To explain to you the basic differences between humanism, structuralism and post-structuralism, I will give you an example.
Take that tree out there, for instance. If I were a humanist, I would tell you that it is a tree because the word ‘tree’ and the object ‘tree’ are inextricably linked. The word 'tree' has all the ‘treeness’ qualities attached to it which we think of when we think of the real object - leafy, tall, shady and so on.
Now, if I were a structuralist, I would tell you that it is only a ‘tree’ because our society and our language have labelled it as such. There is no direct relationship between the sound ‘tree’ and the thing which we call a tree. We construct meaning through language by distinguishing between tree and treat and trait as well as between tree and bush and flower. Therefore, meaning comes from understanding what a thing is not rather than from knowing what a thing is. Meaning is centred on language, as a structure in society.
However, as a post-structuralist, I would dispute both of these views of the tree. I would criticise the structuralist view of the tree. I would say that as a structure, language is unstable; it has no centre or foundation. Therefore, it is fraught with ambiguity and ‘slippage’, with the result that meaning is indeterminate. If meaning only comes from difference, then all meaning is uncertain and dependent upon context. I would argue that the tree does not and cannot have a fixed, absolute meaning or a unified form.
Poststructuralism followed on from structuralism and broke away from it. Structuralism first made an appearance in the nineteenth century, and then reappeared in the second half of the twentieth century to wide acclaim.
Structuralism arose because of a rising dissatisfaction with the humanist tradition which had reigned supreme for centuries. The humanist view is that there is a real world which we can understand with our rational minds; that language can accurately depict...