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The term poststructuralism denotes different approaches and methods in the humanities and social sciences, which first emerged in France at the end of the 1960s and which deal critically in different ways with the relationship between linguistic practice and social reality. The decisive factor here is the view that language not only depicts reality, but also creates it through its categories and distinctions. Typically, this perspective is also associated with a departure from an objectivistic view of society that regards social facts as necessary; instead, the different possibilities ( contingency ) of social developments are emphasized.

Positioning in the history of philosophy

The term “post-structuralism” is a description of the history of philosophy . It is difficult to formulate common theses for the theorists grouped under this collective term. One reason for this is that many post-structuralists emphasize that they are consciously not concerned with the establishment of an alternative, encompassing philosophical theory, but with a certain method or a thinking or analytical attitude.

Differences to the classical structuralism of a novel by Jakobsons , Ferdinand de Saussures and others are determined differently by the individual poststructuralists. An expansion of the term text is fundamental . The individual text is considered to be networked with others; it is considered a quotation from earlier texts and there is also no privileged reading. In addition, the term text is expanded to include history or entire cultures. Other differences are seen in the demarcation from certain theoretical or methodological prerequisites of structuralist classics, which are not adopted by the poststructuralists. This concerns v. a. Cross-cultural, cross-historical, rigid and abstract laws , such as Claude Lévi-Strauss in particular believed he had discovered. In general, historical discontinuities are emphasized more strongly than with classical structuralists. Heterogeneity is emphasized more than homogeneity. A critical approach to structuring concepts, normative ideas and theoretical principles are typical . Principles of order of classical metaphysical systems are analyzed for the conditions of their validity. Here are psychoanalytic , discourse analysis , semiotic and philosophy of language methods used.

In connection with structuralist concepts, especially semiotics , the relationship between (linguistic) signs ( signifiers ) and meanings ( signifieds ) is often problematized and the focus is on the changeability of linguistic and discursive structures. Many post-structuralists postulate - especially in the wake of Derrida's deconstruction and Foucault's discourse analysis - that units of meaning can only be formed as an effect of previously drawn differences (cf. Derrida's concept of différance ), thereby creating the conditions for the construction of meaning and thus at the same time the precariousness and changeability of constructions of meaning come more into focus.

Social structures, orders of knowledge and cultural formations ( discourse ), as a prerequisite of most poststructuralists are basically with forms of power associated, which establish its validity and hierarchical order, and this rule ratios produce and stabilize. A central motive for many post-structuralists is therefore how such systems of rule can be changed through subversive (undermining) and interventionist (intervening) practices or at least used for creative repositioning. The analysis of mass media , popular culture and everyday practices , as analyzed in particular by the discipline of cultural studies , also plays a central role . Important theorists in this context are Stuart Hall and John Fiske from the British Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies . In the context of postcolonialism and queer theory , too , questions about the deconstruction of discursive power relations are of central importance.

Numerous post-structuralist approaches agree in their criticism of certain classical concepts of metaphysics , subject, or rationality . Traditional positions associated with these terms are often criticized as totalitarian , patriarchal , discriminatory , ethnocentric as well as “ substantiating ” or “ naturalizing ” (in the sense of “ defining identity as a natural property”) or even as an expression of western “ logocentrism ” .

Frequently used terms in some post-structuralist texts are for example: ambiguity , différance , the (shared) self , “ the great other ”.

Socio-historical background

At the time of post-structuralism, thoughts of humanism (in the sense of Jean-Paul Sartre ) and Marxism had formative authority. In the eyes of early post-structuralists, what connects with these theories became more and more questionable. Both theories appeared to be inadequate for the questions posed - questions that were raised in the face of totalitarian structures in Soviet socialism , against the background of Stalinism , the disappearance of the working class as a revolutionary subject, “ social democratization ”, the weakness of socialist movements in post-colonialism , the formulation of new ones Urgencies in ecology , the self-destruction of young people in the metropolises, the emergence of new, self-confident movements that no longer wanted to accept a " secondary contradiction position ": women's movement , black power movement, gay and lesbian movement , or civil rights movements .

Theorist of post-structuralism

The following theorists are assigned to post-structuralism:

Different approaches to post-structuralism

Jacques Derrida's theory of writing

Jacques Derrida is a particularly influential writer. He calls his method (he himself prefers the term “practice”) deconstruction; it consists in revealing the aporias one encounters in analyzing attempts to tell the truth.

His early major work Grammatology deals primarily with classical language theories. Derrida tries to show that it is impossible to grasp the singular intuition of the other person's meaning in a direct conversation . In fact, this remains just as withdrawn as in the "dead letter" written form.

His equally early and fundamental work The Voice and the Phenomenon tries to show that the individual (singular intuition) and the general ( meaning intention ) are necessarily immediately communicable. One of the reasons given for this is the time lag between the formulation and evaluation acts.

In The Scriptures and the Difference (1967) Derrida distinguishes two different concepts of "structure". The first “metaphysical” concept tries to find a deep “ground”, the origin and the truth of the signs. The second, postmodern, wants to observe the play of signs, which in principle cannot be closed, and continue it in writing.

Such differences are also intended to explain why a linguistic differentiation principles prior to the subject's acquaintance with himself cannot be given and can serve for subsequent theoretical speculations (as in idealistic attempts at system formation). The authority of the author as the author who creates meaning no longer has a function in post-structuralist thinking. The early Derrida tries to show this with Descartes ' Cogito scene. His early essays also deal with Sigmund Freud , Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel , Ferdinand de Saussure and Emmanuel Levinas . Derrida's criticism (especially in his text Violence and Metaphysics ) was only partly known to the latter .

Derrida's later work is devoted to almost all areas of philosophy . After a more experimental phase, his later writings put practical and political questions more explicitly in the foreground.

Derrida's interlocutors included Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari , Michel Foucault , Luce Irigaray , Julia Kristeva , Jacques Lacan , Ernesto Laclau , Jean-François Lyotard and Hélène Cixous .

Jacques Lacan's psychoanalysis

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan , who played a central role in the development of psychoanalysis in France, devoted himself to rereading Sigmund Freud's writings in the light of the structuralist method, but also processed influences from fundamental ontology and, in the later work of mathematical topology , whose graph models he developed used for the representation of unconscious processes.

Lacan emphasizes, also against the background of Freud's theory of failure and joke, that the unconscious is structured “like a language ”. The work of the unconscious takes place according to linguistic laws such as metaphor and metonymy , substitution and displacement. He calls the corresponding elements of psychic events signifiers , but in addition to the linguistically structured field of the symbolic , the imaginary and the real also play a central role in the psychic apparatus. The actual structuring work, and also the psychoanalytic cure, take place in the field of speaking. Lacan also locates phenomena of social norm , law, authority and ideology in the field of the linguistic or symbolic and in this context coined the term “ great other ” (cf. also name-of-the-father ) as a symbolic figure of the Authority in contrast to the “small other” or “ object small a ”, which plays a decisive role in the context of the instinctual occurrence .

Lacan's conception of the symbolic was particularly fruitful for Marxist approaches by Louis Althusser in the context of the analysis of ideology and ideological “invocation” . His remarks on the gaze as an instinctual object as well as on the important role of the phantasmatic for psychological, but also social events, are of central importance for more recent theories in the field of cultural and visual studies . The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek is considered to be the most important exponent of a way of thinking shaped by Lacan .

Michel Foucault's discourse analysis

The partly in the wake of the structuralists , v. a. but discourse analysis developed by Michel Foucault is fundamental to the post-structuralist instruments. Based on Foucault, discourse analysis was further developed in the 1990s into a method that can be used in a relatively regulated manner.

It was first developed in Foucault's main methodological work, Archeology of Knowledge . This follows his concrete studies on the birth of a " human-scientific " order of knowledge in The Order of Things and the mechanisms of exclusion and the simultaneous definition of the sick and the insane - an act of exclusion that at the same time only enables a society to reassure itself about its own identity , health and reasonableness stabilized. The method already implicitly used was, partly in response to critics, then explicated by Foucault as a discourse analysis . It is about the analysis of the structure and establishment conditions of orders of knowledge , each of which is associated with its own conventions on the permissibility and value of knowledge elements, with certain “rules of discourse ”. Their epoch-specific overall thinking is summarized in the term " epistéme ". Factors of the context such as rules and norms are understood as fundamental for the fact that meaning can be conveyed at all, i.e. communication can be generated. In particular, pre-discursive conditions are taken into view, which is about the organization of power ratios on strategies of domination establishment and tactics of positioning in power relations concern, a plane Foucault as " micro-politics describes".

In the second half of the 1970s, this method was u. a. introduced to cultural , historical and literary studies . In doing so, it sets itself apart from the subject- and author-centered concept of knowledge of classic hermeneutic approaches. In the center is not an author subject and its intention . The use of an author instance only serves to mark medium-sized discursive units. The establishment of an author's subject itself is a discourse linked to historical and cultural changes. In particular, the concept of the author is interlinked with the concept of property.

In Foucault's place, the author is replaced by a structure of knowledge that provides him with the ability to express himself in the first place. The relevant term discourse also integrates the aforementioned pre-discursive constitutional conditions of cultural knowledge, in particular systems of control and regulation. "Discourse" is an entire field of cultural knowledge, which, as it is in the form of statements and texts as tips of an iceberg manifested . Thinking and perception are, according to Foucault's assumption, already shaped by the order of discourse. Truth and reality are constituted by means of cultural expressions and practices of establishing truth and a struggle to "make audible" "voices" (opinions). Knowledge is generally only accessible in documents, but these must be analyzed in the context of an entire discourse formation (episteme) that enables them. The self-image and the regulatory mechanisms of a society can therefore be grasped at least indirectly. Society is also formed through texts and cultural artefacts .

The methodical bracketing of the author authority can be explained as a special case of Foucault's criticism of the subject. According to Foucault, a subject basically designs itself in the field of available discursivation strategies of the self , in which it can make use of creative, tactical features of self-positioning to varying degrees. Foucault is concerned with this mobility, which is rather restricted by a classic, substantialist concept of subject. Foucault's late work focuses particularly on the subject of self-design, which he calls "self-care" based on stoic theories.


Post-structuralism has been criticized from various quarters both as a whole and in some of its representatives. For example, the objections of Jürgen Habermas and Manfred Frank and an experiment undertaken by Alan Sokal are known : In a journal devoted to poststructuralist theories, he managed to publish a text that was based on the stylistic forms of some poststructuralists, but contained nothing but nonsense which, according to Sokal, proves the inadequate intellectual honesty of the entire movement.

See also the criticism sections in the main articles Michel Foucault , Jacques Derrida , Jacques Lacan and Jean Baudrillard .

See also


  • Johannes Angermüller : Why There Is No Poststructuralism in France. The Making of an Intellectual Generation. Bloomsbury Academic, London et al. 2015, ISBN 978-1-4742-2630-1 .
  • Johannes Angermüller: After structuralism. Theoretical discourse and intellectual field in France. transcript, Bielefeld 2007, ISBN 978-3-89942-810-0 .
  • François Dosse : History of structuralism (= Fischer pocket books. 13475-13476). 2 volumes (Vol. 1: The field of the sign, 1945–1966. Vol. 2: The signs of the time, 1967–1991. ). Unabridged edition. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-596-13475-7 (Vol. 1), ISBN 3-596-13476-5 (Vol. 2).
  • Manfred Frank : What is neo-structuralism? (= Edition suhrkamp . 1203 = New episode 203). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1984, ISBN 3-518-11203-1 .
  • Gabriel Kuhn : Becoming an animal, becoming black, becoming a woman. An introduction to the political philosophy of post-structuralism. Unrast, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-89771-441-8 .
  • Stephan Moebius : The social constitution of the other. Outlines of a post-structuralist social science according to Lévinas and Derrida (= Campus Research. 834). Campus, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2003, ISBN 3-593-37268-1 (At the same time: Bremen, Universität, Dissertation, 2002).
  • Stephan Moebius, Andreas Reckwitz (ed.): Poststructuralist social sciences (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft. 1869). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-518-29469-7 .
  • Stefan Münker , Alexander Roesler: Poststructuralism (= Metzler Collection. 322). Metzler, Stuttgart et al. 2000, ISBN 3-476-10322-6 .
  • Michael Ryan: Structuralism and Poststructuralism. In: Maryanne Cline Horowitz (Ed.): New Dictionary of the History of Ideas . Volume 6: Taste to Zionism. Index. Thomson Gale, Detroit MI et al. 2005, ISBN 0-684-31383-9 , pp. 2260-2264.
  • Urs Stäheli: Post-structuralist sociologies. Transcript, Bielefeld 2000, ISBN 3-933127-11-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. G. Plumpe: Structuralism . In: HWPh , vol. 10, p. 345 f.
  2. While central theorists such as Foucault or Derrida simply did not presuppose the assumption of a self-determined individual , but methodically suspended this presupposition, some later post-structuralists dissolve the subject into a bundle of external influences and unconscious impulses .
  3. Jonathan Culler: Deconstruction: Derrida and the Poststructuralist Literary Theory. Reinbek 1999.
  4. For a study of such changes cf. Erich Schön: The Loss of Sensuality or The Metamorphoses of the Reader. Change of mentality around 1800 , Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta 1987, ISBN 3-608-91439-0
  5. A private letter can have a writer, but he has no author; a contract can have a guarantor but no author. Michel Foucault: What is an author?
  6. Especially in Jürgen Habermas : The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity , where Derrida and other post-structuralists are classified in a left-Hegelian , Nietzschean line of tradition.
  7. Among other things in Manfred Frank : What is Neostructuralism and various reviews, newspaper and magazine articles.
  8. ^ Sokal, AD (1996). Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. Social text . 46/47: 217-252 ; For background and reception see also the main article Sokal affair .