Post-structuralism, a Desert Perspective

In Sociology on September 9, 2009 at 10:24 pm

OsmosisD. Hannah, Dubai

Well, me old puritan…in answer to your queries:

Perhaps I was hasty in saying that ‘ground up’ is the basis to post-structuralism, but it is certainly central to it.

Post-structuralism sees discourse as central to discussions of identity. Discourse ‘refers to thoughts, actions or writing that presents particular relationships and are taken as ‘self-evident’ (Paechter in Francis & Skelton 2001). A good example of this in Puritano’s context is the prevailing discourse in Japan that it is a nation of ‘homogenous ethnicity’. This is propagated by politicians, portrayed in Manga and goes without critical comment in most mainstream Japanese press. It is seen as obvious despite the equally obvious fact that other ethnicities exist in Japan. Critical comment must come from foreigners – those who exist outside the discourse, even if they are Japanese. Discourses define behaviour and thought that agrees with the discourse as normal, and that which doesn’t as abnormal, indicating the power relationships behind discourses (you must be a foreigner or traitor to think otherwise). ‘Homogenous ethnicity’ – discourse is grounded in and defined by language.

In this way, post-structuralism borrows from social construction theories in that it allows for discourse to be propagated socially via the institutions around us. It differs however, in that it allows for “human agency…the ability of people to take an active role in their own lives” (Mac Naughton in Yelland 1998). In other words, people will actively take up discourses; they aren’t just implanted by osmosis. In our example, Japan can be shown to be multi-ethnic, but despite this people say it isn’t. Faced with this people may choose to take up an identity that flies in the face of evidence. They must do so because they see value – capital – in doing so (think of how right-wingers are funded and feared). Other disagree with the prevailing discourse, despite the fact its to their detriment to do so (like being targeted by right-wingers and being called foreign apologists/traitors) – they must find capital in doing so too. Social-construction, however, says we automatically take up discourses that we are exposed to and hence can’t explain these anomalies.

This active take up is also my explanation to the idea that ‘ground up’ is central to post-structuralism. Puritano is a reductionist. He believes it all lies in the neurons and their incredible matrix that grows as people grow from day one. Post-structuralism also agrees that people make, break and reinvent their own connections as they grow, are exposed to and make sense in their own way of the prevailing discourses surrounding them. A discourse is thoughts and beliefs described through language. Language changes over time as it reflects thoughts and beliefs. Only people can invent language. Only people can change language. Language is born and carried in our neurons and reflects the connections made in those neurons.

Japan provides another example of this. There used to exist a highly hierarchical society defined by language (eg. Burakumin). As Japan embraced democracy, this idea had to change, and the language changed as well. The language changed to reflect the new egalitarianism, and instead Japan became a country of ‘homogenous ethnicity’. Over time, this too will change as ‘multi-cultural’ enters the Japanese lexicon.

Puritano asks us to answer the question: “If human meaning is not in the patterns of neuronal firing, where is it exactly?” I love it. Where else can it be?

  1. Dear Mr. Hanging-Out-in-the-Desert-Like-Jesus-Visionquester

    I liked your piece. The connections between my lovely neurons and societal level phenomena, that’s sweet.

    As for reductionism: hardcore cog-sci reductionists are just like militant atheists; their face gets red if you mention Cartesian Dualism (still going strong after hundreds of years, amazing!) and if you say “Soul” they’ll punch you. I have a book upstairs called something like “Mind, Language, and Other Biological Phenomena.” Now that’s an in-your-face reductionist title. Along with their dismissal of any need to posit a supervening level for mental activities that somehow stands above the neural matrix itself (they will sum it up by saying, “The mind is what the brain does.”) , goes a blithe confidence in the explanatory powers of science.

    I guess I’m wimpier; dont have the guts to follow where the data is seeming to lead us, towards decentralization, seeming chaos that somehow follows rule-like behavior…i dont exactly believe in the ghost in the machine, but i cant quite toss it away. So im agnostic, a weak reductionist. How wishy-washy!


  2. P.S. I titled this “a desert perspective” even though it has nothing whatever to do with the desert. I did this for fun.

  3. I do wonder if Puritano would agree with the characterization of himself as a “reductionist”? This is a strong term in most contexts, and not always a flattering one…

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