A Brief Overview of Deconstructionism

Deconstruction as a a specific term was first introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his book Of Grammatology (1967) He traced his development of the concept of deconstruction from Martin Heidegger's concept of Destruktion, which term referred to a process of exploring the categories and concepts that tradition has imposed on a word, and the history behind them. Derrida opted for deconstruction over the literal translation destruction to suggest precision rather than violence. In describing deconstruction, Derrida famously observed that "there is nothing outside the text." That is to say, all of the references used to interpret a text are themselves texts, even the "text" of reality as a reader knows it. There is no truly objective, non-textual reference from which interpretation can begin. Deconstruction, then, can be described as an effort to understand a text through its relationships to various contexts. Deconstruction denotes the pursuing the meaning of a text to the point of exposing the supposed contradictions and internal oppositions upon which it is founded—supposedly showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible.

When asked "What is deconstruction?" Derrida famously replied, "I have no simple and formalisable response to this question. All my essays are attempts to have it out with this formidable question".This reflects his belief that deconstruction is necessarily complicated and difficult to explain since it actively criticizes the very language needed to explain it. Derrida has been more forthcoming with negative than positive descriptions of deconstruction. When asked to provide some preliminary characteristics of deconstructionism, Derrida began his response by saying that such question amounts to "what deconstruction is not, or rather ought not to be." - which is incredibly ironic, given Foucalut's discussion of how the normal - abnormal binary is created (e.g, definition of mental illness long proceeded definition of mental health, with the later often defined as the absence of the former) .

Readings for the Course

Deconstructionism is more often applied in the fields of literary analysis or linguistics, but the readings below come from a groundbreaking effort to apply it to the field of psychology, and human development in particular. As you read through these articles, consider carefully the significance of the types of research and research outcomes in three ways:
  1. the circumstances in which the research was carried out
  2. the social and political influences that made the topic seem relevant
  3. the role and impact of the research

Throughout these chapters, Erica Burman poses questions about what is often assumed and to given or obvious. Questions such as:
  1. why is developmental psychology always presumed to be about "the child"?
  2. what are the consequences of this focus for the theory and practice of developmental psychology?
  3. how would this be different from discussing "children" or "contexts in which people grow and change"?
In more applied forms;
  1. on what basis do law courts arrive at an understanding of what constitutes a child's "best interest"?
  2. what underlies and education welfare officer's opinion that a child's "social and emotional needs" will be better catered for outside mainstream school?
  3. what criteria do adoption agencies use in evaluating whether or not adoption is likely to be successful?
As you read through the chapters, what other questions are raised for you? Bring these to class to discuss.

Day 1 of Deconstruction

Read chapter 1 and then either chapter 4 or 6 - come prepared to discuss their associated questions.

Chapter 1 - Origins, places developmental psychology in it's historical context, exploring how it arose to answer particular questions. In doing so, Burman explores how the field became an arbiter of what was "normal" and the processes by which it could be created.

Come to class prepared to discuss how the goals of society influenced the direction of research at key points in the construction of the field. Can you conjecture what the field might have looked like if their were different societal goals, or questions were asked without a particular goal in mind at all?

Chapter 4 - Discourses of the Child explores how children have been variously constructed through research and other forms of authority.

Come to class prepared to describe what this constructed child looks like (think of it in terms of how it has been shaped -pushed or pulled - by various authority texts). Can you envision how some of these might be changed? What would this "new" child look like?

Chapter 6 - Bonds of Love, explores the concept of attachment, how it was created and used (and by whom).

Come to class prepared to discuss how the concept/process of attachment has been socially constructed. What are the implications of this? What other ways might we conceptualize this process?

As evident in several of the questions above, I am asking you to think outside the box you have been currently given - push yourself to be creative here. It does not matter if you are "right" or "wrong" - you get points just for getting out of the box.

Day 2 of Deconstruction

We will continue to focus on specific developmental topics. Pick one of the two articles below and come prepared to discuss the associated questions.

Come to class prepared to discuss how morality has been socially constructed. What are the implications of this? What other ways might we conceptualize morality and the process of moral development?

Come to class prepared to discuss how the concept/process of attachment has been socially constructed. What are the implications of this? What other ways might we conceptualize this process?