What Is Post-structuralism And How Does It Affect Psychology

This philosophical movement focuses on subjectivity and how we construct meaning.


In some scientific and philosophical traditions it is proposed that reality is something objective and neutral that exists outside our minds and independently of our social activity; Therefore, it is proposed that we can access it by a set of methods that represent it as it is (for example, through scientific models).

Given this, there are currents of thought and the human sciences that have made some criticisms, for example, the so-called poststructuralist current. It is a controversial and constantly debated term, which has had repercussions in the way of doing human and social sciences.

Next, we will see in a general way what poststructuralism is and how it has had an impact on psychology.

What is poststructuralism? General definition and background

Post-structuralism is a theoretical and epistemological movement (related to how knowledge is constructed) that arises mainly within the human sciences of the French tradition and that has repercussions on the way of doing philosophy, linguistics, science, art, history, psychology (in general in the human sciences) in the West.

It arises from the second half of the 20th century, and the term “post” does not indicate the passage from one era to another but the appearance of new ways of doing human sciences. In other words, poststructuralism makes a strong criticism of the structuralist current, but without completely leaving it.

It is also a term that generates much debate since the limits between structuralism and poststructuralism are not clear (as well as between modernity-postmodernity, colonialism-postcolonialism, etc.) and generally the intellectuals who have been classified as poststructuralists reject being enrolled in said stream.

At the theoretical level it originates mainly from linguistics with influences from structuralist roots psychoanalysis ; as well as from feminist movements that question how women had been represented both in literature and in general culture.

In very broad terms, the break that poststructuralism establishes before structuralism has to do with meaning and meaning, that is, with the position that the subject acquires before language.

Two key concepts: meaning and subjectivity

Post-structuralism applied to the human sciences pays attention to the meanings and the way in which a subject produces himself, especially through language (a language that is understood not to represent reality as it is, but rather to the same time builds it). For this reason, two of the concepts that appear most in the poststructuralist current are that of subjectivity and that of meaning, although many more could be mentioned.

There are times when poststructuralism is described as a way of exposing the hidden meaning of texts. However, it is not so much about uncovering the hidden meaning, but about studying this meaning as a product of the systems of representation (of the ways and processes that we use to order and describe reality).

In other words, it is a movement that questions the logic of representation on which the human sciences were based; because the latter is a logic from which the idea that there is a reality that is neutral, as well as a series of possibilities of knowing it “objectively”, has been built.

Through how it understands meaning, poststructuralism positions itself as a challenge to the realism that had marked the way of doing human sciences, relativizes the traditional way of knowing the world, and tries to avoid essentialism (the idea that a thing , for example a human being, is what it is by the existence of a true essence that can be apprehended).

Specifically in linguistics (although this has repercussions on the way of doing science), poststructuralism is also defined as a critical practice that seeks plurality; arguing that the meaning or sense of a text is not given only by the author, but is also constructed through subjectivity, during reading, by the reader.

Hence also arises the concept of intertextuality, which indicates that a text of any type is a heterogeneous product, a result of many ideas and many meanings, which in turn implies a logic of subversion that makes it difficult to define with the logic and traditional languages.

Has it been relevant to psychology?

Psychology is a scientific discipline that has been nurtured by many other disciplines, for that reason it is not a homogeneous science but has generated many currents and many different practices. Being a discipline that seeks to understand the processes that constitute us as human beings, in a biological, psychic and social framework, psychology has been built by different philosophical and scientific currents over time.

The poststructuralist approach transformed a part of psychology because it opened the door to create new research methods, other options for understanding reality, and with this, new theories and models of identification, some of them even with political repercussions. It allows paying attention, for example, to the relationships between identity and otherness, and redefining concepts such as identity, subjectivity, subject, culture, among others.

To take a more concrete example, scientific practice became more heterogeneous when feminist theories related to poststructuralism proposed that social and individual reality (and science itself) are processes that have been constructed from apparently neutral experiences. , but which are actually male experiences and blind positions to other experiences, such as those of women.

Although poststructuralism escapes a single definition and its elements are constantly debated, in sum we could say that it is a theoretical tool that has served to understand some processes, especially in the field of human and social sciences, which has allowed the creation of political alternatives during your study.

Bibliographic references:

  • Castellanos, B. (2011). The reception of psychoanalysis in Lyotard’s poststructuralist thought: the question of desire and the unconscious. Nomads. Critical Review of Social and Legal Sciences, 31 [Online] Retrieved April 10, 2018. Available at https://webs.ucm.es/info/nomadas/31/belencastellanos.pdf.
  • Sazbón, J. (2007). Reason and method, from structuralism to post-structuralism. Thinking, epistemology, politics and social sciences. 1: 45-61.
  • Carbonell, N. (2000). Feminism and poststructuralism. In Segarra, M. & Carabí, A. (Eds). Feminism and literary criticism. Editorial Icaria: Spain.

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