deconstruction – a useful analytic tool

The very first post I put on this blog was about deconstruction. I provided a tiny explanation about the very idea. There was a touch of history about linguistics connections and then a passing reference to the politics of deconstruction. Deconstruction could be used as a thinking tool, I suggested, echoing lots of other scholarly work, to critically interrogate categories to reveal the kinds of idea-shaping work that they do.

So, for patter’s third birthday, I’m revisiting and reworking that post.

One useful form of deconstructive analysis is directed to the interrogation of either/or thinking. We either have to have this or that. Deconstructing this kind of binary thinking can be very helpful – especially if the either/or is enshrined in policy or practices which affect actions and everyday lives. In this situation, deconstruction allows us to see what we are rhetorically being positioned to think and to do.

Here’s an example of binary thinking: We often hear, in higher education policy talk, a binary of digital or analogue scholarship. Sometimes we are just offered one option, go digital. Digital is the future, and anyone who does analogue is a hopeless Luddite. I now want to take this digital/analogue example and deconstruct it.

In my original post I offered five moves to deconstruct a binary –

(1) establish the binary – A/not A (in my example the binary is digital/analogue)

(2) see what is common between the two sides of the binary – when is A like not A – and what overarching category might cover both of them – what category would describe both A and not A? (In the digital/analogue binary, both might be understood as modes of learning/teaching/researching)

(3) see what differences exist within each side of the binary – brainstorm all the types of A and not A note how within category differences are covered up by the simple the binary a/not a difference (In my example analogue teaching is a diverse category Including the lecture, tutorial, self-directed research in a library, group work, field trip and so on)

(4) see what sits between the binary opposition that is hidden by focusing on the two extremes – see A/not A as a continuum not a chasm. (in the digital/analogue binary for example, multi-modal teaching can have a variety of online and face-to-face components combined together)

(5) see the binary as a power relationship – see which side is dominant, A or not A. (Might I cynically suggest that in the digital/analogue binary, digital research is more popular with funders than analogue – big data?)

I want now to add to these five deconstructive moves the option of reconstruction. To reconstruct, we use what we have learnt through deconstructing … So we can ask:

(6) What might each side of the binary A/ not A have to offer each other? (In the case of digital scholarship, we might want to ask, what can digital learning/teaching/researching learn from forms of analogue scholarship – and vice versa?)

(7) What is it about the A /not A binary as it is at present that we need to avoid? (I would argue that transmission and direct instruction modes of teaching via the lecture and text book is of limited and specific use – and it is limited regardless of whether the medium is digital or analogue)

Of course, this is not the only way to deconstruct a binary and use its insights for reconstruction. And there are some binaries which do not easily lend themselves to this kind of approach, where the analysis relies more on generating topic-specific questions. But you don’t know this till you try out the five moves to see what they do.

And I do still suggest that these five or seven moves can be remarkably helpful in making a start in unpacking a taken-for-granted or common-sense idea. Try them out and see for yourself.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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1 Response to deconstruction – a useful analytic tool

  1. Haitham Al-Sheeshany says:

    Thank you for this and I shall try it surely!

    Happy 3rd blogiversary (+ 5 days) to you & yr blog 🙂


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