Post-structuralism is a label formulated by American academics to denote the heterogeneous works of a series mid-20th-century French and continental philosophers and critical theorists who came to international prominence in the 1960s and '70s. A major theme of poststructuralism is instability in the human sciences, due to the complexity of humans themselves and to the impossibility of fully escaping structures in order to study them.
Post-structuralism is a response to structuralism. Structuralism is an intellectual movement developed in Europe from the early to mid-20th century. It argued that human culture may be understood by means of a structure—modeled on language (i.e., structural linguistics)—that differs from concrete reality and from abstract ideas—a "third order" that mediates between the two. Post-structuralist authors all present different critiques of structuralism, but common themes include the rejection of the self-sufficiency of the structures that structuralism posits and an interrogation of the binary oppositions that constitute those structures. Writers whose work is often characterised as post-structuralist include Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, Jacques Lacan, and Julia Kristeva.
The movement is closely related to postmodernism. As with structuralism, antihumanism is often a central tenet. Existential phenomenology is a significant influence; Colin Davis has argued that post-structuralists might just as accurately be called "post-phenomenologists". Some commentators have criticized poststructuralism for being radically relativistic or nihilistic; others have objected to its extremity and linguistic complexity. Others see it as a threat to traditional values or professional scholarly standards. Many theorists who have been called "post-structuralist" have rejected the label.