Binary Oppositions (1728 words)

Literary/ Cultural Context Essay

  • Sorcha Fogarty (University College Cork)


In order to gain a clear understanding of the term “binary opposition” it is of primary importance to acknowledge its origins in Saussurean structuralist theory. According to Ferdinand de Saussure, the binary opposition is the “means by which the units of language have value or meaning; each unit is defined against what it is not”. Essentially, the concept of the binary opposition is engendered by the Western propensity to organize everything into a hierarchical structure; terms and concepts are related to positives or negatives, with no apparent latitude for deviation: i.e. Man/Woman, Black/White, Life/Death, Inside/Outside, Presence/Absence, and so on. Thus, the binary opposition is fundamentally a structurally derived …

Fogarty, Sorcha. "Binary Oppositions". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 15 February 2005
[, accessed 28 October 2016.]