On Poststructuralism

I feel completely absurd writing a blog post to introduce poststructuralism, and indeed, I am *not* doing that here. Rather, I will do two things. I will try to restate the summary I made at the end of class today, and I will refer to the wikipedia entry on poststructuralism, which I think is not a bad summary account. And, as noted in my earlier post, the goal of this class is not for you to master philosophical traditions, but rather for you to recognize that design concepts and strategies rest on philosophical positions, and inherit their strengths and weaknesses. If you understand the gist of a tradition’s strengths and weaknesses, and you understand that a given design concept or method rests on that tradition, then you’re ahead of the curve.

So how did I summarize poststructuralism? From structuralism, it takes a focus on artifacts, and in particular, sees artifacts as rule-governed combinations of elements, that is, based on “languages” or “language games.” But unlike structuralism, it rejects truth claims (that any statement can be said to be true), and instead understands both an expression (i.e., artifact, such as an interface) and the language it is constituted from as existing in space and time, that is, in contexts. In this sense, it treats meaningful artifacts kind of like phenomenology treats people–as conditioned by historical circumstances and always disconnected from the Truth.

Further, it considers individuals not as coherent entities (e.g., that there is a true Jeff Bardzell), but rather as collections of constructs (the well-dressed professor, the well dressed driveway hockey star, the well dressed spouse). So, the identities that I project are performances (sounds like Goffman so far), but performances that are themselves discursive. That is, each of my performed identities is itself a text.

So all of this is pretty skeptical. The notion of the individual as a coherent, unified being is rejected, and the notion that any language can ever claim to be true is rejected. So how do they do business? Well, we’ll talk more about that in class, but one of the strategies is to discover cultural logics and show how diverse levels of culture participate in them, whether or not anyone is really conscious of it.

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