structuralism

structuralism
structuralist, n., adj.structuralistic, adj.
/struk"cheuhr euh liz'euhm/, n.
1. any theory that embodies structural principles.
[1945-50; STRUCTURAL + -ISM]

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European critical movement of the mid-20th century.

It is based on the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure, which hold that language is a self-contained system of signs, and the cultural theories of Claude Lévi-Strauss, which hold that cultures, like languages, can be viewed as systems of signs and analyzed in terms of the structural relations among their elements. Central to structuralism is the notion that binary oppositions (e.g., male/female, public/private, cooked/raw) reveal the unconscious logic or "grammar" of a system. Literary structuralism views literary texts as systems of interrelated signs and seeks to make explicit their hidden logic. Prominent figures in the structuralist movement are Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Roman Jakobson, and Roland Barthes. Areas of study that have adopted and developed structuralist premises and methodologies include semiotics and narratology. See also deconstruction.

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      in cultural anthropology, the school of thought developed by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (Lévi-Strauss, Claude), in which cultures, viewed as systems, are analyzed in terms of the structural relations among their elements. According to Lévi-Strauss's theories, universal patterns in cultural systems are products of the invariant structure of the human mind. Structure, for Lévi-Strauss, referred exclusively to mental structure, although he found evidence of such structure in his far-ranging analyses of kinship, patterns in mythology, art, religion, ritual, and culinary traditions.

      The basic framework of Lévi-Strauss's theories was derived from the work of structural linguistics. From N.S. Trubetzkoy, the founder of structural linguistics, Lévi-Strauss developed his focus on unconscious infrastructure as well as an emphasis on the relationship between terms, rather than on terms as entities in themselves. From the work of Roman Jakobson (Jakobson, Roman), of the same school of linguistic thought, Lévi-Strauss adopted the so-called distinctive feature method of analysis, which postulates that an unconscious “metastructure” emerges through the human mental process of pairing opposites. In Lévi-Strauss's system the human mind is viewed as a repository of a great variety of natural material, from which it selects pairs of elements that can be combined to form diverse structures. Pairs of oppositions can be separated into singular elements for use in forming new oppositions.

      In analyzing kinship terminology and kinship systems, the accomplishment that first brought him to preeminence in anthropology, Lévi-Strauss suggested that the elementary structure, or unit of kinship, on which all systems are built is a set of four types of organically linked relationships: brother/sister, husband/wife, father/son, and mother's brother/sister's son. Lévi-Strauss stressed that the emphasis in structural analysis of kinship must be on human consciousness, not on objective ties of descent or consanguinity. For him, all forms of social life represent the operation of universal laws regulating the activities of the mind. His detractors argued that his theory could be neither tested nor proved and that his lack of interest in historical processes represented a fundamental oversight. Lévi-Strauss, however, believed that structural similarities underlie all cultures and that an analysis of the relationships among cultural units could provide insight into innate and universal principles of human thought.

      in linguistics, any one of several schools of 20th-century linguistics committed to the structuralist principle that a language is a self-contained relational structure, the elements of which derive their existence and their value from their distribution and oppositions in texts or discourse. This principle was first stated clearly, for linguistics, by the Swiss scholar Ferdinand de Saussure (Saussure, Ferdinand de) (1857–1913). Saussurean structuralism was further developed in somewhat different directions by the Prague school, glossematics, and other European movements.

      In the United States the term structuralism, or structural linguistics, has had much the same sense as it has had in Europe in relation to the work of Franz Boas (1858–1942) and Edward Sapir (1884–1939) and their followers. Nowadays, however, it is commonly used, in a narrower sense, to refer to the so-called post-Bloomfieldian school of language analysis that follows the methods of Leonard Bloomfield (Bloomfield, Leonard), developed after 1930. Phonology (the study of sound systems) and morphology (the study of word structure) are their primary fields of interest. Little work on semantics has been done by structural linguists because of their belief that the field is too difficult or elusive to describe.

      in psychology, a systematic movement founded in Germany by Wilhelm Wundt (Wundt, Wilhelm) (1832–1920) and mainly identified with Edward B. Titchener (Titchener, Edward Bradford) (1867–1927). Structuralism sought to analyze the adult mind (defined as the sum total of experience from birth to the present) in terms of the simplest definable components and then to find the way in which these components fit together in complex forms.

      The major tool of structuralist psychology was introspection (a careful set of observations made under controlled conditions by trained observers using a stringently defined descriptive vocabulary). Titchener held that an experience should be evaluated as a fact, as it exists without analyzing the significance or value of that experience. For him, the “anatomy of the mind” had little to do with how or why the mind functions. In his major treatise, A Textbook of Psychology (1909–10), he stated that the only elements necessary to describe the conscious experience are sensation and affection (feeling). The thought process essentially was deemed an occurrence of sensations of the current experience and feelings representing a prior experience.

      Although structuralism represented the emergence of psychology as a field separate from philosophy, the structural school lost considerable influence when Titchener died. The movement led, however, to the development of several counter-movements (i.e., functionalism, behaviourism, and Gestalt psychology) that tended to react strongly to European trends in the field of experimental psychology. Behaviour and personality were beyond the scope considered by structuralism. In separating meaning from the facts of experience, structuralism opposed the phenomenological tradition of Franz Brentano's act psychology and Gestalt psychology, as well as the functionalist school and Watson's behaviourism. Serving as a catalyst to functionalism, structuralism was always a minority school of psychology in America.

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Universalium. 2010.

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