decentred subjecta conception of the SELF, or the thinking and acting subject (see SUBJECT AND OBJECT), in which the self is no longer regarded as providing the kind of ultimate grounding for epistemological thinking that is often assumed in traditional forms of philosophy (e.g. EMPIRICISM). Particularly associated with STRUCTURALISM and POSTSTRUCTURALISM, the concept of a decentred self derives from three interconnected sources:
- from PSYCHOANALYSIS, the idea that the EGO is not ‘master in its own home’, and is influenced by the UNCONSCIOUS (see LACAN);
- from critical discourse with SAUSSURE'S linguistics, the conception that language consists of a system of SIGNS constituted by DIFFERENCE, so that the ‘I’ is ‘only constituted as a sign’ by virtue of its difference from ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘they’, etc., and as one element in that system, so that there can be no question of granting it philosophical privilege;
- from an emphasis on the ‘autonomy’ of culture, or the TEXT, in which the ‘individual’, or the ‘author’, exists nowhere.
In this view, rather than a single ‘self ‘, for any ‘individual’ person there always exist ‘multiple selves’ or ‘quasi-selves’, in which the ‘self ‘ exists only as a moment in a ‘syntagmatic chain’. Whereas in structuralism the decentring of the self leads to the elevation of STRUCTURE as the pre-eminent basis of accounts of reality, in POST-STRUCTURALISM, neither the self nor structure are regarded as providing a secure basis. See also ALTHUSSER, ALTHUSSERIAN MARXISM, DECONSTRUCTION, DERRIDA, FOUCAULT.