Emergence and maintenance of systems of meaning/signification

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … all systems of meaning/signification
  • Knowing … one’s system of meaning/signification
  • Learner is … an evolving system of meaning/signification
  • Learning is … participating in and evolving (systems of meaning/signification)
  • Teaching is … enculturating (into systems of meaning/signification)




Post-Structuralism, as its name suggests, is a response to earlier theories. Asserting that neither underlying structures (i.e., Structuralism) nor subjective experience (i.e., Phenomenology) are adequate to understand the meaning and significance of an object, Post-Structuralism argues that such understanding entails interrogation/deconstruction of both what is present (i.e., the meaningful/significant object) and what is absent (i.e., the mostly implicit systems of knowledge that define the object and render it meaningful/significant). Subdiscourses of Post-Structuralism include:
  • Deconstruction (Jacques Derrida, 1980s) is a notion that, by the design of its original author, can be construed either as having multiple definitions or as defying definition. Most often presented as a counter-discourse to Naive Realism and IdealismDeconstruction typically directs attention to the role of language in formatting (experiences of) reality as it leans into the arts to interrupt and offer alternatives to popular perceptions of the real.
  • Reconstructivism (Frankfurt School, 1930s; Jacques Derrida, 1980s) asserts that societal evolution should not be left to chance; rather, ongoing reform should be geared toward greater citizen awareness and more ethical institutions. Recent versions often draw heavily on methods associated Deconstruction.


Certainly, the most common criticism of Post-Structuralism from outside the theory is that its authors can be nearly incomprehensible – to the point that some critics have successful duped “experts” by publishing gibberish in prominent refereed journals associated with the theory. Concerns expressed from inside the theory tend to cluster around the difficulty (or, arguably, impossibility) of using language to push language aside.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Jacques Derrida Michel Foucault

Status as a Theory of Learning

Post-Structuralism is not normally identified as a theory of learning. However, like Structuralism, it might be characterized as a trans-level theory of learning – that is, one that offers a theory of meaning that applies at both individual and cultural levels.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Post-Structuralism is sometimes embraced as a theory of social action that entails conscious and intentional action in relation to teaching and other acts associated with enculturation. However, Post-Structuralism is not a theory of teaching, insofar as teaching is understood a deliberate act. Notably, it is a major discourse informing Critical Pedagogy.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Post-Structuralism cannot be said to have a broad or substantial empirical base – but it does offer a rather cutting and robust argument to explain why empirical standards should not be assumed or imposed in this case.


  • Deconstruction
  • Reconstructivism

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Post-Structuralism” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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