Poststructural feminism is a branch of feminism that engages with insights from post-structuralist thought. Poststructural feminism emphasizes "the contingent and discursive nature of all identities", and in particular the social construction of gendered subjectivities. A contribution of this branch was to argue that there is no universal single category of "woman" or "man."
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Areas of interest
Like post-structuralism itself, the feminist branch is in large part a tool for literary analysis, but it also deals in psychoanalysis and socio-cultural critique, and seeks to explore relationships between language, sociology, subjectivity and power-relations as they impact upon gender in particular.
Poststructural feminism also seeks to criticize the kyriarchy, while not being limited by narrow understandings of kyriarchal theory, particularly through an analysis of the pervasiveness of othering, the social exile of those people removed from the narrow concepts of normal.
- Luce Irigaray became famous for her poststructuralist work on The Sex Which is Not One (1977) and the deconstruction of the Oedipal Complex.
- Hélène Cixous argued in her best-known essay 'The Laugh of the Medusa' that writing was more important in the construction of womanhood than biology.
- Judith Butler explored the constricting nature of social norms in constructing 'normal' men and women; and argued for a feminism without a feminist subject, fearing the constraining influence implicit in overt identity politics.
- The heroine of Nice Work admits that, when younger, she "allowed myself to be constructed by the discourse of romantic love for a while"; but adds that she soon came to realise that "we aren't unique individual essences existing prior to language. There is only language".
- The heroine of Possession, a novel by A.S. Byatt, more ruefully acknowledges that "we live in the truth of what Freud discovered...we question everything except the centrality of sexuality - Unfortunately feminism can hardly avoid privileging such matters".
Poststructural feminism has been criticised for its abandonment of the humanistic female subject, and for tactical naivety in its rejection of any form of female essentialism.
- Randall, Vicky (2010) 'Feminism' in Theory and Methods in Political Science. Marsh, David. Stoker, Gerry. (eds.), Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 116.
- P. Prasad, Crafting Qualitative Research (2005) p. 165.
- J. Childers/G. Hentzi, The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995) p. 237
- Prasad, p. 165
- E. D. Ermath, Sequel to History (1992) p. 158
- Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (2004) p. 206 and p. 8
- G. Gutting ed., The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (2003) p. 390
- Ermath, p. 151-2
- David Lodge, Nice Work (1988) p. 210
- A. S. Byatt, Possession: A Romance (1990) p. 254 and p. 222
- Linda Nicholson ed., Feminism/Postmodernism (1990)
- Margaret A. McLaren, Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity (2002)