Home > Education, History > Poststructuralist/Postmodernist History: LOL, What?

Poststructuralist/Postmodernist History: LOL, What?

Michel Foucault

Image via Wikipedia

I’m finally coming to the end of my historical theory class, and our mad professor saved the best for last: Poststructural/Postmodern theory. Yikes!

Poststructuralism and Postmodernism carries this tenet when applied to history: History is essentially made up of texts or signs and symbols which make up discourse. Since we the historian can never know the true meaning of these texts, we analyze and draw our conclusions based upon our own bias, which is created by external influences of the present day. Following that line of thinking, we can never present a whole and true version of history, therefore, what we present is myth, or fiction.

Is your mind blown yet? Mine sure as fuck is.

Look at it from this perspective: History is a house to be built. Each historian, or builder, contributes to the construction of the house using their specialized technique and materials. When the last piece is installed, the house is finished. The Poststructialists/Postmodernists say that we can only see one part of the house no matter what angle we view it from, therefore we can never truthfully know that the house is finished. In that sense, the house is constantly subject to revision.

Wow. Just. Wow.

It took me three readings of the text book to even grasp what in the name of Foucault they were talking about. At first I thought Poststructuralist theory was hooey, now I’m starting to think it just may be on to something.

Think about it, me and two other historians are assigned to analyze text from a certain period, and come to our own conclusions. Based on what we know and think, we’re likely to draw three different conclusions, so the analysis can never be 100% accurate. Future historians, based on their external influences and internal bias, may interpret the same texts completely different from the conclusions that we drew. Therefore, our conclusions would be myth and fiction from their perspectives.

Discourse shapes reality:
Poststructuralism/Postmodernism baby! The surreal meets the real.

I love History πŸ™‚

One more thing: the analysis and interpretation I just provided is based on how discourse in my life has shaped my reality. Therefore, this post can only be perceived as myth or fiction.

Wrap your head around that for a while πŸ˜‰

  1. July 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    It’s not my field, but I’ll try to jump in here πŸ™‚

    Isn’t that thinking just flawed from the outset – with a concept of “true” history? What’s that supposed to mean? Only “true” thing is that a million different little events occure – and then we try to make sense of it with applying some labels, some logic and some narrative?

    Thus we have different versions – pointing out different things. Capturing parts of it. All true, not “myth”, but “fiction” sure. Based upon facts.

    This whole “essence” thinking is a disease of academia – I’m no fan as you can tell πŸ™‚

    What we “present” are little helpers, to understand and remember. If it works, it’s good.

    And what’s relevant for presenting something changes over time.
    And people are so different – and like and need different perspectives.
    And political leanings will always shape what feels relevant and important.

    So.. my two cents there.

    And I guess I’m more in that other camp you wrote about some weeks ago πŸ™‚


    • July 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      Poststructuralism isn’t exactly my cup of tea either. I don’t buy completely into the theory, but like any theory, there are kernels of truth to it, therefore it shouldn’t be wholly disregarded.

      For example, Tacitus and Thucydides are considered two of the greatest historians of their era. However, the discourse of their time periods most certainly shaped how they constructed their historical models, and their bias just screams from their narratives. Hell, Tacitus seemed to have a complete misunderstanding of geography to boot. To some degree, their narratives are indeed, inaccurate.

      But is their work myth or fiction? To some degree yes, to some degree no. I think it is up to each and every historian to approach their findings with some degree of skepticism; we can’t ever really know the truth about events, or periods of time, and we need to understand that fact while we are constructing our models.

      But that doesn’t mean that the work we do and present isn’t relevant; it just means that we are putting into place one more piece of the puzzle based on how we view and interpret πŸ™‚


      • July 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm

        To that I agree strongly…! Old historians must be read according to their times and their views of the world. And we can learn so much about their thinking and perspectives from how they choose to portray history.

        And also the last part – i too think we do need new historians for every generation, who can adapt things and tell us about our history. In tweets for exampel, so the kids can get it πŸ™‚


  2. carvingoutavoice
    July 29, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    You know how I feel about postmodernist and poststructuralist theory. I can’t say it’s wrong exactly, but I also can’t think it’s really very helpful to any discipline other than to acknowledge that we are people and to some degree do all have different perspectives based on a great number of things. Actually trying to utilize it as a theory in which to work within our scholarly fields seems utterly ridiculous and resembles more of a dog chasing it’s tail than making worthwhile contributions. Yes, our lenses are all blurred to some degree and we should keep that in mind. But let’s leave it at that and get on with it all, focusing on the factors we can control and the contributions we can make regardless.


  3. July 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Who knew the idiots rewriting Wikipedia entries to support Palin’s inane comments were that deep? Yeah, I couldn’t type that with a straight face.


    • July 29, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      I don’t think you could classify them as poststructuralists or even revisionists. I think they fall under the discipline of Teahadists assholes who were hitting the Pabst Blue Ribbon a little to much while shooting squirrels from the bedroom window of their double wides πŸ˜‰


  1. December 6, 2011 at 12:17 am

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