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in linguistics, philosophy, and literary theory, the exposure and undermining of the metaphysical assumptions involved in systematic attempts to ground knowledge, especially in academic disciplines such as structuralismstructuralism,
theory that uses culturally interconnected signs to reconstruct systems of relationships rather than studying isolated, material things in themselves. This method found wide use from the early 20th cent.
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 and semioticssemiotics
or semiology,
discipline deriving from the American logician C. S. Peirce and the French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. It has come to mean generally the study of any cultural product (e.g., a text) as a formal system of signs.
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. The term "deconstruction" was coined by French philosopher Jacques DerridaDerrida, Jacques
, 1930–2004, French philosopher, b. El Biar, Algeria. A graduate of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, he taught there and at the Sorbonne, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and a number of American
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 in the 1960s. In general, deconstruction is a philosophy of meaning, which deals with the ways that meaning is constructed by writers, texts, and readers.

Extending the philosophical excursions of NietzscheNietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm
, 1844–1900, German philosopher, b. Röcken, Prussia. The son of a clergyman, Nietzsche studied Greek and Latin at Bonn and Leipzig and was appointed to the chair of classical philology at Basel in 1869.
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 and HeideggerHeidegger, Martin
, 1889–1976, German philosopher. As a student at Freiburg, Heidegger was influenced by the neo-Kantianism of Heinrich Rickert and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl.
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, Derrida criticized the entire tradition of Western philosophy's search to discover the essential structure of knowledge and reality, ultimately confronting the limits of human thought. As an extension of his theory of logocentrism, Derrida posited that all texts are based on hierarchical dualisms (e.g., being/nonbeing, reality/appearance, male/female), where the first element is regarded as stronger and thus essentially true and that all systems of thought have an assumed center, or Archimedean point, upon which they are based. In a deconstructionist reading, this unconscious and unarticulated point is revealed, and in this revelation the binary structure upon which the text rests is imploded. Thus what appears stable and logical is revealed to be illogical and paradoxical, and interpretation is by its very nature misinterpretation.

To a deconstructionist, meaning includes what is left out of the text or ignored or silenced by it. Because deconstruction is an attack on the very existence of theories and conceptual systems, its exposition by Derrida and others purposely resists logical definitions and explanations, opting instead for alinear presentations based on extensive wordplay and puns. Deconstructionists tend to concentrate on close readings of particular texts, focusing on how these texts refer to other texts. Certain scholars have severely criticized this movement on this basic point.

Nevertheless, deconstruction, especially as articulated in Derrida's writings and as promoted by Paul de Man and others, has had a profound effect on many fields of knowledge in American universities, particularly during the 1970s and 80s. In addition to philosophy and literary theory, the techniques and ideas of deconstruction have been employed by scholars in history, sociology, educational theory, linguistics, art, and architecture. While the theory has lost much of its intellectual currency, the general acceptance and popularity of interdisciplinary scholarship in the 1980s and 90s are regarded by many as an outgrowth of deconstruction.


See J. Culler, On Deconstruction (1982); R. Gasche, The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy of Reflection (1986); P. Kamuf, A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds (1991).


A process to carefully dismantle or remove usable materials from structures, as an alternative to demolition. It maximizes the recovery of valuable building materials for reuse and recycling and minimizes the amount of waste going to a landfill. Deconstruction options may include reusing the entire building by remodeling; moving the structure to a new location; or taking the building apart to reuse lumber, windows, doors, and other materials.


a POSTSTRUCTURALIST intellectual movement particularly influential in France and the US since the late 1960s. The term is particularly associated with the work of the French philosopher Jacques DERRIDA who has developed powerful critiques, in particular of PHENOMENOLOGY, Saussurean linguistics, STRUCTURALISM and Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Derrida suggests that language is an unstable medium which cannot in any sense carry meaning or TRUTH directly He has drawn attention to the ways in which Western philosophies have been dependent on METAPHOR and figurative rhetoric to construct ‘origin’,‘essence’, or binary conceptual systems (e.g. nature/culture, masculine/feminine, rationalism/irrationalism) in which one term is constituted as the privileged norm setting up hierarchies of meaning which are then socially institutionalized. The project of deconstruction is to reveal the ambivalence of all TEXTS, which can only be understood in relation to other texts (intertextuality) and not in relation to any ‘literal meaning’ or normative truth.

By denying that we have any direct access to reality, unmediated by language, Derrida offers a critique of both POSITIVISM and phenomenology He also traces the extent to which Western linguistics and philosophy have been permeated by phonocentrism - the privileged notion of speech as the voice or ‘presence’ of consciousness – and by logocentrism – the belief that the Word of the transcendental signifier (e.g. God, the World Spirit) may provide a foundation for a whole system of thought. Clearly, for Derrida, any such transcendental origin or essence of meaning is sheer fiction. Further, he argues that social ideologies elevate particular terms (e.g. Freedom, Justice, Authority) to the status of the source from which all other meanings are derived. But the problem here is how any such term pre-exists other meanings through which its meaning is in practice constituted. Thus, any thought system which is dependent upon a first principle is, for Derrida, ‘metaphysical’.

In Derrida's view, then, LÉVI-STRAUSS consistently privileges a particular ethnocentric view of nature over culture; structuralism, generally, is dependent upon the project of constructing general laws based upon binary oppositions; LACAN (productively) sees the unconscious in terms of a language, but then falls into the trap of constituting the unconscious as the origin of‘truth’. Further, the relationship between deconstruction and MARXISM is a complex one. On the one hand Derrida has pointed to the extent to which Marxist theory has been dependent upon metaphor (e.g. base/superstructure) to erect a totalizing account of the world. On the other, he has, on occasion, declared himself to be a Marxist arguing that deconstruction is a political practice committed to uncovering false logics upon which social institutions maintain their power. While Derrida has continued to stress this progressive, radical critique, his work has been taken up by literary critics in the US in particular (the Yale School of Deconstructionists), stripped of its political force, and turned in a direction which focuses upon the ‘undecidability’ of meaning. Derrida himself has indicated the ways in which, ironically such strategies of deconstruction can ultimately operate in the service of dominant political and economic institutions.

References in periodicals archive ?
That the deconstructionists reject definition does not mean that deconstruction is incomprehensible; nor does this undermine its importance in the realm of literary theory and criticism.
Yet criticism, however devastating, however unanswerable intellectually, has never mattered to deconstructionists.
His strongest argument on both these points may be that even the most extreme deconstructionists fall back on notions of truth and intention when reading texts which matter to them a great deal.
Many of the discoveries of deconstructionists about "texts" bear a striking resemblance to the everyday facts of television.
Thus, Robert Cunliffe, striving to equate Bakhtin's and Derrida's attitudes to discourse, finds Bakhtin 'eminently playful', a statement that does not sit easily with the seriousness of Bakhtin's philosophical project in toto, for his concept of carnival, his celebration of the liberating effect of laughter, cannot be reduced to deconstructionist 'play'.
Deconstructionists pride themselves on their awareness of the paradoxical nature of language.
Yes, we must, if, as the deconstructionists will have it, opera is desperately in need of the interpretations only they can give.
Some deconstructionists have attacked science itself as mere rhetoric, not an ordering of nature, seeking to reduce it to the status of the ultimately arbitrary humanities.
The deconstructionists and feminists have won the debate according to Devereaux.
You can add an ethicist if you need one, an expert in witchcraft, a deconstructionist, and a risk assessor.
Other American deconstructionists included Barbara Johnson and Jonathan Culler.
Like Kirsch's The Passions of Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes, this is an "old-fashioned book" insofar as its discursive frame of reference for the culture, ideas, and preoccupations of Shakespeare and his contemporaries looks to the past, drawing upon the texts of antiquity and late mediaevalism rather than the socio-political conditions and the philosophical ferment which appeal to new historicists, cultural materialists and deconstructionists in their quest for the sensibility and experience which formed the early modem period.