Postmodernism and poststructuralism are theories that can be applied to any form of culture such as art, architecture, books, language and theatre. These theories can also be applied to politics, history and sociology. The basic ideas of each are relatively easy to grasp, and it is easy to see the similarities and differences with a little background knowledge.
Structuralism to Poststructuralism
Structuralism is the idea that language is part of the production of knowledge and can set limits on knowledge. Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) stated that meaning was not found in individual words but the structure of language itself. The structuralist movement started in France and used ideas propounded by Marx and Freud as well as Saussure. A central theme of structuralism was that people are shaped by sociological, psychological and linguistic structures over which they do not have any control. Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida started with the structuralists' ideas but disagreed with some of the prime concepts, and this was the start of the poststructuralist movement that began in the late 1960s.
Poststructuralism, Foucault and Derrida
Michel Foucault was a philosopher and historian; he agreed that people and society were governed by a certain set of systems but he did not believe that there were definite underlying structures that explained everything about humanity. Foucault also did not believe that it was possible for human beings to move away from the structure or society that they were in and look at it objectively. Jacques Derrida had begun to use deconstruction as a method of understanding text which broke away from the structuralist idea of looking at the whole structure to determine meaning. Derrida believed that you could get multiple meanings from deconstructed text and therefore no final or conclusive meaning could be given to any text. These ideas of pluralism, deconstruction and splintering of meaning are the basis of poststructural theory.
Modernism to Post-Modernism
Postmodernism evolved as a reaction to modernism. Modernists believe in rationality in all things such as ethics, knowledge and aesthetics. Postmodernism moved away from rationality and embraced uncertainty through deconstruction, consumerism and fragmentation. As with poststructuralism, postmodernists thought that theory should not be an overauthoritative, conclusive practice. Postmodernists such as Jean-Francois Lyotard believed that there could be many answers and multiple perspectives.
Postmodernism began in the 1920s with the dada movement and the surrealists such as Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Lee Miller. Through their artwork they commented on the nature of society, a framing of objects as art and a pluralist use of media. Jean Baudrillard, a postmodern theorist, believed that in modern society with media and technology moving at such a pace, there is no event that attains historical significance. Baudrillard believed that society had reached an inertia as everything had become less meaningful. In 1979 Lyotard wrote the book "The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge." In this work Lyotard concentrates on the idea of developing a new epistemology that responds to new knowledge. In this day and age there is an overload of information; postmodernism tries to find ways to deal with this rapidly changing society.
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