post-structuralism

Post-structuralism developed from structuralist theorising in the mid twentieth century. Ferdinand de Saussure had aspired to identify deep structures behind language and communication, and thereafter other philosophers extended the idea into the fields of anthropology, sociology and literary theory. For example, it was argued that there were deep structures evident in the elaboration of cultures, and that these could be analysed to develop understandings of organizing.

Particularly connected with the 1968 Paris student uprisings, post-structuralism questioned whether there are deep structures in any sense, or whether the idea of deep structures is more of a construct to comfort us, rather than being essential or ‘true’ in any way.

Laurel Richardson (1997: 2) usefully identifies ‘reflexivity, authority, authorship, subjectivity, power, language, ethics and representation‘ as the theoretical concepts of feminist post-structuralism. Rosi Braidotti lays out the foundational sources:
Pursuing the critique of power in/as discourse (Foucault), the rejection of the dogmatic image of thought (Deleuze), and the implicit masculinism (Irigaray) of representational thought, they argue that the power to impose on people representations of themselves, or of others on their behalf, is intrinsically oppressive. (Braidotti, 2006: 13)

I find in this, corroboration of my own quality criteria and of my critique of research as power.

Therefore, the thinker’s appointing himself or herself to the position of having to represent others is rejected by post-structuralist philosophers as an oppressive and abusive move.. (Braidotti, 2006: 13)

I have however found that it’s really difficult to live like that, as much as I consider it necessary. Being forced to abandon one’s crutches of certainty, rationality, masculine power, can potentially lead one into a very negative, relativistic space where anything goes: the narrow understanding of postmodernism.

When I began to read more on postmodernism around 2000 I found social constructionism and appreciative inquiry to be useful in responding to that potential negativity with a more positive and strength-based, hope-based ontology.

Appreciative Inquiry points the way with its emphasis on drawing a positive vision of the future from the present (congruent with nomadic ethics) but is seriously flawed as a result of its inability to explicitly recognise power/knowledge particularly within its manifestation as phallogocentrism.

Post-structuralism is the key to take me beyond the binary, beyond good and evil, beyond the optimistic/pessimistic split.

Most of the key post-structuralist writers refused the discursive labelling, and corralling, of the postmodern label arguing that post-structural or postmodern thought is redemptive and ultimately leads to freedom. Postmodernism can offer ethically grounded possibilities for a life, particularly because we are open to attention to everything that is, or perhaps more accurately, seems to be. From whatever viewpoint.

Rather than dismissing this anti-representationalism as relativism, I see it instead as a profoundly ethical position, which rejects the arrogant power that intellectuals and scholars award themselves as the guardians of truth. (Braidotti, 2006: 13)

I had struggled with this arrogant power since my medical studies at Glasgow in the late seventies, when I first encountered the work of Ivan Illich (1971: , 1976: , 1977: , 1981). At last I was beginning to resolve the tensions within myself. By gaining a fuller understanding of post-structuralism I have managed to find an easier way of being. It doesn’t change anything, but it gives me more understanding which makes life tolerable. Static values have not helped me very much in my life, and within my practice I have always found contested and conflicting values at play.

For the remainder of this thesis I am more fully entering a post-structural space, becoming more allusive and perhaps more incomprehensible and anti-linear.

Post-structuralism challenges just about everything that we take for granted. Nothing is fixed, predictable, classified: everything shifts.