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Post-Structuralism vs. Structuralism: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 27, 2024
Structuralism analyzes cultural elements as part of a structured system, while post-structuralism challenges and deconstructs these structures, emphasizing fluidity and ambiguity.

Key Differences

Structuralism is a theoretical framework in humanities and social sciences that views elements of culture, like language and society, as part of a systematic structure. In contrast, post-structuralism arises as a reaction to structuralism, questioning the idea of fixed or stable structures and emphasizing the complexity and variability of cultural and linguistic systems.
In structuralism, the belief is that underlying structures determine the meaning and function of cultural elements. Post-structuralism, however, argues that these structures are not fixed but are subject to constant change and interpretation, making meaning subjective and fluid.
Structuralist theorists like Ferdinand de Saussure focused on how elements of language and culture relate to each other within a system. Post-structuralists, such as Jacques Derrida, challenge this by suggesting that these relationships are not definitive but open to interpretation and deconstruction.
Structuralism seeks to uncover the rules and conventions that govern cultural systems, while post-structuralism is more interested in how these rules and conventions are unstable and can be disrupted or undermined.
Structuralism often leads to the identification of universal truths and patterns in culture and language. In contrast, post-structuralism is skeptical of universal truths, instead highlighting the diversity of human experience and the multiplicity of perspectives.

Comparison Chart

Underlying Philosophy

Challenges fixed structures, emphasizes fluidity
Focuses on structured systems and their components

Approach to Meaning and Interpretation

Views meaning as subjective and variable
Considers meaning as determined by structures

Theoretical Focus

Deconstruction and variability
Rules and conventions of cultural systems

Perspective on Language and Culture

Skeptical of definitive interpretations
Seeks to identify underlying patterns and systems

Attitude Towards Universal Truths

Questions the existence of universal truths
Often seeks universal truths in cultural analysis

Post-Structuralism and Structuralism Definitions


Argues against the idea of absolute truths or universal structures.
Post-structuralism questions the existence of any overarching truth in society.


Structuralism is a theory that analyzes cultural elements within a structured system.
Structuralism seeks to understand the relationship between elements of language.


Post-structuralism is a philosophical movement that questions structured systems and emphasizes subjectivity.
Post-structuralism challenges the idea that language has a stable, fixed meaning.


Views language as a system of signs governed by rules.
Structuralism analyzes how words derive meaning in relation to each other.


It focuses on deconstructing established norms and structures.
In post-structuralism, literary texts are seen as sites for deconstruction of meaning.


Seeks universal patterns and truths in cultural and linguistic systems.
Structuralism attempts to find common structures in diverse cultural practices.


Emphasizes the fluid and dynamic nature of meaning and culture.
Post-structuralism views cultural norms as constantly evolving.


Focuses on identifying underlying structures that govern cultural phenomena.
In structuralism, myths are analyzed as part of a larger cultural system.


Sees language as a tool of power and a source of multiple interpretations.
Post-structuralism interprets literary works as open to multiple meanings.


Emphasizes the role of structures in determining human behavior and ideas.
Structuralism looks at social norms as products of underlying structures.


A doctrine that rejects structuralism’s claims to objectivity and emphasises the plurality of meaning.


A method of analyzing phenomena, as in anthropology, linguistics, psychology, or literature, chiefly characterized by contrasting the elemental components of the phenomena in a system of binary opposition and examining how the elemental components are combined to make larger units.


What is post-structuralism?

A movement that questions structured systems and emphasizes variability.

What is structuralism?

A theory that analyzes cultural elements within structured systems.

How does post-structuralism differ from structuralism?

Post-structuralism challenges the fixed structures emphasized by structuralism.

Who are key figures in structuralism?

Ferdinand de Saussure and Claude Lévi-Strauss are significant structuralists.

Who are key figures in post-structuralism?

Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault are notable post-structuralists.

Can post-structuralism be applied to literature?

Yes, it's often used to deconstruct texts and challenge traditional interpretations.

What is a major criticism of structuralism?

It's often seen as too rigid and ignoring the complexity of human experience.

How does structuralism approach culture?

By looking for underlying patterns and systems in cultural practices.

What impact has post-structuralism had on social sciences?

It has influenced the way social phenomena are analyzed and interpreted.

Is post-structuralism a continuation of structuralism?

It's more of a reaction against structuralism, though it builds on some concepts.

What does post-structuralism say about language?

It views language as subjective and open to multiple interpretations.

How does structuralism view language?

As a system of signs governed by rules and structures.

Has structuralism influenced linguistics?

Yes, significantly, especially in understanding language as a system.

Does post-structuralism reject all structures?

Not entirely, but it questions the stability and universality of structures.

Can post-structuralism apply to historical analysis?

Yes, in questioning established narratives and perspectives.

Are structuralism and post-structuralism still relevant today?

Yes, both continue to influence academic and philosophical thought.

Do post-structuralists believe in absolute truth?

No, they often argue against the notion of absolute truth.

How does post-structuralism view power?

As dispersed and connected to knowledge and discourse.

What's the role of the observer in structuralism?

To identify and understand the structures underlying cultural elements.

Is structuralism deterministic?

Some critics argue that it can be, due to its emphasis on structures determining human behavior.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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