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Structuralism was a broad philosophical movement that developed particularly in France in the 1950s, partly in response to French Existentialism, but is considered by many to be an exponent of High-Modernism,[by whom?] though its categorization as either a Modernist or Postmodernist trend is contested. Many Structuralists later moved away from the most strict interpretations and applications of "structure", and are thus called "Post-structuralists" in the United States (the term is uncommon in Europe). Though many Post-structuralists were referred to as Postmodern in their lifetimes, many explicitly rejected the term. Notwithstanding, Post-structuralism in much American academic literature in the Humanities is very strongly associated with the broader and more nebulous movement of Postmodernism. Thinkers most typically linked with Structuralism include anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, the early writings of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the early writings of literary theorist Roland Barthes, and the semiotician Algirdas Greimas. Philosophers commonly referred to as Post-structuralists include Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze (all of whom began their careers within a Structuralist framework), Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-François Lyotard, Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray and, sometimes, the American cultural theorists, critics and intellectuals they influenced (e.g. Judith Butler, Jonathan Crary, John Fiske, Rosalind Krauss, Hayden White).

Though by no means a unified movement with a set of shared axioms or methodologies, Post-structuralism emphasizes the ways in which different aspects of a cultural order, from its most banal material details to its most abstract theoretical exponents, determine one another (rather than espousing a series of strict, uni-directional, cause and effect relationships – see Reductionism – or resorting to Epiphenomenalism). Like Structuralism, it places particular focus on the determination of identities, values and economies in relation to one another, rather than assuming intrinsic properties or essences of signs or components as starting points.[25] In this limited sense, there is a nascent Relativism and Constructionism within the French Structuralists that was consciously addressed by them but never examined to the point of dismantling their reductionist tendencies. Unlike Structuralists, however, the Post-structuralists questioned the division between relation and component and, correspondingly, did not attempt to reduce the subjects of their study to an essential set of relations that could be portrayed with abstract, functional schemes or mathematical symbols (as in Claude Lévi-Strauss's algebraic formulation of mythological transformation in "The Structural Study of Myth"[26]).

Post-Structuralists tended to reject such formulations of “essential relations” in primitive cultures, languages or descriptions of psychological phenomena as subtle forms of Aristotelianism, Rationalism or Idealism, all philosophies they rejected. Another common trend among thinkers associated with the Post-Structural movement is the criticism of the absolutist, quasi-scientific claims of Structuralist theorists as more reflective of the mechanistic bias[27] inspired by bureaucratization and industrialization than of the inner-workings of actual primitive cultures, languages or psyches. Indeed, deconstruction tends to be inextricable not only from text, but also from the self. Generally, Post-structuralists emphasized the inter-determination and contingency of social and historical phenomena with each other and with the cultural values and biases of perspective. Such realities were not to be dissected, in the manner of some Structuralists, as a system of facts that could exist independently from values and paradigms (either those of the analysts or the subjects themselves), but to be understood as both causes and effects of each other.[28] For this reason, most Post-structuralists held a more open-ended view of function within systems than did Structuralists and were sometimes accused of circularity and ambiguity. Post-structuralists countered that, when closely examined, all formalized claims describing phenomena, reality or truth, rely on some form or circular reasoning and self-referential logic that is often paradoxical in nature. Thus, it was important to uncover the hidden patterns of circularity, self-reference and paradox within a given set of statements rather that feign objectivity, as such an investigation might allow new perspectives to have influence and new practices to be sanctioned or adopted. In this latter respect, Post-structuralists were, as a group, continuing the philosophical project initiated by Martin Heidegger, who saw himself as extending the implications of Friedrich Nietzsche's work.

As would be expected, Post-structuralist writing tends to connect observations and references from many, widely varying disciplines into a synthetic view of knowledge and its relationship to experience, the body, society and economy - a synthesis in which it sees itself as participating. Stucturalists, while also somewhat inter-disciplinary, were more comfortable within departmental boundaries and often maintained the autonomy of their analytical methods over the objects they analyzed. Post-structuralists, unlike Structuralists, did not privilege a system of (abstract) "relations" over the specifics to which such relations were applied, but tended to see the notion of “the relation” or of systemization itself as part-and-parcel of any stated conclusion rather than a reflection of reality as an independent, self-contained state or object. If anything, if a part of objective reality, theorization and systemization to Post-structuralists was an exponent of larger, more nebulous patterns of control in social orders – patterns that could not be encapsulated in theory without simultaneously conditioning it. For this reason, certain Post-structural thinkers were also criticized by more Realist, Naturalist or Essentialist thinkers of anti-intellectualism or anti-Philosophy. In short, Post-structuralists, unlike Structuralists, tended to place a great deal of skepticism on the independence of theoretical premises from collective bias and the influence of power, and rejected the notion of a "pure" or "scientific" methodology in social analysis, semiotics or philosophical speculation. No theory, they said – especially when concerning human society or psychology – was capable of reducing phenomena to elemental systems or abstract patterns, nor could abstract systems be dismissed as secondary derivatives of a fundamental nature: systemization, phenomena and values were part of each other.

While many of the so-called Post-structuralists vehemently disagreed on the specifics of such fundamental categories as "the real", "society", "totality", "desire" and "history", many also shared, in contrast to their so-called Structuralist predecessors, the traits mentioned. Furthermore, a good number of them engaged in a re-assessment (positive or negative) of the philosophical traditions associated with Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Because of its general skepticism of analytical objectivity and mutually exclusive oppositions in logic, its emphasis on the social production of knowledge and of knowledge paradigms, and its portrayal of the sometimes ambiguous inter-determination of material culture, values, physical practices and socio-economic life, Post-structuralism is often linked to Postmodernism.
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