Is Deconstruction Justice?


Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) is famous for his concept of Deconstruction. His concept puts a name to how the use of language in a conversation can change a meaning and the context of a word or statement which was thought to have a fixed meaning. Deconstruction can happen at random and is unpredictable and has the ability to develop new meanings by reorganizing language and opening it up for new patterns and meanings. Deconstruction allows language to not be set and to forever be changeable. I believe this ability is very important to keep in mind. There are many aspects in language that can be misinterpreted and the outcome of a statement can be understood differently by different people by the how the words within a statement is defined. An example of this misunderstanding can be using direct translations of one language to another. The same words may not have the same meaning from culture to culture.

A part of deconstruction is not to naturalize what is not natural. We cannot assume that events which happened in our history or what has shaped our society is natural. Deconstruction does not diminish or dissolve the purpose and legitimacy one is trying to communicate. Deconstruction can change the nature of the subject, however it does not deconstruct or reconstruct per se. Deconstruction is the theory of analyzing all the hidden assumptions in the use of language, most importantly, deconstruction is the attempt at opening up something that is already constructed. Derrida wanted to give title to when you want to deconstruct concepts even when they appear to be fixed.

From my understanding of deconstruction, it is exhausting to deconstruct the term ‘justice’. We are forever defining the meaning to justice as well as the words within the definition. Within different cultures and at different periods in time, the definitions to justice differ. I agree with Derrida that justice is undeconstructable, however I disagree that deconstruction is justice. There are many ways where deconstruction is useful to find the outcome of justice. For example, in Canada we have a judge determine what is just. A judge uses past case law as well as has the flexibility to treat each case as an individual. The judge deconstructs the law, as in the law does not follow simply one rule. Law can be deconstructed, where justice cannot.

Both deconstruction and justice are forward looking as well as they both make meaning through the use of language. They both present a key concept, and should both use humility within their definitions. Therefore one can argue they are similar in a figurative way. If deconstruction is synonymous with justice, just as summer is with sunburns, then I have to conclude that I disagree that deconstruction is justice. However it does play an important part in dissecting the language used to ensure a just justice is obtained.

I found a documentary done on Derrida which was very interesting to learn more about him.

The following site is an easy read on Derrida and his work;

The following site describes Derridas work in very simple language;


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One response to “Is Deconstruction Justice?

  1. You note that “An example of this misunderstanding can be using direct translations of one language to another. The same words may not have the same meaning from culture to culture.”

    This is an important point. Contemporary criminological theory is characterized by a sprit of ‘borrowing and remixing’, and this often crosses linguistic borders. In this class, we have studied several concepts that have french roots, for example, and sometimes meaning gets lost in translation. Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish’ is originally titled ‘Surveiller et Punir’, with surveiller being difficult to directly translate to English (we could say ‘to surveil’, or ‘to watch over from above’). Agamben’s work, on the other hand, is full of latin and italian concepts that are imported without translation in English editions – homo sacer, Iustitium, etc.

    I find that this gets particularly tricky when dealing with the literature on policing and security. ‘Police’, especially when used as a verb, has different connotations in English and French. When Foucault writes about ‘police’, for instance, he is referring to a range of practices associated with governing a city – and not to the specific institution of ‘the police’ that comes to mind when we use this term in english. In english-speaking Canada, our federal police force is known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The term ‘police’, used in this title, is understood to mean the same thing as the term ‘police’, used in the title ‘Vancouver Police Department’. But in french-speaking Canada, the RCMP’s official title is the Gendarmerie royale du Canada (GRC). Historically, the term gendarmerie has been associated with a centralized, militarized, state-controlled police / security organization. It is not interchangeable with the term ‘police’.

    But I digress …

    This is an interesting post! Thanks for including some helpful resources for other readers.