by Akriti Dhasmana
Poststructuralism started gaining traction as a movement in the 1960s in France. It started in response to structuralism which was first developed in the European school of thought. Structuralism dictates that all of human culture can be defined within the constructs of a structure that gives it meaning. Meaning does not come from a transcendental outside, but rather the structural operations of any given system. According to the structuralist school of thinking, the objects in a structure derive their meaning in relation to other things in the structure. In language, for instance, every word derives its meaning in relation to another word. For example, in English, a mug is a mug because it is not a bucket. A mug is called a mug not because there is anything inherently “muggy” about the mug, but rather to distinguish it from other objects in the structure (like a bucket). Therefore, the objects in a structure derive their meaning from other objects in the structure, hence the term structuralism. From this, poststructuralism identifies the fundamental instability of “meaning” because the meaning of something is always derived with respect to something else. According to the poststructuralist way of thinking, basing knowledge completely on linguistic or cultural structures is impossible because those structures themselves are subjected to biases, misinterpretation, and instability. Thus, the poststructuralist approach to critiquing texts proposes that we must look at the text in combination with the system of knowledge that produced it. In this way, the text itself is not the sole factor determining our knowledge of the subject, but rather the text and the understanding of the background cultural systems that led to its production. Some of the most notable post structuralists include Jacques Derrida, René Girard, Judith Butler, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault.
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