they are neither foundational, nor exclusive, in the way that structuralists assume they are.

As commented upon above the rediscovery of Nietzsche and Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche as the "last metaphysician" is highly significant for the emergence of poststructuralism. Nietzsche's work provides a new way to theorize and conceive of the discursive operation of power and desire in the constitution and self-overcoming of human subjects. Heidegger in his Nietzsche, first published in 1961, focuses upon The Will to Power -- a work assembled from notes and first published posthumously by his sister -- interprets Nietzsche as the last metaphysician. Derrida, in particular, takes issue with Heidegger's "reductive" interpretation, and translates Heidegger's "destruction" of the history of Western metaphysics as "deconstruction". Schrift (1996a: 452) writes: "Nietzsche's critique of truth, his emphasis upon interpretation and differential relations of power, and his attention to questions of style in philosophical discourse became central motifs for the poststructuralists as they turned away from the human sciences and toward philosophical-critical analyses of: writing and textuality (Derrida); relations of power, discourse, and the construction of the subject (Foucault); desire and language (Deleuze); questions of aesthetic and political judgment (Jean-François Lyotard); and questions of sexual difference and gender construction (Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixious)."

Much of the history of poststructuralism can be written as a series of innovative theoretical developments of or about Heidegger's notion of technology. Heidegger's philosophy of technology is related to his critique of the history of Western metaphysics and the disclosure of being. The essence of technology is a poiesis or "bringing forth" which is grounded in disclosure (aletheia). He suggests that the essence of modern technology shows itself in what he calls enframing and reveals itself as 'standing reserve', a concept that refers to resources that are stored in the anticipation of consumption. As such modern technology, names the final stage in the history of metaphysics (nihilism) and the way in which being is disclosed in this particular epoch: a stockpiling in principle completely knowable and devoted entirely for human use. He suggests that the essence of technology is nothing technological; it is rather a system (Gestell), an all-embracing view of technology, described as a mode of human existence that focuses upon the way machinic technology can alter our mode of being, distorting our actions and aspirations. Heidegger is careful not to pose as an optimist or pessimist. He sees his own work as preparation for a new beginning that will enable one to reecho oneself from nihilism and allow the resolute individual to achieve an authenticity.

Heidegger's philosophy was a strong influence upon both Derrida (destruction/deconstruction; absence/presence) and Foucault, whose various notions of technology in relation to the self, spring conceptually from Heidegger. Heidegger's notion of technology is also central to the ways in which various poststructuralist thinkers have theorized the power of the new information and communications technologies ("cyberspace"), and media generally, to restructure and reconfigure our subjectivities and identities (e.g., Derrida on "reading" and "writing"; Deleuze on film; Baudrillard on "media society" and "system of objects").

Poststructuralism represents deepening of democracy and a political critique of Enlightenment values. It criticizes the ways that modern liberal democracies constructs political identity on the basis of a series of binary oppositions (e.g., we/them, citizen/non-citizen, responsible/irresponsible, legitimate/illegitimate) which has the effect of excluding or "othering" some groups of people. For example, Western countries grant rights to citizens -- rights are dependent upon citizenship -- and regard non-citizens, that is, immigrants, those seeking asylum, and refugees, as "aliens". Some strands of poststructuralist thought are interested in examining how these boundaries are socially constructed, and how they are maintained and policed. In particular, the deconstruction of political hierarchies of value comprising binary oppositions and philosophies of difference, are seen as highly significant for currents debates on multiculturalism and feminism, and as issuing from the poststructuralist critique of representation and consensus. Philosophies of difference are also seen as impinging directly upon the universalist values of the (Eurocentric) political culture of the Enlightenment, questioning, in particular, the Enlightenment foundational, philosophical, justifications of "rights" in terms of the genealogical and discursive construction of "rights": the transitions from "divine" to "natural", and from "natural" to "human".

Foucault's later work based on the notion of 'governmentality' has initiated a substantial body of contemporary work in political philosophy which deals directly with political reason. Foucault coins the term "governmentality" in an analysis of liberalism and neoliberalism, viewing the former as origination in a doctrine concerning the critique of state reason. Foucault uses the term "governmentality" to mean the art of government and to signal the emergence of a distinctive type of rule that became the basis for modern liberal politics. He maintains that the "art of government" emerges in the 16th century, motivated by diverse questions: the government of oneself (personal conduct); the government of souls (pastoral doctrine); the government of children (pedagogy). It is around the same time that "economy" is introduced into political practice as part of the governmentalization of the state. What is distinctive of Foucault's approach is that he is interested in the question of how power is exercised and, implicitly, he is providing a critique of contemporary tendencies to overvalue problems of the state, reducing it to a unity or singularity based upon a certain functionality.

Both Foucault and Derrida, returning to Kant's cosmopolitical writings, have addressed themselves of the prospect for global governance and Derrida has talked about both deepening democracy and -- entertaining developments of new technologies -- a "democracy to come".

If there is one element that distinguishes poststructuralism it is the notion of difference which various thinkers use, develop and apply in different ways. The notion of difference comes from Nietzsche, from Saussure, and from Heidegger. Gilles Deleuze (1983, orig, 1962), in Nietzsche and Philosophy, interprets Nietzsche's philosophy according to the principle of difference and advances this interpretation as an attack upon the Hegelian dialectic. Derrida notion of difference can be traced back to at least two sources: Saussure's insight that linguistic systems are constituted through difference, and; Heidegger notion of difference. From the first mention of the notion of difference (in 1959) to its development as différance, takes nearly a decade. Différance, as Derrida (1981: 8-9) remarks, as both the common root of all the positional concepts marking our language and the condition for all signification, refers not only to the "movement that consists in deferring by means of delay, delegation, reprieve, referral, detour, postponement, reserving" but also and finally to "the unfolding of difference", of the ontico-ontological difference, which Heidegger named as the difference between Being and beings. As such différance is seen as plotting the linguistic limits of the subject.

Lyotard (1988), by contrast, invents the concept of the différend which he suggests establishes the very condition for the existence of discourse: "that a universal rule of judgment between heterogeneous genre is lacking in general" (p. xi) , or again, there is no genre whose hegemony over others would be just" (p. 158). A différend, as Lyotard (1988) defines it "is a case of conflict, between (al least) two parties, that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgment applicable to both arguments" (p. xi).

Poststructuralist notions of difference, pointing to an anti-essentialism, have been subsequently developed in relation to gender and ethnicity: the American feminist philosopher, Iris Marion Young (1991) writes of Justice and the Politics of Difference and the Afro-American philosopher, Cornel West (1993) speaks of "The New Cultural Politics of Difference".

I have used part of Lyotard's definition of the "postmodern condition" to characterize a feature of poststructuralism that we can call the suspicion of transcendental arguments and viewpoints, combined with the rejection of canonical descriptions and final vocabularies. In particular, "suspicion towards metanarratives" refers to the question of legitimation with reference to the modern age in which various grand narratives have been advanced as a legitimation of state power. There is no synthesizing or neutral master discourse that can reproduce the speculative unity of knowledge or adjudicate between competing views, claims or discourses. The "linguistic turn" of twentieth-century philosophy and social sciences does not warrant the assumption of a metalinguistic neutrality or foundational epistemological privilege.

The last feature I have taken from Foucault's analytics of power: The diagnosis of "power/knowledge" and the exposure of technologies of domination. For Foucault, power is productive; it is dispersed throughout the social system, and; it is intimately related to knowledge. It is productive because it is not only repressive but also creates new knowledge (which may also liberate). It is dispersed rather than located in any one center, like the state; and, it is part of the constellation "power/knowledge" which means that knowledge, in the sense of discursive practices, is generated through the exercise of power in the control of the body. Foucault develops this thesis through his genealogical study of the development of modern institutions like the prison and the school, and the corresponding emergence of the social sciences that helped devised new methods of social control.

Concluding Note

I have argued that while there are both historical and theoretical overlaps and 'family resemblances' between postmodernism and poststructuralism, it is possible to distinguish between the two movements in terms of their respective intellectual genealogies and their theoretical trajectories and applications; and that there is an important set of theoretical and historical differences that can be most easily understood by recognizing the differences between their theoretical objects of study -- modernism, in the first case, and structuralism, in the second.

In the latter half of the paper I argued that the theoretical development of French structuralism during the late 1950s and 1960s led to an institutionalization of a transdisciplinary "mega-paradigm" founded upon the linguistic model which helped to integrate the humanities and the social sciences but did so in an overly optimistic and scientistic conception. In this sense it was part of the broader "linguistic turn" taken by Western philosophy but also reflected a formalist or 'structuralist' turn that, in the hands of Saussure, Jakobson and other following them, radically undermined both the humanistic construction of the subject as an autonomous, free, and creative or expressive individual, and the model of the text and textual interpretation based upon it -- a model exhibiting clear and fathomable intentions that determined meaning.

To a large extent poststructuralist thought shared with its immediate predecessor -- structuralism -- a radical questioning of the problematic of the humanist subject. Although, deriving its inspiration from Nietzsche and Heidegger, and conditioned by the dense intellectual Parisian environment of the post-war years, it provided a philosophical response to the scientistic pretensions and totalising nature of structuralism, which had been elevated to the status of a universally valid theory for understanding language, thought, society, culture, and economy, and indeed, all aspects of the human enterprise. The waning of confidence in the scientific ambitions of structuralism that took place after 1968, issued in a new critical pluralism that decentred the institution and force of the master discourse of structuralism, promoting at the same time an emphasis on the plurality of interpretation through the concepts of play, indeterminacy, and différance. While poststructuralism experimented further with the decentring of the subject and, like structuralism, rejected representationalism, it also moved decisively away from all forms of foundationalism.

It is important when discussing 'poststructuralism' to recognise it as a movement (perhaps, construed in the musical sense of the term) -- as a complex skein that intertwines many different strands and also conceals important differences among the thinkers identified as 'poststructuralist'. We might say also that 'poststructuralism' as a movement is in its third or fourth generation. Foucault, Deleuze, and Lyotard are now dead. The movement, originating in France, has been carried across the Atlantic, first and most obviously to American departments of literature, most notably by Derrida. Foucault and Lyotard also had visiting professorships in various American universities. The theoretical effects of their work is clearly evident in a variety of disciplines, including philosophy, sociology, politics and cultural studies, among others. If, poststructuralism, in its first and second generation, might be conceived as largely a French affair, it is not longer the case: third and fourth generation poststructuralists -- feminists, postcolonialists, psychoanalysts, neo-Foucauldians, neo-Deleuzeans, neo-Derrideans -- in the English-speaking world, and increasingly in Third World contexts, seek to both develop and apply the thought of the first generation in a series of experiments and theoretical mutations that allude capture by definition because thought is still in the making.


I would like to thank the editor, Liz Stanley, and two anonymous reviewers for Sociological Research Online for their constructive criticisms and helpful suggestions. A version of this paper has been translated into Chinese for Social Sciences Abroad, the journal of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, under the different title "Structuralism/Poststructuralism, Postmodernism/Modernism: Narrating the Differences", forthcoming 1999.


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