:"For the use of structuralism in biology, see
Structuralism (biology)"Structuralism is an approach to the human sciences that attempts to analyze a specific field (for instance, mythology) as a complex system of interrelated parts. It began in linguistics with the work of Ferdinand de Saussure. But many French intellectuals perceived it to have a wider application, and the model was soon modified and applied to other fields, such as anthropology, psychoanalysis, literary theoryand architecture. This ushered in the dawn of structuralism as not just a method, but also an intellectual movement that came to take existentialism's pedestal in 1960s France.
Structuralism enjoyed much popularity, and its general stance of
antihumanismwas in sheer opposition to the Sartrean existentialism that preceded it. But in the 1970s, it came under internal fire from critics who accused it of being too rigid and ahistorical. However, many of structuralism's theorists, from Michel Foucaultto Jacques Lacan, continue to assert an influence on continental philosophy, and many of the fundamental assumptions of its critics, that is, of adherents of poststructuralism, are but a continuation of structuralism.John Sturrock, "Structuralism and Since", Introduction.]
Structuralism isn't only applied within literary theory. There are also structuralist theories that exist within mathematics, philosophy of science, anthropology and in sociology. According to Alison Assiter, there are four common ideas regarding structuralism that form an 'intellectual trend'. Firstly, the structure is what determines the position of each element of a whole. Secondly, structuralists believe that every system has a structure. Thirdly, structuralists are interested in 'structural' laws that deal with coexistence rather than changes. And finally structures are the 'real things' that lie beneath the surface or the appearance of meaning. [Assiter, A 1984, 'Althusser and structuralism', The British journal of sociology, vol. 35, no. 2, Blackwell Publishing, pp.272-296. ]
Structuralism appeared in academia in the second half of the 20th century, and grew to become one of the most popular approaches in academic fields concerned with the analysis of
language, culture, and society. The work of Ferdinand de Saussureconcerning linguisticsis generally considered to be a starting point of structuralism. The term "structuralism" itself appeared in the works of French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and gave rise, in France, to the "structuralist movement," which spurred the work of such thinkers as Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, as well as the structural Marxismof Nicos Poulantzas. Almost all members of this so-called movement denied that they were part of it. Structuralism is closely related to semiotics. Post-structuralismattempted to distinguish itself from the simple use of the structural method. Deconstructionwas an attempt to break with structuralistic thought. Some intellectuals like Julia Kristeva, for example, took structuralism (and Russian formalism) for a starting point to later become prominent post-structuralists. Structuralism has had varying degrees of influence in the social sciences: a great deal in the field of sociology.
Structuralism in linguistics
Ferdinand de Saussurewas the originator of the 20th century structuralism, and evidence of this can be found in " Course in General Linguistics", written by Saussure's colleagues after his death and based on student notes, where he focused not on the use of language ("parole", or speech), but rather on the underlying systemof language ("langue") and called his theory " semiology". However, the discovery of the underlying system had to be done via examination of the parole (speech). As such, Structural Linguistics are actually an early form of " corpus linguistics" (quantification). This approach focused on examining how the elements of language related to each other in the present, that is, 'synchronically' rather than 'diachronically'. Finally, he argued that linguistic signs were composed of two parts, a signifier (the "sound pattern" of a word, either in mental projection - as when we silently recite lines from a poem to ourselves - or in actual, physical realization as part of a speech act) and a signified (the concept or "meaning" of the word). This was quite different from previous approaches which focused on the relationship between words and things in the world that they designate.
Key notions in Structural Linguistics are the notions of
paradigm, syntagm and value, though these notions were not yet fully developed in De Saussure's thought. A structural paradigm is actually a class of linguistic units ( lexemes, morphemesor even constructions) which are possible in a certain position in a given linguistic environment (like a given sentence), which is the syntagm. The different functional role of each of these members of the paradigm is called value ("valeur" in French). Structuralist criticism relates the literary text to a larger overarching structure which may be a particular genre, a range of intertextual connections, a model of a universal narrative structure or a notion of the narrative being a system of recurrent patterns or motifs. [Barry, P 2002, 'Structuralism', Beginning theory: an introduction to literary and cultural theory, Manchester University Press, Manchester, pp. 39-60.]
Saussure's "Course" influenced many linguists between
World War Iand WWII. In America, for instance, Leonard Bloomfielddeveloped his own version of structural linguistics, as did Louis Hjelmslevin Denmark and Alf Sommerfeltin Norway. In France Antoine Meilletand Émile Benvenistewould continue Saussure's program. Most importantly, however, members of the Prague School of linguistics such as Roman Jakobsonand Nikolai Trubetzkoyconducted research that would be greatly influential.
The clearest and most important example of Prague School structuralism lies in
phonemics. Rather than simply compiling a list of which sounds occur in a language, the Prague School sought to examine how they were related. They determined that the inventory of sounds in a language could be analyzed in terms of a series of contrasts. Thus in English the sounds /p/ and /b/ represent distinct phonemesbecause there are cases ( minimal pairs) where the contrast between the two is the only difference between two distinct words (e.g. 'pat' and 'bat'). Analyzing sounds in terms of contrastive features also opens up comparative scope - it makes clear, for instance, that the difficulty Japanese speakers have differentiating /r/ and /l/ in English is because these sounds are not contrastive in Japanese. While this approach is now standard in linguistics, it was revolutionary at the time. Phonologywould become the paradigmatic basis for structuralism in a number of different.
Structuralism in anthropology and sociology
According to structural theory in anthropology and social anthropology, meaning is produced and reproduced within a culture through various practices, phenomena and activities which serve as systems of signification. A structuralist studies activities as diverse as food preparation and serving rituals, religious rites, games, literary and non-literary texts, and other forms of entertainment to discover the deep structures by which meaning is produced and reproduced within a culture. For example, an early and prominent practitioner of structuralism, anthropologist and ethnographer
Claude Lévi-Straussin the 1950s, analyzed cultural phenomena including mythology, kinship (the Alliance theoryand the incest taboo), and food preparation (see also structural anthropology). In addition to these studies, he produced more linguistically-focused writings where he applied Saussure's distinction between "langue" and "parole" in his search for the fundamental mental structures of the human mind, arguing that the structures that form the "deep grammar" of society originate in the mind and operate in us unconsciously. Levi-Strauss was inspired by information theoryFact|date=April 2008 and mathematicsFact|date=April 2008.
Another concept was borrowed from the Prague school of linguistics, where
Roman Jakobsonand others analysed sounds based on the presence or absence of certain features (such as voiceless vs. voiced). Levi-Strauss included this in his conceptualization of the universal structures of the mind, which he held to operate based on pairs of binary oppositions such as hot-cold, male-female, culture-nature, cooked-raw, or marriageable vs. tabooed women. A third influence came from Marcel Mauss, who had written on gift exchange systems. Based on Mauss, for instance, Lévi-Strauss argued that kinship systems are based on the exchange of women between groups (a position known as 'alliance theory') as opposed to the 'descent' based theory described by Edward Evans-Pritchardand Meyer Fortes.
While replacing Marcel Mauss at his "
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes" chair, Lévi-Strauss' writing became widely popular in the 1960s and 1970s and gave rise to the term "structuralism" itself. In Britain authors such as Rodney Needhamand Edmund Leachwere highly influenced by structuralism. Authors such as Maurice Godelierand Emmanuel Terraycombined Marxismwith structural anthropology in France. In the United States, authors such as Marshall Sahlinsand James Boonbuilt on structuralism to provide their own analysis of human society. Structural anthropology fell out of favour in the early 1980s for a number of reasons. D'Andrade (1995) suggests that structuralism in anthropology was eventually abandoned because it made unverifiable assumptions about the universal structures of the human mind. Authors such as Eric Wolfargued that political economyand colonialismshould be more at the forefront of anthropology. More generally, criticisms of structuralism by Pierre Bourdieuled to a concern with how cultural and social structures were changed by human agency and practice, a trend which Sherry Ortnerhas referred to as 'practice theory'.
Some anthropological theorists, however, while finding considerable fault with Lévi-Strauss's version of structuralism, did not turn away from a fundamental structural basis for human culture. The
Biogenetic Structuralismgroup for instance argued that some kind of structural foundation for culture must exist because all humans inherit the same system of brain structures. They proposed a kind of Neuroanthropologywhich would lay the foundations for a more complete scientific account of cultural similarity and variation by requiring an integration of cultural anthropologyand neuroscience--a program also embraced by such theorists as Victor Turner.
Structuralism in literary theory and literary criticism
literary theory, structuralism is an approach to analyzing the narrative material by examining the underlying invariant structure. For example, a literary critic applying a structuralist literary theory might say that the authors of " West Side Story" did not write anything "really" new, because their work has the same structure as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In both texts a girl and a boy fall in love (a "formula" with a symbolic operator between them would be "Boy + Girl") despite the fact that they belong to two groups that hate each other ("Boy's Group - Girl's Group" or "Opposing forces") and conflict is resolved by their death.
The versatility of structuralism is such that a literary critic could make the same claim about a story of two "friendly" families ("Boy's Family + Girl's Family") that arrange a marriage between their children despite the fact that the children hate each other ("Boy - Girl") and then the children commit suicide to escape the arranged marriage; the justification is that the second story's structure is an 'inversion' of the first story's structure: the relationship between the values of love and the two pairs of parties involved have been reversed.
Structuralistic literary criticism argues that the "novelty value of a literary text" can lie only in new structure, rather than in the specifics of character development and voice in which that structure is expressed. One branch of literary structuralism, like
Freudianism, Marxism, and transformational grammar, posits both a deep and a surface structure. In Freudianism and Marxism the deep structure is a story, in Freud's case the battle, ultimately, between the life and death instincts, and in Marx, the conflicts between classes that are rooted in the economic "base."
Literary structuralism often follows the lead of
Vladimir Proppand Claude Levi-Straussin seeking out basic deep elements in stories and myths, which are combined in various ways to produce the many versions of the ur-story or ur-myth. As in Freud and Marx, but in contrast to transformational grammar, these basic elements are meaning-bearing.
There is considerable similarity between structural literary theory and
Northrop Frye's archetypal criticism, which is also indebted to the anthropological study of myths. Some critics have also tried to apply the theory to individual works, but the effort to find unique structures in individual literary works runs counter to the structuralist program and has an affinity with New Criticism.
The other branch of literary structuralism is
semiotics, and it is based on the work of Ferdinand de Saussure.
Structuralism after World War II
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s,
existentialismlike that propounded by Jean-Paul Sartrewas the dominant mood. Structuralism surged to prominence in France after WWII and particularly in the 1960s. The initial popularity of structuralism in France led it to spread across the globe. The social sciences (in particular, sociology) were particularly influenced.
Structuralism rejected the concept of human freedom and choice and focused instead on the way that human behavior is determined by various structures. The most important initial work on this score was
Claude Lévi-Strauss's 1949 volume " Elementary Structures of Kinship". Lévi-Strauss had known Jakobson during their time together in New York during WWII and was influenced by both Jakobson's structuralism as well as the American anthropological tradition. In "Elementary Structures" he examined kinshipsystems from a structural point of view and demonstrated how apparently different social organizations were in fact different permutations of a few basic kinship structures. In the late 1950s he published " Structural Anthropology", a collection of essays outlining his program for structuralism.
By the early 1960s structuralism as a movement was coming into its own and some believed that it offered a single unified approach to human life that would embrace all disciplines.
Roland Barthesand Jacques Derridafocused on how structuralism could be applied to literature.
Blending Freud and De Saussure, the French (post)structuralist
Jacques Lacanapplied structuralism to psychoanalysisand, in a different way, Jean Piagetapplied structuralism to the study of psychology. But Jean Piaget, who would better define himself as constructivist, considers structuralism as "a method and not a doctrine" because for him "there exists no structure without a construction, abstract or genetic" [Jean Piaget, "Le structuralisme", ed. PUF, 1968] Michel Foucault's book "The Order of Things" examined the history of scienceto study how structures of epistemology, or episteme, shaped the way in which people imagined knowledge and knowing (though Foucault would later explicitly deny affiliation with the structuralist movement).
In much the same way, American historian of science
Thomas Kuhnaddressed the structural formations of science in his seminal work " The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" - its title alone evincing a stringent structuralist approach. Though less concerned with "episteme," Kuhn nonetheless remarked at how coteries of scientists operated under and applied a standard praxis of 'normal science,' deviating from a standard 'paradigm' only in instances of irreconcilable anomalies that question a significant body of their work.
Blending Marx and structuralism another French theorist
Louis Althusserintroduced his own brand of structural social analysis, giving rise to " structural Marxism". Other authors in France and abroad have since extended structural analysis to practically every discipline.
The definition of 'structuralism' also shifted as a result of its popularity. As its popularity as a movement waxed and waned, some authors considered themselves 'structuralists' only to later eschew the label.
The term has slightly different meanings in French and English. In the US, for instance, Derrida is considered the paradigm of
post-structuralismwhile in France he is labeled a structuralist.Fact|date=December 2007 Finally, some authors wrote in several different styles. Barthes, for instance, wrote some books which are clearly structuralist and others which clearly are not.
Reactions to structuralism
Today structuralism is less popular than approaches such as
post-structuralismand deconstruction. There are many reasons for this. Structuralism has often been criticized for being ahistorical and for favoring deterministic structural forces over the ability of individual people to act. As the political turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s (and particularly the student uprisings of May 1968) began affecting academia, issues of power and political struggle moved to the center of people's attention. The ethnologist Robert Jaulindefined another ethnological method which clearly pitted itself against structuralism.
In the 1980s,
deconstructionand its emphasis on the fundamental ambiguity of language--rather than its crystalline logical structure--became popular. By the end of the century structuralism was seen as a historically important school of thought, but it was the movements it spawned, rather than structuralism itself, which commanded attention.
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