Start Geo Dictionary | Overview | Topics | Groups | Categories | Bookmark this page.
geology dictionary - geography encyclopedia  
Full text search :        
   A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z   #   




  A term used most commonly in English-speaking countries since the early 1970s to draw a line of affinity around several French theorists who may themselves (have) reject(ed) the designation; this group includes Derrida, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Baudrillard, Lyotard and Kristeva. In Poster\'s (1989) view, the validity of the term post-structuralism derives from the fact that these thinkers were all influenced by and rejected the formalism of structuralist linguistics and its (at least implicit) epistemological subject. In addition, they all first adhered to Marxist theory of one variety or another and later wrote in opposition to the French Communist Party. The chronological marker (\'post\') is, however, complicated by the complex relationship between post-structuralist, pre-structuralist (especially Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche) and structuralist thought.

Post-structuralists draw on and extend important insights of structuralism, especially (a) Saussurian linguistics and (b) Althusser\'s critique of the humanist subject.

(a) Language is seen as the medium for defining and contesting social organization and subjectivity. Saussure is credited with the understanding that meaning is produced within rather than reflected through language; language is therefore constitutive rather than reflective of social reality. He argued that there is no necessary fixed relation between signifier (sound or written image) and signified (the concept it serves to evoke). The meaning of a signifier is derived from its difference from and relation to other signifiers; Identity is created through difference.

(b) Post-structuralists also helped to formulate and absorb an anti-humanist critique of a unified, knowing and rational subject, instead interpreting subjectivity as continually in process, as a site of disunity, conflict, and contradictions, and hence potential political change (see anti-humanism; see Gregory, 1997, for Althusser\'s debts to Lacan). They diverge from Althusser in seeing the production of subjectivity as a discursive rather than ideological effect. The distinction is an important one: while Althusser represented his critique of the subject as a scientific exposé (and thus never broke fully with the humanist knowing subject), post-structuralist writers maintain that there is no \'real\' outside of cultural systems. The subject is thus rid of the last traces of essentialism; a real or essential class consciousness is no longer anticipated on the basis of an individual\'s material conditions.

In different ways, post-structural thinkers opened up to contingency and indeterminacy what had been conceived as relatively closed (although not static) linguistic, economic and social systems. In literary theory, structuralism had refocused analysis away from the intentionality of the author but then stabilized meaning construction within the text; by calling attention to the multiplicity and indeterminacy of reader interpretations, Barthes released the text from this interpretative closure. By arguing that meaning is never fully present but emerges from undecidable presence-absence, Derrida foregrounded the instability of language. Foucault\'s historical analyses of power as networks of local power relations, and discourse as polyvalent and productive, had the same effect on social theory, as did Lacan\'s concept of libidinal instability (see psychoanalytic theory, geography and) and Deleuze\'s release of the production of desire from the Oedipal narrative, reconceptualized by Deleuze as incessant flux.

A second characteristic of post-structuralist theorizing is its anti-foundationalism; theories of language and the subject were turned onto the production of truth and knowledge itself. Different post-structural thinkers have different targets of knowledge production: for Baudrillard, the media; Foucault, the human sciences and the state; Derrida, the western philosophical tradition. Derrida criticizes western philosophy for its logocentricism (see masculinism and phallocentricism). He argues that our beliefs in reason are built through a series of unequally valued binaries (e.g. mind/body, literal/metaphorical, man/ woman, positive/negative); the first term assumes priority and the second, inferior, term \'marks a fall\' and is conceived in relation to the former as \'a complication, a negative, a manifestation, or a disruption of the first\' (Culler, 1983, p. 93). Derrida\'s method of deconstruction involves demonstrating that presence (the priorized term) requires the absent (inferior) term. Post-structuralists thus expose the foundations and limits of theory, and the extent to which western reason is associated with a subject configured as autonomous and implicitly male (and western). Theory and claims to truth regulate the terms of reality; as systems of regulation they are enmeshed in relations of power and domination.

This forces self-contextualization and reflexivity onto the post-structuralist theorist, in an effort to understand the will to power behind and within his or her own truth claims. Truth, as a thoroughly social process, as a medium and effect of a truth/power regime, loses its foundational status and its capacity to ground politics (see epistemology). The challenge for the theorist is to generate a discourse \'whose power effects are limited as much as possible to the subversion of power\' (Poster, 1989, p. 30). Foucault thus generated his discourses about the proliferation of excluded and marginalized subjects (e.g. the pervert, the insane, the homosexual, the hysterical woman) to clarify the positions of the oppressed, but refrained from laying down a political programme. (His troubled relations with feminists in part reflect this difference in epistemology, along with his related refusal of the categories of gender or sexualized crime — i.e. rape.) In their own texts, post-structuralists attempt to instantiate a non-oppressive politics by avoiding characteristics of logocentric texts: they avoid interpretive closure, unsettle categories, resist binary oppositions (in their own formulations and in their engagement with other theories), and explore new connective modes of theorizing (see actor-network theory; nonrepresentational theory; rhizome). Whether these interpretative strategies are effective (and whether they are political) are matters of debate (see Morris, 1996, on the necessity of contextualizing an opposition to binaries). Post-structuralists negotiate the charge of relativism, sometimes through the concept of situated knowledge.

Epistemological and anti-ontological concerns of post-structuralists flow into substantive analyses; we can see their influence in the topics that geographers have chosen to study in the 1980s and 1990s. Critiques of categories and binaries have led to intense interest in boundary formation and a revaluing of undervalued terms in oppositional binaries — for example: the animal (Wolch and Emel, 1995); the emotional (Rose, 1993); and the body (see body, geography and). Rejection of the humanist subject has directed attention to processes of subject formation (see subject formation, geographies of), to both boundary formation and identification (see gender and geography; race) and processes of disruption (e.g. across the male/female, heterosexual/ homosexual, human/animal, body/ machine, and nature/culture divides; see performativity; queer theory; sexuality, geography and).

A post-structuralist understanding that conceptualization both frames and regulates social reality — literally brings reality into being — profoundly disrupts the distinction between representation and a pre-discursive reality. Post-structuralists are sometimes criticized for reducing the world to language, but this misses the messiness of the relations they posit between the material and discursive, which are seen as fully imbricated, one in the other (see discourse). This has immense implications for our understanding of time and space (see postmodernism). Poster (1989, p. 9) remarks that \'linearity and causality are the spatial and temporal orderings of a now-bypassed modern era\', an era when individuals believed in a stable world that existed apart from representations of it. \'Today language increasingly intervenes in a different configuration, which resists linear and causal framing. Words in our culture shamelessly point to themselves, like television newscasters who brashly admit their role in shaping the news, not simply repeating it. This self-referentiality of signs upsets the representational model of language\' (Poster, 1989, p. 10). It also upsets representations of space and cartography (see imaginative geographies; vision and visuality; also Natter and Jones, 1993; Gregory, 1994; Doel, 1999). This has provoked an examination of the world-making capacities of cartographies that fashion fragments into coherent, exclusionary visual narratives (Harley, 1989; Gregory, 1994; Sparke, 1998), and to a fuller appreciation of the production of space as a social process and to the spatiality of social life, from the constitution of the individual subject to international geopolitics (Smith, 1993). Geographers influenced by post-structural theory strive to produce new cartographies and ways of writing (e.g. Massey, 1997; Pred, 1997). (GP)

References Culler, J. 1983: On deconstruction: theory and criticism after structuralism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Doel, M. 1999: Poststructuralist geographies: The diabolical art of spatial science. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwelll. Gregory, D. 1997: Lacan and geography: the production of space revisited. In G. Benko and U. Strohmayer, eds, Space and social theory: interpreting modernity and postmodernity. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 203-31l. Harley, B. 1989: Deconstructing the map. Cartographica 26: 1-20l. Massey, D. 1997: Spatial disruptions. In S. Golding, ed., The eight technologies of otherness. London: Routledge, 218-25l. Morris, M. 1996: Crazy talk is not enough. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14: 384-94l. Natter, W. and J.P. Jones III 1993: Signposts toward a poststructuralist geography. In J.P. Jones III, W. Natter and T.R. Schatzki, eds, Postmodern contentions: epochs, politics, space. New York: Guilford, 165-203l. Poster, M. 1989: Critical theory and post-structuralism: in search of a context. Ithaca: Cornell University Pressl. Pred, A. 1997: Re-Presenting the extended present moment of danger: a meditation on hypermodernity, identity and the montage form. In G. Benko and U. Strohmayer, eds, Social theory: interpreting modernity and postmodernity. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 117-40l. Rose, G. 1993: Feminism and geography. Oxford: Polity Pressl. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Pressl. Smith, N. 1993: Homeless/ global: scaling places. In J. Bird, B. Curtis, T. Putnam, G. Robertson and L. Tickner, eds, Mapping the futures: local cultures, global change. London: Routledge, 87-119l. Sparke, M. 1998: Mapped bodies and disembodied maps: (dis)placing cartographic struggle in colonial Canada. In H. Nast and S. Pile, eds, Places through the body. London: Routledge, 305-36l. Wolch, J. and Emel, J. 1995. Bring the animals back in. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13: 632-6.

Suggested Reading Best, S. and Kellner, D. 1991: Postmodern theory: critical interrogations. New York: Guilford. Sarup, M. 1993: Introductory guide to post-structuralism and postmodernism. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.



Bookmark this page:



<< former term
next term >>
post-Soviet states
Postan thesis


Other Terms : contingent valuation | poetics of geography | garden city
Home |  Add new article  |  Your List |  Tools |  Become an Editor |  Tell a Friend |  Links |  Awards |  Testimonials |  Press |  News |  About
Copyright ©2009 GeoDZ. All rights reserved.  Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us