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Q: What is the difference between structuralism and poststructuralism?

A: Structuralism refers to an early twentieth-century literary movement primarily concerned with


understanding how language works as a system for producing meaning. That is to say, structuralism asks the

following question: How does language function as a kind of meaning machine ? To answer this �
question, structuralism turns its attention to form. Focusing on the form or structure of a literary work�and
the particular use of language in that work�allowed structuralists to think of language as a kind of science.
The primary theorist framing the ideas associated with structuralism was Swiss linguist Ferdinand de
Saussure, who developed the idea that language was composed of arbitrary units that were void of concept or
meaning until they acquired meaning through a language system that relied on differences between terms
within their larger linguistic and social contexts. Poststructuralism is less singularly defined as a movement
than is structuralism. A number of literary theories fall under the larger umbrella of poststructuralism,
including gender theory and reader-response criticism. These theories advance the overarching notion that
meaning does not exist outside a text, and, in addition, that the meaning of a text is not fixed but rather
contingent and unstable. Poststructuralism evolved alongside French philosopher Jacques Derrida�s theory
of deconstruction, which emphasized this concept of unstable, unfixed meaning as it functioned in language.
According to Derrida, language is made up of units (or signifiers) that do not contain inherent meaning and
relate to other units through their difference. In deconstructionist theory, meaning is therefore constantly
deferred, never landing in one place or becoming stable. Poststructuralism emerges in this context,
recognizing this lack of fixed or inherent meaning and yet also acknowledging the need for language to
acquire meaning.

Tags: deconstruction, deconstructionism, Ferdinand de Saussure, gender theory, jacques derrida, literary
criticism, literary theory, poststructuralism, Reader-response criticism, reader-response theory, structuralism

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