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Extradiscursivity denotes a metaphysical position: that there exists an ‘outside’ of discourse. The extradiscursive is that which lies beyond the bounds of discourse. It suggests a possible ontology that extends beyond discursive formations.

The prefix “extra-” denotes a situatedness that is beyond or outsidethe scope of something. And “discursive”, as the adjective form of the noun “discourse”, denotes a common parlance communicated by the written or spoken word. More notably, however, “discourse” is a technical term used particularly within postmodern and poststructural theories. (That is, the term “discourse” is part of a discourse itself.)


The linguistic turn in western philosophy suggests that our experience and knowledge (of reality) is always given to us – revealed, or unconcealed, as Martin Heidegger claims – in virtue of the creative and meaning-making nature of language. Both informing and following the ‘linguistic turn’ in 20th century continental philosophy, steered in part by Heidegger’s proclamation that ‘language is the house of being’ and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of ‘language games’, both structuralism and poststructuralism suggest that significance or meaning is always a function of or related to linguistic structure.

One theme to emerge from this linguistic turn was a complete refusal to accept metaphysics. Metaphysics, it is said, is merely a product of language. Our reality is constituted in whole by language. Poststructural theories that emphasize discursivity put into question the metaphysical assumptions of essentialism, Platonism, Aristotelian teleology, Rationalism, Empiricism, Materialism, physicalism/reductionism, etc.


Prediscursivity might be seen as an instance of extradiscursivity.For example, one reading of Judith Butler’s work finds that there is the case of a metaphysics of the body that posits a material register that exists logically prior to a discursive register. This kind of materialist metaphysical position suggests that language, along with its effects as embodied performativity of discourse, is logically secondary to the human body as a material substrate. If power inscribes itself on to the body, this suggests that there is a prediscursive materiality to/of the body.

But prediscursivity is but an example of extradiscursivity.


Extradiscursivity, unlike prediscursivity, is not contingent on language (ie. prediscursivity is logically prior to discursivity).

Some allusions to extradiscursivity might be found in Sigmund Freud’s unconscious, Henri Bergson’s cone of memory, John Dewey’s image, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s body, and Gilles Deleuze’s virtual. Also, whereas the prediscursive invokes a transcendental, the extradiscursive suggests immanence.

One example of extradiscursivity might be found in Michel Foucault’s notion of power. Here the term extradiscursivity denotes the possibility that there exists something outside of discourse. According to Foucault, discourse is a field of knowledge that, as knowledge, is inextricably laden or produced with power. A discourse, a field of knowledge, is always inextricably power-laden or is itself expressing power. While Foucault suggests that discourse is always inextricably power-laden or interwoven with power, it needn’t follow that power is always interwoven with discourse. That is, power is extradiscursive.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1990/1999.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. What is Philosophy? Trans. Hugh Tomlinson & Graham Burchell. Columbia University Press, 1991.

––––––––––––––– A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi, 1980.

Foucault, Michel. “The Subject & Power” Power: Essential Works of Foucault 1954 1984. Ed. James D. Faubion. New York: The New Press, 2000.

Martin Heidegger. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson London: SCM Press, 1962.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Blackwell Publishing, 1953/2001.

Authors: Glenn White & Kelly Ladd