Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction
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Philosophy (Structuralism and Post-structuralism)
by: Catherine Belsey
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Could be better: Poststructuralism is a difficult area of study, as there are many different (sometimes conflicting) points of view and thinkers which are labelled 'poststructuralist'.
Poststructuralist thought deals with (among other things) 'signifiers' (words, symbols, actions, etc. which signify meaning), and the way in which people are controlled and defined by the kinds of signifiers their particular culture is made of. But that's just one consideration of a much more vast and varied area of study.
The author's introduction is useful as a departure point for further study into this intriguing discipline, although at times certain important points aren't made clearly enough, and certain poststructuralist vocabulary is not rendered as clear as it could be. Also, the author gives only passing attention to arguments against poststructuralism.
An introduction to Power vs. Poverty-stricken way of Thinking: The ground in the Humanities is still split between hard-core empirical studies, mostly in economics and history describing conditions and general trends verifiable but weak, or purposefully weak on theory, but high on practically and pointing people in productive areas of research. On the other we have found some social sciences, post-structuralism in particular is erected on theory (some almost wholly erected)with little, or no empirical research. This book describes a large chunk of the latter way of thinking in preconcieved notions or power that are neither empirical nor subject to disproof.
Post-structuralism offers unbridgeable propositions between the world of measurement and inquiry and that of pure theory. Post-structuralism moves so far away from any idea of a rational predictable and probability-base world that it completely erodes almost all of the substrates of traditional knowledge (classical rational inquiry and the scientific method) Post-structuralism is an attempt to cut loose from any intellectual tradition beyond very abstruse and subjective inquiries. It risks rendering traditional disciplines within the social sciences and newer "studies" of irrelevant disciplines. Post-structuralism can also make anyone feel intelligent because it function as an independent centre of knowledge generation -- but not knowledge as traditionally understood (a point to be considered elsewhere).
Witness the fact of post-structuralism and it ability to erect an edifice completely outside any intellectual tradition that existed before WWII (except Marx and Freud). Moreover if you focus upon a certain point of theoretical knowledge and pursue it rigorously one finds that it either degenerates into a meaningless tautology -- eg. such as the Foucault notion of power, or it trails off and merges in other ethereal theories that really have neither utility, nor, most importantly, meaning.
In addition, this strain of strained "intellectualism" stands, in many respects, outside the tradition of western thought. As such it remains aloof and immune to any ballast or stabilization afforded by empirical and scientific thought.
All of this seems to bode well for such post-structuralism as a literary theory, which is a wonderful and intoxicating endevour full of invention and wonderful manufactured meaning -- it has little to do with reality and therefore should not, and in fact is not, a social science. In this sense the author does a good job of describing the intellectual sham that is Post-structuralism.
The really pitiful state some of the social sciences have become is manifested in the deplorable thinkers and academics who are so enamoured with their theories and purported truth statements that describe unknown worlds -- worlds that bear no relationship to reality, worlds that are pure think products -- that they actually think that some higher or useful purpose of social understanding or worthy endevors (such as the striving for social justice) can be furthered with their line of explanation.
People are not theory and the worst experiences of mankind have been based upon people trying to pound facts, and often people, into theory. So far these bumpy thoughts have been relegated to the nether reaches of self-referential departments outside classical academia. And there they should stay.