Derrida and Deconstruction

Derrida is seen as a 'pioneer' in the field of deconstruction, and his work Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences (1966/trans. 1978) is marked as the beginning of 'poststructuralism' as a movement. According to Derrida we can never transcend language/culture, and any word/concept contains not only a positive but also its opposite. Western thinking, Derrida says, has been founded upon the 'logic' of binary oppositions, such as mind/body, rational/emotional, freedom/determinism, man/woman , nature/culture and one term is always given a more privileged position than its opposite, in a way typical of ideologies.

This view has been brought into psychology by Billig (1988, 1990), and in his view of the nature of ideology one is 'persuaded' by the rhetorical force of 'common-sense' and 'lived' ideology such that the privileging of one side of the dichotomy is seen as 'natural' and 'the way things are'. Yet there is no inherent 'logic' to this 'either/or' dualism, says Derrida, because neither part of the binary opposition can exist without the other since both are interdependent and related:

to give anything an identity, to say what it is, is necessarily also to say what it is not. In this sense, presence contains absence. That is, to say that a quality is present depends upon implying what is absent (Burr, 1995, p. 107)

This, therefore, implies a 'both/and' logic. To oppose one side of a binary will result in merely a reversal of the system rather than a revolution of it. Deconstruction is not a replacement theory but a disruptive one which may challenge the orthodoxy of dominant belief systems and set in motion another shift in thinking that was not permitted before dislodging the 'giveness' of the fixed sign. Derrida argues that the notion of structure, in theories like structuralism, presuppose a 'centre' or 'transcendental signified' which is fallacious (see Lodge, 1988, pp. 108-123).

Jenny Pinkus, August 1996

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