We need a theory that can analyse the workings of patriarchy in all its
manifestations – ideological, institutional, organizational, subjective – that can
account for continuities and change.
We need new ways of analysing constructions of meaning and relationships of
power that called unitary, universal categories into question and historicized
concepts otherwise treated as natural (e.g. man/woman) or absolute (equality or
Post-structuralism can help with these issues.
Language: a meaning constituting system through which meaning is constructed
and cultural practices organized and by which, accordingly people represent and
understand their world, including who they are and how they relate to others.
Language is not a representation of ideas.
Analysis of language provides a point of entry for understanding how
social relations are conceived (i.e. how they work: how institutions are
organized, how relations of production are experienced, and how
collective identity is established.
 Words and texts have no fixed or intrinsic meanings.
 There is no transparent or self-evident relationship between words and
texts, nor between ideas or things.
 There is no basic or ultimate correspondence between language and the
Questions how meaning has been acquired?
 How and in which specific contexts, among specific communities of people
and by which textual and social processes has meaning been acquired?
 How meanings change?
 How have some meanings emerged as normative and others have been
 What do these processes reveal about how power is constituted and
Discourse: is a historically, socially and institutionally specific structure of
statements, terms, categories and beliefs.(Foucault)
 The elaboration of meaning involves conflict and power.
 Meanings are locally contested within discursive 'field of force".
 The power to control a particular field resides in claims to (scientific)
knowledge embodied in disciplinary and professional organizations, in
institutions (hospitals, prisons, schools, factories) and in social
relationships (doctor/patient), teacher/student, employer/worker,
parent/child, husband/wife).
Discourse is contained or expressed in organizations and institutions as
well as in words.
Discursive field overlap, influence and compete with one another.
They appeal to one another's "truths" for authority and legitimation.
Conflicts within discoursive fields are framed to follow from rather then
question the legitimating "truths".
We are often drawn into the assumptions of the very discourse we ought
to question.
Significance of Foucault's work: thinking differently about the politics of the
contextual construction of social meanings, about organizing principles for
political action as "equality" and "difference".
Difference: Meaning is made through implicit or explicit contrast, that a positive
definition rests on the negation or repression of something represented as
antithetical to it.
(Any unitary concept contains repressed or negated material: it is established in
explicit opposition to another terms.
Any analysis of meaning involves teasing out these negations and
opposition, figuring out how (and whether) they are operating in specific
Oppositions rest on metaphors and cross-references.
Sexual difference (masculine/feminine) serves to encode or establish
meanings that are literally unrelated to gender or the body. The meanings
of gender become tied to cultural representations and these in turn
establish terms by which relations between women and men are
organized and understood.
The interdependence is hierarchical with one term dominant or prior, the opposite
term secondary and subordinate.
Western binary oppositions (Derrida)
Unity/diversity, identity/difference, presence/absence, universality/specificity
First term given primacy, the second weaker or derivative.
First terms derive their meaning from the second. Secondary terms can be
seen as generative of the first terms.
Analysis of meaning cannot take binary oppositions at face value but must
"deconstruct" them for the process they embody.
Deconstruction: Analyzing the operations of difference in texts, the ways in
which meanings are made to work.
the reversal
displacement of binary oppositions.
Aim: revealing the interdependence of seemingly dichotomous terms and
their meaning relative to a particular history.
Achievement: Shows that oppositions are not natural but constructive
oppositions, constructed for particular contexts.
Equality versus difference
(equality is not the elimination of difference, and difference does not preclude
"The difference dilemma"
 ignoring difference in the case of subordinated groups  leads faulty
(e.g. employing who is best according to the criteria imposed by the
historically dominant group – men, whites, the healthy).
focusing on difference can underscore the stigma or deviance.
(e.g. affirmative action/ Did she get the job because she is black, woman
or handicapped?)
Alternative: rejecting the idea that equality-versus-difference constitutes an
Ask how the dichotomous pairing of equality and difference itself works.
i.e. how concepts work to constraint and construct specific meanings
attention to the operations of difference and insistence on differences not a
simple substitution of multiply for binary difference.
1. Systematic criticism of the operations of categorical differences, revealing
exclusions and inclusions – hierarchies - it constructs.
2. A refusal of their ultimate "truth".
(refusal not in the name of sameness or identity but in the name of an equality
that rests on differences)
What does these differences do?
 Confound, disrupt and render ambiguous the meaning of any fixed
binary opposition.
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