Structuralism and other fields


Wilhelm Wundt : 

conscious mental life can be broken down into fundamental elements which then form more complex mental structures.


Ferdinand de Saussure book Course in General Linguistics.

Focused not on the use of language (parole, or talk), but rather on the underlying system of language and called his theory semiotics

The idea of the Signifier (the sound pattern of a word) and the Signifed ((the concept or meaning of the word).



Claude Lévi-Strauss

In the 1950s, analyzed cultural phenomena including mythology, kinship, and food preparation.

Levi-Strauss was inspired by information theory and mathematics.

Binary Oppositions


General Principles on Structuralism


1. Meaning occurs through difference. Meaning is not identification of the sign with object in the real world or with some pre-existent concept or essential reality; rather it is generated by difference among signs in a signifying system.


2. Structuralism notes that much of our imaginative world is structured of, and structured by, binary oppositions which structure meaning.


3. Structuralism forms the basis for semiotics (the study of signs)  which say that the sign is a union between the signifier and the signified.


4. Central too to semiotics is the idea of codes, which give signs context -- cultural codes, literary codes, etc.


By: Adnan Al-Sharrah





Structuralists believe that things cannot be understood in isolation – they have to be seen in the context of the larger structures they are part of. Thus to understand a work of literature you have to situate it in the larger context of its genre, its theme, etc.


These structures are imposed by our way of perceiving the world rather than objective entities already existing in the external world.


Structuralism is not a set of beliefs, but two complementary practices: analysis and synthesis.  The structuralist analyzes the products of human making into their smallest significant component parts, then tries to discover the principles of their articulation – how the parts fit together and function.


Two developments into analyzing systems of symbols lead to Structuralism:

Charles Pierce’s Semiotics, analyzing the sign system into iconic signs, indexes and true symbols

Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic theory stating that language systems are based on differences and distinctions:

Langue (system of language) vs. parole (instances of speech). A linguist infers a language’s langue by analyzing many instances of parole.

synchronic (study of language at a specific time) vs. diachronic (study of changes within language). Saussure introduced the synchronic without neglecting the diachronic.

paradigmata (relation of items within the same category) vs. syntagmata (relation of items from different categories in a meaningful structure)

emes or basic units (locating the individual units of meaning within a system of differences): phonemes (smallest sound in language; like the p in pin), and morphemes (the smallest part that has lexical or grammatical meaning; like in painter, paint is the lexical morpheme, er is the grammatical morpheme)


Roman Jakobson: six factors defining the six functions of communication:

A sender (emotive function), having made contact (phatic function) with a receiver (conative function), sends a message (poetic function) about some external context (referential function) using a code (metalinguistic function).


Claude Lévi-Strauss used language-data to verify social rules, thus he was interested in mythology as the richest source of symbols, seeing myths as the way the savage mind (the untamed mind within all of us) gives order to the world.


Jonathan Culler: Structuralism shouldn’t search for new interpretations of texts but rather investigate how interpretation takes place.  He states that structuralism should analyze the literary langue rather than investigate the parole.