Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Post-structuralism is a term used to represent a movement, initially in literature and linguistics that reacted against structuralism.

explanatory context

Post-structuralism is associated with deconstructivism and postmodernism and neo-neitschzianism.

Post-structuralism was first mooted in America at a conference in 1966 at Johns Hopkins University called 'The Language of Criticism and the Sciences of Man'. It was attended by French post-structuralists including Derrida.

America took post-structuralism to heart and developed and institutionalised it.

analytical review

The McGraw-Hill (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines 'poststructuralist' as:

A theorist, like Bourdieu, who has been influenced by a structuralist perspective but who has moved beyond it to synthesize it with other theoretical ideas and perspectives.


Harcourt (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines 'poststructuralist' as :

Poststructuralism is a style of critical reasoning that focuses on the moment of slippage in our systems of meaning as a way to identify—right there, in that ambiguous space—the ethical choices that we make, whether in our writings or in everyday life, when we overcome the ambiguity and move from indeterminacy to certainty of belief in an effort to understand, interpret, or shape our social environment. Poststructuralism concentrates on the moment when we impose meaning in a space that is no longer characterized by shared social agreement over the structure of meaning. It attempts to explain how it comes about that we fill those gaps in our knowledge and come to hold as true what we do believe—and at what distributive cost to society and the contemporary subject. By so clearly identifying points of slippage, poststructuralism clears the table and makes plain the significant role of ethical choice—by which I mean decision making that is guided by beliefs about virtue and the self, not by moral or political principle.

Poststructuralism is, in this sense, a penultimate stage in the emancipation from that "self-incurred immaturity" that Kant famously identified—in his essay "What is Enlightenment?"—as "the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another" (Kant 1970:54). In that essay, Kant elaborated the central features of the Enlightenment, and his essay played a key role in the philosophical discourse of modernity.... I use the term "penultimate" carefully, though, because, I would argue, in contrast to Judith Butler, who locates poststructuralism in the work of Jacques Derrida principally (see Butler 1990:158 n.6), that poststructuralism traces to the work of Michel Foucault and precedes deconstruction—which should more accurately be viewed as the final stage of modernity.

associated issues


related areas

See also







Butler, J., 1990, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity, New York, Routledge.

Harcourt, B.E., 2007, ' An answer to the question: "What Is Poststructuralism?"', 12 March 2007, paper delivered at the Seminar on Law and Political Theory Tel Aviv University,13 December 2006, available at, accessed 12 June 2019.

Kant, I., 1970 [1784], 'An Answer to the Question: 'What is Enlightenment?'' in Reiss, H. (Ed.), Kant, Political Writings, Cmbridge, Cambridge University Press.
McGraw-Hill, 2004, Sociological Theory: Glossary , available at, accessed 14 May 2013, page not available 24 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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