AskDefine | Define superstructure

Dictionary Definition

superstructure n : structure consisting of the part of a ship above the main deck

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Any structure built above the top full deck. (FM 55-501).
  2. Any material structure or edifice built on something else; that which is raised on a foundation or basis
  3. all that part of a building above the basement. Also used figuratively.
  4. Railroad The sleepers, and fastenings, in distinction from the roadbed.


nautical: structure above deck

Extensive Definition

A superstructure is an upward extension of an existing structure above a baseline. This term is applied both to physical structures like buildings, bridges or ships and to conceptual structures as well (e.g., in social sciences). The word superstructure is a combination of super (Latin for above, in addition) with the word structure (also from Latin, meaning to build or to heap up).

Social sciences

In social sciences, superstructure is the set of socio-psychological feedback loops that maintain a coherent and meaningful structure in a given society, or part thereof. It can include the culture, institutions, power structures, roles, and rituals of the society. It is that which, through conditioned behaviors (both interpersonal and situational), enforces a set of constraints and guidelines on human activity in a stable and effective fashion, such that it engenders a society's characteristic organization, and it is that characteristic organization itself.
By most sociological schema, superstructure does not refer to the specific materials of an organization, such as a school or a store, but rather to the set of psychological or semantic configurations whereby that structure is rationalized and reproduced in human experience. That is, it is the "invisible force" behind or within the structure, or perhaps, it is the anthropocentric "reason" for the structure.
According to one sociological perspective, superstructure may be revealed by examining the direct interpersonal engagements that take place within canonical (typical) settings or situations, through the hermeneutic of sociobiology.
In order to improve seismic performance of buildings and bridges, a superstructure may be separated from its basement or footing, called here a substructure, with a system of earthquake protective devices called base isolation.


As stated above, superstructure is material which projects above the main deck. However, the term superstructure should be used carefully, as this only applies to structure which stretches for the full breadth of the vessel; otherwise the structure is known as a deck house. Superstructure can have many implications on ships, as it can greatly alter its structural rigidity and a vessel’s displacement, which can be detrimental to a ship’s performance if considered incorrectly. The superstructure on a vessel also affects the amount of freeboard that a vessel requires. Very broadly, the more superstructure a ship has (as a fraction of length), the less freeboard is needed.


In mathematics, the superstructure over a set S is used in one of the approaches to non-standard analysis. The notion is also used in the construction of a universal set.

Marxist concept

Within Marxist social theory, superstructure is the particular form through which human subjectivity engages with the material substance of society.


  • Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
superstructure in French: Superstructure
superstructure in Italian: Sovrastruttura
superstructure in Thai: โครงสร้างส่วนบน
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