Post-Structuralism- compare Peterson to Escobar

Post-Structuralism- compare Peterson to Escobar

The idea of post-structuralism has engaged the human mind for sometime. The thoughts and concepts have given shape to the current political, social, and other critical facets of the human society. To have a more profound understanding of the concept, there is the need for further study on the subject. Arturo Escobar and Allan Petersen are two authors who have done significant study on the subject and how they affect policy making in particular countries.

Post-structuralism is used to refer to the realm of thought normally based on reactions to the previously set ideals of structuralism. It is normally based on the concept of over-determination. This goes to the extent even when the concept does not appear explicitly in textual presentation (Agger, 1991). The concept of over determination in epistemology means the lack of a break between discourse and the objects of discourse. It means that both the theory and reality are intertwined and are dependent of each other for existence. With this regard, the theory cannot exist or disconnect from reality nor is reality separate from theory. With this regard, individuals perceive the concepts they are being taught and comprehend the concepts being learned. The concepts being learned are complexly molded by the stream of realty of which the individual is the element.

Post-structuralism is further used to transcend the theories of structuralism, which imply a fixed inner logic to relationships that contain any aspect of social reality (Agger, 1991). This is in the realms of language in accordance with Ferdinand de Saussure, in economics as proposed by orthodox Marxism, neoclassicalism, or Keynesianism. There are famous philosophers and thinkers who have been considered as post-structuralists. This includes the likes of Marx, Freud and more recently Arturo Escobar and Allan Peterson.

Arturo Escobar and Allan Petersen are of the thought that the ideas behind post-structuralism give regard to the ability of discourse to shape reality. This is inclusive of both the perceived reality and the concrete reality. Discourse has the distinctive ability to give sight to fictional objects such as ethnicity or disallow the sight of real social relationships such as social castes. This means that our perception of the real world is limited with most of them being made up of falsehoods arising from the discourses being engaged in. Falsehoods in this sense mean that the concept fails to exist separate from the theoretical constructs and does not satisfy the rationality of the defined objects within the discussion.

As an example, the genetic idea of race does not provide logical correlation between the physical features associated with the race and the genetic make up of the individuals being grouped in the given race. In the realm of ontology, over determination means the existence is based on mutually constitutive processes. This thought of over determined existence is complex and transcends the rigidity of the grand narrative. The grand narrative attempts to provide a singular undeniable truth about reality. In this complexity, all realistic processes are in a constant state of change. This thought is clearly explained by Heraclitus who said that one could never step in the same river twice.

Allan Petersen is another supporter of post-structuralism who has provided profound and in depth study on the subject. In his book, Post-structuralism, Citizenship, and Social Policy, Petersen shows how the adoption of post-structuralist concepts and ideas in the present world system would go a long way in advancing and developing the current state of the social and economic facets. He advocates for the application of post-structuralist concepts in the realms of welfare, health, education and science together with technology (Petersen, Dudley and Harris, 1999). This is particularly in policymaking. He further identifies that there has been little systematic analysis of both advantageous and adverse effects of post-structuralism for the critical administration and change of social policy.

Petersen takes particular interest on how post-structural concepts have been employed or lack in Australia. He mainly studies the realms of power and knowledge together with how they affect policy making on the subjects of citizenship, technology and public welfare. He engages with issues that are of current importance to the social policy field. From his studies, we identify that the critical interests of social policy have been included to a sufficient extent in all the accounts. However, he notes that there is an evident difference on how the constructs have been conceptualized to how they have been discussed in accordance with a modern discourse. With this respect, post-modernist concepts are in tandem with modernist ideas even though they take on a critical stand (Petersen, Dudley and Harris, 1999).

Arturo Escobar is considered a staunch advocate of the concept of post-structuralism. The author of several works is mainly concerned with the political and economic aspect facets of human existence. The author deems the global economy as a de-centered system with diverse systems of capture. These are both economic and political. He is particularly concerned with the study on how each local community plays its role in the complex mechanical process. This is particularly necessary in avoiding exploitation by the processes of capture by the capitalist mega-machines.

Escobar is of the thought that a post-structural approach is necessary in the strengthening of the belief of development of the developing nations. This is because the concept gives addition and support to the existing literature on development. This means that it does not move away from the overriding idea. The concept of post-structuralism he believes does not acknowledge the mushrooming of social movements. This he believes is a necessity or a possibility for alternative development. He questions on who is supplied with the information obtained from the post-structural analysis that is usually carried out and how this information is utilized on the proceedings of discourses on development. This is as opposed to moving beyond development discourse.

Alternatively, Petersen is of the thought that the concept of post-structuralism was over determined by social processes that mainly became pronounce during the 1960’s. This is inclusive of the student protests of the era for democracy, equality and fairness in all facets of economic processes and justice in the social relationships. This goes to the limits of opposing the economic determinism of orthodox versions of Marxism. The theorists, who introduced the concepts of over determinism pioneered by Freud, were of the idea of overriding the thoughts of static social structures.

In addition, Petersen is of the view that postmodern emancipatory vision does not provide an ideal future but rather works in the development of contestatory and public spaces. These later open up when related to the present and existing forms of governance. Moreover, Petersen is of the view that research in the realms of social policy usually deems the government as a unitary object or rather a separate legal entity harboring its own rationale, motivations and interests. With this regard, postmodern narratives tend to isolate the government and give emphasis on the various inconsistent practices that are evidenced in the various components (Petersen, Dudley and Harris, 1999).

On the other hand, Escobar takes on a proactive philosophy in his analysis of development discourse as knowledge that is endowed with power, which takes on the form of knowledge. He is of the view that knowledge and power must co-exist and thus go hand-in-hand for there to be sustainable development. He calls for knowledgeable leadership, which will bring about positive change in all facets of life and more specifically in the economic sectors. He is also of the thought of a more reformed social science whereby the tone would be dictated by a more reformed post-structuralist anthropology rather than economics. This will mainly lead into the advocacy of more ethical practices in the sector. However, this is not inclusive of the creation of an alternative hegemony, as this will tend to override the development discourse in economics in general.

He compares giving alternatives in the realms of sustainable development to that of advocating for the same concepts that brought about development and sustained it in place. He gives advice on the resistance on the idea that coming up with alternatives will only occur in the academic and intellectual circles. This means that academic knowledge has a special role to play in the politics of alternative thought. His thought is pronouncedly identifiable in his case study on the rice paddies of Columbia.

He notes that in typical circumstances, the enactment of social policy is usually differentiated from public policy analysis. He identifies that during public policy analysis, the overruling notion or idea is in identifying political decision making while taking into account the processes involved in the operations of power and the influence of interest groups. On the other hand, he considers social policy, which centers to be on the normative bases and distributional resultants of particular policies (Escobar, 1996). The assumption is that post-structuralism bears no significant difference to other new schools of thought, which usually give an emphasis on the distinctiveness of their own approach and dwell on the shortcomings of the preceding approaches.

Alternatively, Escobar details on some of the ingenious practices by some multi-national companies in collusion with the government aimed at maximizing the profits. This is especially evidenced in the rice paddies. Capitalists seek to increase their profits by decreasing the cost of production. When all other factors remain constant, the only factor to decrease is labor cost. Escobar’s study on the rice paddies of Columbia show how unfair and unjust practices are employed for the maximization of profits (Escobar, 1996).

In particular, the feminization of the labor force is mainly aimed at lowering these costs since women are more susceptible to oppression. A good example is the presence of women in the shrimp packaging plants in the port of Columbia. The majority of the women working in these plants come from families who have lost their lands and come from rural families. They therefore can afford to work under precarious conditions of which the management of these companies takes full advantage.

From the above, it is evident that the two are consistent with the main ideas and concepts that characterize post-structuralism. The two authors have both conducted studies on how the concepts of post-structuralism have had effects in the policy making of various governments. With this in mind, we find that they are both consistent in support that both theory and reality are intertwined and depend on each other for existence.

Both are of the thought that the accompaniment of knowledge with power is a necessity for sustainable development. Whenever power exists alone independent of knowledge, it is not sustainable as is evidenced on the case study by Escobar on the rice paddies of Columbia. Petersen supports this by showing how the use of intelligence information had greatly affected policy making in the facets of political, social and economic sectors of the Australian nation.

It is therefore evident that post-structural concepts go further than just criticizing structuralism as is usually purported but rather transcend structuralism. The two authors agree that critical discourse analysis is of critical importance to the core goals of social policy. The possibilities or existence of opposing stances or any kinds of resistance to these new operations or forms of power provide different systems of engagement with the issues of power, governance and their legalization. Discourse of course remains at the helm of this issue. However, this tends to render critical forms of discourse analysis to be of continual importance.

The two authors also seem to concur on the issue of public welfare and liberal governance. Petersen is of the view that western nations have had a poor response to the fact that the operations of the market prevent a good number of their citizens from earning a rightful and just income. He emphasizes that the governments ought to play a more critical role on the creation of a level playing field for all parties. The current systems favor the rich over the poor in the society and hence exposing the poor to exploitation.

Escobar also concurs with this thought as he gives much support to the Foucaultian way of thought where the governments play a much broader role than they currently are. This is particularly essential in protecting the rights of its citizens from exploitation. He advocates for the broadening of the meaning of government where it not only refers to the political structures or the management of state recourses, but also extends to the manner in which the conduct of individuals or states ought to be directed. With this regard, the government should go to the extent of taking care of the interests of children, souls, communities and families. The government should not only be restricted to the rightfully enacted forms of political or economic subjection, but also transcend to the manner in which persons conduct themselves and their actions towards other people.






Agger, B. (1991). Critical theory, post-structuralism, postmodernism, their sociological relevance. Annual Review of Sociology, 17, 105-131.

Escobar, A. (1996). Construction nature: Elements for a post-structuralist political ecology. Futures, 28 (4), 325-343. Retrieved from

Petersen, A., J. Dudley and P. Harris (1999). Poststructuralism, Citizenship and Social Policy. New York, NY: Routledge.

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