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The Influence of Jacques Derrida’s Deconstruction on Contemporary Sociology

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Throughout the development of sociology as a discipline, the main backdrop to both sociological field-work and theory has been the distinction between Self and Other – or subject and object – expressed more broadly through the study of the interplay between individuals and institutions. With the advent of poststructuralist thinking, also known as postmodernism, the preference toward this distinction has come under suspicion by some contemporary sociologists and philosophers. Critics typically charge postmodernism with holding subjectivity to higher ground than objectivity, that postmodernism is exclusively relativist in that it questions the unity of an objective reality. That is only partially the case; Jacques Derrida, one of the more influential writers on contemporary postmodernist thinkers, suggests that even the unity of a Subject is suspect. Historically, many sociologists have seen society as derived from Subject with the implication of axiomatic inalienable rights. This also implies a sort of contract between individuals where Subject defines the shape and structure of societies. This notion is turned upside down by the postmodernist suggestion that the Subject is a creation of society. This mirrors Foucault’s idea of the “discursive production of the subject,” or that the discourses of power relations create an imposed self-identity. This is not a new idea to sociology – and Foucault was more of a structuralist than a postmodernist—but Derrida’s main work centers around “deconstruction” pivoting around the idea of “différance,” essentially declaring that “there is nowhere to begin” when it comes to tracing the universality or truth status of individual “narratives,” whether scientific or political. This is just as applic...


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...m the text should be considered. That is to say, concepts such as “human nature” are not really ostensible, stable facts of how the world “really is,” but are contingent on the above factors. Essentially, deconstruction looks into how knowledge is produced.
In contrast, the structuralism popular in 1950s and 1960s France focused on the study of the structure of cultural products interpreted through linguistic frameworks. It was essentially a synchronic practice that attempted to analyses cultural products as objectively and scientifically as possible. The value that poststructuralism or deconstruction seemed to have was in the fact that it took an essentially diachronic view, looking historically at the descriptive methods used by structuralists. It forced a redefinition of concepts taken for granted and highlighted the potential biases inherent in our knowledge.



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