At the last meeting of Dr. Lather's "Cultural Foundations" (aka. "Poststructuralism WHEE") class, we tried to summarize a method for poststructuralism. These are heuristics rather than algorithms; notes on "how to think poststructurally" are akin to notes on "how to write poetry" -- they're always incomplete fragments, but that doesn't mean they're not worth trying.

  1. Practice dialogic and reflexive engagement. You are not monologuing in a vacuum; rather, you are in conversation at all times. This is easy when speaking, but in writing and other media where we're trained to be "The Voice Of Truth" (as opposed to "A Voice of truth," or simply "a voice").
  2. Focus on margins and centers, intersections and crossroads. What do boundaries, positions relative to them, and deliberate efforts to remake them tell you about the evolution and construction of a culture?
  3. Refuse binaries. When you read a statement, think about the frame of mind it has been written within and against -- for instance, a paper might set up a "constructivism vs realism" fight, then have one or the other "win" the debate. Point out those binaries and how they contradict and destabilize each other.
  4. Focus on contradictory understandings. This is a continuation of #3. The world is tangled and messy; refuse metanarratives and avoid "tidy tales" of the "One Truth," especially when you point out binaries yourself. "Some people see a constructivism vs realism battle, but I see both of them as parts of a whole!" is a binary of your metanarrative vs "the old binary."
  5. Do justice to specificity. Ground theories in specifics and empirical data. (I want to add "...instead of going straight for the transferable generalization," but having just written #3 and #4, I hesitate.)
  6. Pay attention to layers of affects as a material force. In other words, people are embodied beings full of feelings. See what resonates for people as you study something ("Affect studies" is a field focused on this). If your audience resonates with "spirituality" in a way that's academically "improper," honor that, and honor the tension you hold in struggling to convey it to an academic audience. Howard S. Becker advised that if you couldn't write something, you could at least write about why you couldn't write it.
  7. Include the autobiographical in non-leaky ways. You're a character in the world and in your story, but you're not the diva of it; admit your perspective, but don't spew self-indulgence all over your writing.
  8. Do justice to difference.  Differences between things, within things, among things -- insert your favorite preposition here. This is a way to start breaking down metanarratives and start letting in multivocality.

This is hard. In fact, it's impossible. My writing of #1 already violates #3 and #4 ("monologuing in a vacuum" vs being "in conversation at all times" is a tidy tale). #3 and #4 contradict themselves ("refuse binaries" sets up a "binaries" vs "not-binaries" binary). But we try anyway -- the note on #5 is an attempt to use #1 in recognition of a violation of #3 and #4.