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foundationalism


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Theories granting ontological priority to certain ‘foundational’ entities which are regarded as givens or first principles. Various theorists assign causal priority to God, material reality, perception, human nature, language, society, ideology, technology, and so on, raising the problem of how we are to explain these entities and their origins. Common sense suggests that reality exists prior to and outside signification. In a naïve realist form, materialism posits a materiality prior to signification and attributes to it causal primacy. Essentialism grants an ontological status prior to and independent of language to some ‘essence’. Althusser declared that ideology was always-already given. Structuralism involved an attack on foundationalism, emphasizing that ‘reality’ is a construct and that there is no way in which we can stand outside language. However, both structuralists and poststructuralists thus give priority and determining power to language—which pre-exists all individuals. This is sometimes expressed as the primacy of the signifier. Social determinists reject the causal priority given to language by linguistic determinists and to technology by technological determinists. Derrida dismissed as ‘metaphysical’ any conceptual hierarchy which is founded on a sacrosanct first principle and his deconstructive strategy was directed against such priorism. Some theorists would argue that while we may become more conscious of foundationalism it may nevertheless be as inescapable as ‘which came first—the chicken or the egg?’

Subjects: Media Studies.


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