In sociology, anthropology, and linguistics, structuralism is the methodology that implies elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader, overarching system or structure. It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel. Alternatively, as summarized by philosopher Simon Blackburn, structuralism is "the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract structure".[1]

Structuralism in Europe developed in the early 1900s, in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague,[2] Moscow[2] and Copenhagen schools of linguistics. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when structural linguistics were facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance, an array of scholars in the humanities borrowed Saussure's concepts for use in their respective fields of study. French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss was arguably the first such scholar, sparking a widespread interest in structuralism.[1]

The structuralist mode of reasoning has been applied in a diverse range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary criticism, economics and architecture. The most prominent thinkers associated with structuralism include Claude Lévi-Strauss, linguist Roman Jakobson, and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. As an intellectual movement, structuralism was initially presumed to be the heir apparent to existentialism.[3] However, by the late 1960s, many of structuralism's basic tenets came under attack from a new wave of predominantly French intellectuals such as the philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, the philosopher Jacques Derrida, the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, and the literary critic Roland Barthes.[2] Though elements of their work necessarily relate to structuralism and are informed by it, these theorists have generally been referred to as post-structuralists. In the 1970s, structuralism was criticized for its rigidity and ahistoricism. Despite this, many of structuralism's proponents, such as Lacan, continue to assert an influence on continental philosophy and many of the fundamental assumptions of some of structuralism's post-structuralist critics are a continuation of structuralism.[4]


The term "structuralism" is a related term that describes a particular philosophical/literary movement or moment. The term appeared in the works of French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and gave rise in France to the "structuralist movement," which influenced the thinking of other writers such as Louis Althusser, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, as well as the structural Marxism of Nicos Poulantzas, most of whom disavowed themselves as being a part of this movement.

The origins of structuralism connect with the work of Ferdinand de Saussure on linguistics, along with the linguistics of the Prague and Moscow schools. In brief, Saussure's structural linguistics propounded three related concepts.[1]

  1. Saussure argued for a distinction between langue (an idealized abstraction of language) and parole (language as actually used in daily life). He argued that the "sign" was composed of both a signified, an abstract concept or idea, and a "signifier", the perceived sound/visual image.
  2. Because different languages have different words to describe the same objects or concepts, there is no intrinsic reason why a specific sign is used to express a given signifier. It is thus "arbitrary".
  3. Signs thus gain their meaning from their relationships and contrasts with other signs. As he wrote, "in language, there are only differences 'without positive terms.'"[5]

Proponents of structuralism would argue that a specific domain of culture may be understood by means of a structure—modelled on language—that is distinct both from the organizations of reality and those of ideas or the imagination—the "third order".[6] In Lacan's psychoanalytic theory, for example, the structural order of "the Symbolic" is distinguished both from "the Real" and "the Imaginary"; similarly, in Althusser's Marxist theory, the structural order of the capitalist mode of production is distinct both from the actual, real agents involved in its relations and from the ideological forms in which those relations are understood.

Blending Freud and Saussure, the French (post)structuralist Jacques Lacan applied structuralism to psychoanalysis and, in a different way, Jean Piaget applied 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".[7]

Although the French theorist Louis Althusser is often associated with a brand of structural social analysis which helped give rise to "structural Marxism", such association was contested by Althusser himself in the Italian foreword to the second edition of Reading Capital. In this foreword Althusser states the following:

Despite the precautions we took to distinguish ourselves from the 'structuralist' ideology ..., despite the decisive intervention of categories foreign to 'structuralism' ..., the terminology we employed was too close in many respects to the 'structuralist' terminology not to give rise to an ambiguity. With a very few exceptions ... our interpretation of Marx has generally been recognized and judged, in homage to the current fashion, as 'structuralist'... We believe that despite the terminological ambiguity, the profound tendency of our texts was not attached to the 'structuralist' ideology.[8]

In a later development, feminist theorist Alison Assiter enumerated four ideas that she says are common to the various forms of structuralism. First, that a structure determines the position of each element of a whole. Second, that every system has a structure. Third, structural laws deal with co-existence rather than change. Fourth, structures are the "real things" that lie beneath the surface or the appearance of meaning.[9]

In linguistics

In Course in General Linguistics the analysis focuses not on the use of language (called "parole", or speech), but rather on the underlying system of language (called "langue"). This approach examines how the elements of language relate to each other in the present, synchronically rather than diachronically. Saussure argued that linguistic signs were composed of two parts:

  1. a "signifier" (the "sound pattern" of a word, either in mental projection—as when one silently recites lines from signage, a poem to one's self—or in actual, any kind of text, physical realization as part of a speech act)
  2. a "signified" (the concept or meaning of the word)

This was quite different from previous approaches that focused on the relationship between words and the things in the world that they designate.[10] Other key notions in structural linguistics include paradigm, syntagm, and value (though these notions were not fully developed in Saussure's thought). A structural "idealism" is a class of linguistic units (lexemes, morphemes or even constructions) that are possible in a certain position in a given linguistic environment (such as a given sentence), which is called the "syntagm". The different functional role of each of these members of the paradigm is called "value" (valeur in French).

Saussure's Course influenced many linguists between World War I and World War II. In the United States, for instance, Leonard Bloomfield developed his own version of structural linguistics, as did Louis Hjelmslev in Denmark and Alf Sommerfelt in Norway. In France Antoine Meillet and Émile Benveniste continued Saussure's project, and members of the Prague school of linguistics such as Roman Jakobson and Nikolai Trubetzkoy conducted research that would be greatly influential. However, by the 1950s Saussure's linguistic concepts were under heavy criticism and were soon largely abandoned by practicing linguists:

Saussure's views are not held, so far as I know, by modern linguists, only by literary critics and the occasional philosopher. [Strict adherence to Saussure] has elicited wrong film and literary theory on a grand scale. One can find dozens of books of literary theory bogged down in signifiers and signifieds, but only a handful that refer to Chomsky.[11]

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 analysed in terms of a series of contrasts. Thus in English the sounds /p/ and /b/ represent distinct phonemes because 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. Phonology would become the paradigmatic basis for structuralism in a number of different fields.

In anthropology

According to structural theory in anthropology and social anthropology, meaning is produced and reproduced within a culture through various practices, phenomena and activities that serve as systems of signification. A structuralist approach may study 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 the culture. For example, Lévi-Strauss analysed in the 1950s cultural phenomena including mythology, kinship (the alliance theory and the incest taboo), and food preparation. In addition to these studies, he produced more linguistically focused writings in which he applied Saussure's distinction between langue and parole in his search for the fundamental structures of the human mind, arguing that the structures that form the "deep grammar" of society originate in the mind and operate in people unconsciously. Lévi-Strauss took inspiration from mathematics.[12]

Another concept used in structural anthropology came from the Prague school of linguistics, where Roman Jakobson and others analysed sounds based on the presence or absence of certain features (such as voiceless vs. voiced). Lévi-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 (1872–1950), 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-Pritchard and 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 Needham and Edmund Leach were highly influenced by structuralism. Authors such as Maurice Godelier and Emmanuel Terray combined Marxism with structural anthropology in France. In the United States, authors such as Marshall Sahlins and James Boon built 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 suggests that this was because it made unverifiable assumptions about the universal structures of the human mind. Authors such as Eric Wolf argued that political economy and colonialism should be at the forefront of anthropology. More generally, criticisms of structuralism by Pierre Bourdieu led to a concern with how cultural and social structures were changed by human agency and practice, a trend which Sherry Ortner has 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 Structuralism group 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 neuroanthropology which would lay the foundations for a more complete scientific account of cultural similarity and variation by requiring an integration of cultural anthropology and neuroscience—a program that theorists such as Victor Turner also embraced.

In literary theory and criticism

In literary theory, structuralist criticism relates literary texts to a larger structure, which may be a particular genre, a range of intertextual connections, a model of a universal narrative structure, or a system of recurrent patterns or motifs.[13][14]Structuralism argues that there must be a structure in every text, which explains why it is easier for experienced readers than for non-experienced readers to interpret a text. Hence, everything that is written seems to be governed by specific rules, or a "grammar of literature", that one learns in educational institutions and that are to be unmasked.[15]

A potential problem of structuralist interpretation is that it can be highly reductive, as scholar Catherine Belsey puts it: "the structuralist danger of collapsing all difference."[16] An example of such a reading might be if a student concludes 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. Structuralist readings focus on how the structures of the single text resolve inherent narrative tensions. If a structuralist reading focuses on multiple texts, there must be some way in which those texts unify themselves into a coherent system. 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 "literary banter of a text" can lie only in new structure, rather than in the specifics of character development and voice in which that structure is expressed. Literary structuralism often follows the lead of Vladimir Propp, Algirdas Julien Greimas, and Claude Lévi-Strauss in seeking out basic deep elements in stories, myths, and more recently, anecdotes, which are combined in various ways to produce the many versions of the ur-story or ur-myth.

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.

History and background

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, existentialism, such as that propounded by Jean-Paul Sartre, was the dominant European intellectual movement. Structuralism rose to prominence in France in the wake of existentialism, particularly in the 1960s. The initial popularity of structuralism in France led to its spread across the globe.

Structuralism rejected the concept of human freedom and choice and focused instead on the way that human experience and thus, behaviour, is determined by various structures. The most important initial work on this score was Claude Lévi-Strauss's 1949 volume The Elementary Structures of Kinship. Lévi-Strauss had known Jakobson during their time together at the New School 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 kinship systems 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 Barthes and Jacques Derrida focused on how structuralism could be applied to literature.

The so-called "Gang of Four" of structuralism was Lévi-Strauss, Lacan, Barthes, and Foucault.[17]

Interpretations and general criticisms

Structuralism is less popular today than other approaches, such as post-structuralism and deconstruction. Structuralism has often been criticized for being ahistorical and for favouring deterministic structural forces over the ability of 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.[18]

In the 1980s, deconstruction—and 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 an historically important school of thought, but the movements that it spawned, rather than structuralism itself, commanded attention.[19]

Several social thinkers and academics have strongly criticized structuralism or even dismissed it in toto. The French hermeneutic philosopher Paul Ricœur (1969) criticized Lévi-Strauss for constantly overstepping the limits of validity of the structuralist approach, ending up in what Ricœur described as "a Kantianism without a transcendental subject".[20] Anthropologist Adam Kuper (1973) argued that "'Structuralism' came to have something of the momentum of a millennial movement and some of its adherents felt that they formed a secret society of the seeing in a world of the blind. Conversion was not just a matter of accepting a new paradigm. It was, almost, a question of salvation."[21] Philip Noel Pettit (1975) called for an abandoning of "the positivist dream which Lévi-Strauss dreamed for semiology" arguing that semiology is not to be placed among the natural sciences.[22] Cornelius Castoriadis (1975) criticized structuralism as failing to explain symbolic mediation in the social world;[23] he viewed structuralism as a variation on the "logicist" theme, and he argued that, contrary to what structuralists advocate, language—and symbolic systems in general—cannot be reduced to logical organizations on the basis of the binary logic of oppositions.[24] Critical theorist Jürgen Habermas (1985) accused structuralists, such as Foucault, of being positivists; he remarked that while Foucault is not an ordinary positivist, he nevertheless paradoxically uses the tools of science to criticize science[25] (see Performative contradiction and Foucault–Habermas debate). Sociologist Anthony Giddens (1993) is another notable critic; while Giddens draws on a range of structuralist themes in his theorizing, he dismisses the structuralist view that the reproduction of social systems is merely "a mechanical outcome".[26]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Blackburn, Simon (2008). Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, second edition revised. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 353, ISBN 978-0-19-954143-0
  2. ^ a b c Deleuze, Gilles. 2002. "How Do We Recognise Structuralism?" In Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974. Trans. David Lapoujade. Ed. Michael Taormina. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents ser. Los Angeles and New York: Semiotext(e), 2004. 170–192. ISBN 1-58435-018-0: p. 170.
  3. ^ Mambrol, Nasrullah (2016-03-20). "Structuralism". Literary Theory and Criticism Notes. Retrieved 2017-06-29.
  4. ^ John Sturrock (1979), Structuralism and since: from Lévi Strauss to Derrida, Introduction.
  5. ^ F. de Saussure, Cours de linguistique generale, published by C. Bally and A. Sechehaye (Paris: Payot, 1916); English translation by Wade Baskin, Course in General Linguistics (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959), p. 120.
  6. ^ Deleuze, Gilles. 2002. "How Do We Recognise Structuralism?" In Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974. Trans. David Lapoujade. Ed. Michael Taormina. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents ser. Los Angeles and New York: Semiotext(e), 2004. 170–192. ISBN 1-58435-018-0: p. 171–173.
  7. ^ Jean Piaget, Le structuralisme, ed. PUF, 1968.
  8. ^ Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar. Reading Capital trans. Ben Brewster. London: NLB, 1970. p. 7.
  9. ^ Assiter, Alison (June 1984). "Althusser and structuralism". British Journal of Sociology. 35 (2): 272–296. doi:10.2307/590235. JSTOR 590235.
  10. ^ Roy Suryo and Talbot Roosevelt, Landmarks in Linguistic Thought, 1st ed. [1989], pp. 178–179.
  11. ^ Holland, Norman N. (1992) The Critical I, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-07650-9, p. 140.
  12. ^ François Dosse, History of Structuralism: Volume 1: The Rising Sign, 1945-1966, University of Minnesota Press, 1997, p. 24.
  13. ^ Barry, P. (2002), 'Structuralism', Beginning theory: an introduction to literary and cultural theory, Manchester University Press, Manchester, pp. 39–60.
  14. ^ Evgeny Slavutin, Vladimir Pimonov: ‘Plot Structure’. Flinta - Nauka, Moscow 2018
  15. ^ Selden, Raman / Widdowson, Peter / Brooker, Peter: A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory Fifth Edition. Harlow: 2005. p. 76.
  16. ^ Belsey, Catherine. "Literature, History, Politics". Literature and History 9 (1983): 17–27.
  17. ^ Post-Structuralism – LibGuides
  18. ^ J. D. Marshall (ed.), Poststructuralism, Philosophy, Pedagogy, Springer, 2004, p. xviii.
  19. ^ Alan Finlayson and Jeremy Valentine, Politics and post-structuralism: an introduction, Edinburgh University Press, 2002, p. 8.
  20. ^ P. Ricœur. (2004), The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics (originally published in French in 1969 as Le conflit des interprétations: Essais d’herméneutique). Continuum, pp. 49, 78ff.
  21. ^ Kuper, Adam (1973), Anthropologists and Anthropology: The British School 1922–72, Penguin, p. 206.
  22. ^ Pettit, Philip (1975), The Concept of Structuralism: A Critical Analysis, University of California Press, p. 117.
  23. ^ C. Castoriadis (1987), The Imaginary Institution of Society (originally published in French in 1975 as L'institution imaginaire de la société). Cambridge: Polity Press, p. 116–7.
  24. ^ C. Castoriadis (1997), The Imaginary: Creation in the Social-Historical Domain. In: World in Fragments. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 3–18.
  25. ^ Habermas, J. (1990), The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (originally published in German in 1985 as Der Philosophische Diskurs der Moderne), MIT Press, 1990, p. 276.
  26. ^ Giddens, Anthony (1993), New rules of sociological method: A positive critique of interpretative sociologies. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p. 121.

Further reading

Primary sources

20th-century philosophy

20th-century philosophy saw the development of a number of new philosophical schools—including logical positivism, analytic philosophy, phenomenology, existentialism, and poststructuralism. In terms of the eras of philosophy, it is usually labelled as contemporary philosophy (succeeding modern philosophy, which runs roughly from the time of René Descartes until the late 19th to early 20th centuries).

As with other academic disciplines, philosophy increasingly became professionalized in the twentieth century, and a split emerged between philosophers who considered themselves part of either the "analytic" or "Continental" traditions. However, there have been disputes regarding both the terminology and the reasons behind the divide, as well as philosophers who see themselves as bridging the divide, such as process philosophy advocates and neopragmatists. In addition, philosophy in the twentieth century became increasingly technical and harder for lay people to read.

The publication of Edmund Husserl's Logical Investigations (1900–1) and Bertrand Russell's The Principles of Mathematics (1903) is considered to mark the beginning of 20th-century philosophy.


In social theory and philosophy, antihumanism (or anti-humanism) is a theory that is critical of traditional humanism and traditional ideas about humanity and the human condition. Central to antihumanism is the view that concepts of "human nature", "man", or "humanity" should be rejected as historically relative or metaphysical.

Charles Laughlin

Charles D. Laughlin, Jr. (born 1938) is a neuroanthropologist known primarily for having co-founded a school of neuroanthropological theory called "biogenetic structuralism." Laughlin is an emeritus professor of anthropology and religion at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

Constructive empiricism

In philosophy, constructive empiricism (also empiricist structuralism) is a form of empiricism.

Continental philosophy

Continental philosophy is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe. This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and traditions outside the analytic movement. Continental philosophy includes German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism (and its antecedents, such as the thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, French feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and related branches of Western Marxism.It is difficult to identify non-trivial claims that would be common to all the preceding philosophical movements. The term continental philosophy, like analytic philosophy, lacks clear definition and may mark merely a family resemblance across disparate philosophical views. Simon Glendinning has suggested that the term was originally more pejorative than descriptive, functioning as a label for types of western philosophy rejected or disliked by analytic philosophers. Nonetheless, Michael E. Rosen has ventured to identify common themes that typically characterize continental philosophy.

First, continental philosophers generally reject the view that the natural sciences are the only or most accurate way of understanding natural phenomena. This contrasts with many analytic philosophers who consider their inquiries as continuous with, or subordinate to, those of the natural sciences. Continental philosophers often argue that science depends upon a "pre-theoretical substrate of experience" (a version of Kantian conditions of possible experience or the phenomenological "lifeworld") and that scientific methods are inadequate to fully understand such conditions of intelligibility.

Second, continental philosophy usually considers these conditions of possible experience as variable: determined at least partly by factors such as context, space and time, language, culture, or history. Thus continental philosophy tends toward historicism (or historicity). Where analytic philosophy tends to treat philosophy in terms of discrete problems, capable of being analyzed apart from their historical origins (much as scientists consider the history of science inessential to scientific inquiry), continental philosophy typically suggests that "philosophical argument cannot be divorced from the textual and contextual conditions of its historical emergence".

Third, continental philosophy typically holds that human agency can change these conditions of possible experience: "if human experience is a contingent creation, then it can be recreated in other ways". Thus continental philosophers tend to take a strong interest in the unity of theory and practice, and often see their philosophical inquiries as closely related to personal, moral, or political transformation. This tendency is very clear in the Marxist tradition ("philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it"), but is also central in existentialism and post-structuralism.

A final characteristic trait of continental philosophy is an emphasis on metaphilosophy. In the wake of the development and success of the natural sciences, continental philosophers have often sought to redefine the method and nature of philosophy. In some cases (such as German idealism or phenomenology), this manifests as a renovation of the traditional view that philosophy is the first, foundational, a priori science. In other cases (such as hermeneutics, critical theory, or structuralism), it is held that philosophy investigates a domain that is irreducibly cultural or practical. And some continental philosophers (such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, the later Heidegger, or Derrida) doubt whether any conception of philosophy can coherently achieve its stated goals.Ultimately, the foregoing themes derive from a broadly Kantian thesis that knowledge, experience, and reality are bound and shaped by conditions best understood through philosophical reflection rather than exclusively empirical inquiry.

Difference (philosophy)

Difference is a key concept of philosophy, denoting the process or set of properties by which one entity is distinguished from another within a relational field or a given conceptual system. In the Western philosophical system, difference is traditionally viewed as being opposed to identity, following the Principles of Leibniz, and in particular, his Law of the identity of indiscernibles. In structuralist and poststructuralist accounts, however, difference is understood to be constitutive of both meaning and identity. In other words, because identity (particularly, personal identity) is viewed in non-essentialist terms as a construct, and because constructs only produce meaning through the interplay of differences (see below), it is the case that for both structuralism and poststructuralism, identity cannot be said to exist without difference.

Feminist post-structuralist discourse analysis

Feminist post-structuralist discourse analysis (FPDA) is a method of discourse analysis based on Chris Weedon's theories of feminist post-structuralism, and developed as a method of analysis by Judith Baxter in 2003. FPDA is based on a combination of feminism and post-structuralism. While it is still evolving as a methodology, FPDA has been used by a range of international scholars of gender and language to analyse texts such as: classroom discourse (Castañeda-Peña 2008; Sauntson 2012), teenage girls' conversation (Kamada 2008; 2010), and media representations of gender (Baker 2013). FPDA is an approach to analysing the discourse of spoken interaction principally.

The poststructualist part of FPDA views language as social practice and considers that people's identities and relationships are 'performed' through spoken interaction. FPDA analyses the ways in which speakers are 'positioned' by different and often competing 'discourses' according to Michel Foucault's (1972: 49) definition as 'practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak'. According to this, speakers constantly move between powerful and powerless 'subject positions' as they talk and interact. FPDA is influenced by a poststructuralist rather than a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) perspective: that is, the method is informed by the view that no speaker is wholly a victim and powerless, nor wholly dominant and powerful. Rather, speakers are constantly shifting their subject positions according to the interplay of discourses within specific settings. The feminist part of FPDA considers gender difference to be a dominant discourse among competing discourses when analysing all types of text. According to Baxter (2003), FPDA does not have an 'emancipatory' agenda for women but a 'transformative' one. This means that it aims to represent women's voices that have been 'silenced' or marginalised since FPDA considers that these have been historically absent in many cultures. For example, Kamada (2008a; 2008b and 2010) uses FPDA to show how a friendship group of half-Japanese girls, who are seen by their culture as 'less than whole', draw upon competing discourses to negotiate more positive versions of their 'hybrid' ethnic and gender identities.

French philosophy

French philosophy, here taken to mean philosophy in the French language, has been extremely diverse and has influenced Western philosophy as a whole for centuries, from the medieval scholasticism of Peter Abelard, through the founding of modern philosophy by René Descartes, to 20th century philosophy of science, existentialism, phenomenology, structuralism, and postmodernism.

French post-structuralist feminism

French post-structuralist feminism takes post-structuralism and combines it with feminist views and looks to see if a literary work has successfully used the process of mimesis on the image of the female. If successful, then a new image of a woman has been created by a woman for a woman, therefore it is not a biased opinion created by men. Along with Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous is considered one of the mothers of poststructuralist feminist theory. Since the 1990s, these three together with Bracha Ettinger have considerably influenced French feminism and feminist psychoanalysis.


In critical theory, sociology, and psychoanalysis, the philosophic term the gaze (French le regard) describes the act of seeing and the act of being seen. The concept and the social applications of the gaze have been defined and explained by existentialist and phenomenologist philosophers; Jean-Paul Sartre, in Being and Nothingness (1943); Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975) developed the concept of the gaze to illustrate the dynamics of socio-political power relations and the social dynamics of society's mechanisms of discipline; and Jacques Derrida, in The Animal that Therefore I Am (More to Come) (1997) elaborated upon the inter-species relations that exist among animals and human beings, which are established by way of the gaze.


Post-structuralism was either a continuation or a rejection of the intellectual project that preceded it—structuralism. Structuralism proposes that one may understand human culture by means of a structure—modeled on language (structural linguistics)—that differs from concrete reality and from abstract ideas—a "third order" that mediates between the two. Post-structuralist authors all present different critiques of structuralism, but common themes include the rejection of the self-sufficiency of structuralism and an interrogation of the binary oppositions that constitute its structures. Writers whose works are often characterised as post-structuralist include: Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, Jean Baudrillard, Julia Kristeva, and Jürgen Habermas, although many theorists who have been called "post-structuralist" have rejected the label.Existential phenomenology is a significant influence; Colin Davis has argued that post-structuralists might just as accurately be called "post-phenomenologists".


Postmodernism is a broad movement that developed in the mid- to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism, marking a departure from modernism. The term has been more generally applied to the historical era following modernity and the tendencies of this era.

While encompassing a wide variety of approaches, postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection of the meta-narratives and ideologies of modernism, often calling into question various assumptions of Enlightenment rationality. Consequently, common targets of postmodern critique include universalist notions of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, language, and social progress. Postmodern thinkers frequently call attention to the contingent or socially-conditioned nature of knowledge claims and value systems, situating them as products of particular political, historical, or cultural discourses and hierarchies. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence.

Postmodern critical approaches gained purchase in the 1980s and 1990s, and have been adopted in a variety of academic and theoretical disciplines, including cultural studies, philosophy of science, economics, linguistics, architecture, feminist theory, and literary criticism, as well as art movements in fields such as literature and music. Postmodernism is often associated with schools of thought such as deconstruction and post-structuralism, as well as philosophers such as Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and Fredric Jameson.

Criticisms of postmodernism are intellectually diverse, and include assertions that postmodernism promotes obscurantism, and is meaningless, adding nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge.

Roland Barthes

Roland Gérard Barthes (; French: [ʁɔlɑ̃ baʁt]; 12 November 1915 – 26 March 1980) was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of many schools of theory, including structuralism, semiotics, social theory, design theory, anthropology, and post-structuralism.

Structural Marxism

Structural Marxism is an approach to Marxist philosophy based on structuralism, primarily associated with the work of the French philosopher Louis Althusser and his students. It was influential in France during the 1960s and 1970s, and also came to influence philosophers, political theorists and sociologists outside France during the 1970s. Other proponents of structural Marxism were the sociologist Nicos Poulantzas and the anthropologist Maurice Godelier. Many of Althusser's students broke with structural Marxism in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Structural linguistics

Structural linguistics is an approach to linguistics originating from the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and is part of the overall approach of structuralism. Structural linguistics involves collecting a corpus of utterances and then attempting to classify all of the elements of the corpus at their different linguistic levels: the phonemes, morphemes, lexical categories, noun phrases, verb phrases, and sentence types.Saussure's Course in General Linguistics, published posthumously in 1916, stressed examining language as a static system of interconnected units. He is thus known as a father of modern linguistics for bringing about the shift from diachronic (historical) to synchronic (non-historical) analysis, as well as for introducing several basic dimensions of semiotic analysis that are still important today. Two of these are his key methods of syntagmatic and paradigmatic analysis (or 'associations' as Saussure was still calling them), which define units syntactically and lexically, respectively, according to their contrast with the other units in the system.

Structuralism (architecture)

Structuralism is a movement in architecture and urban planning evolved around the middle of the 20th century. It was a reaction to Rationalism's (CIAM-Functionalism) perceived lifeless expression of urban planning that ignored the identity of the inhabitants and urban forms.

Structuralism in a general sense is a mode of thought of the 20th century, which came about in different places, at different times and in different fields. It can also be found in linguistics, anthropology, philosophy and art. At the beginning of the general article Structuralism the following explanations are noted:

"Structuralism is a theoretical paradigm emphasizing that elements of culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure."

Alternately, as summarized by philosopher Simon Blackburn, "Structuralism is the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract culture."

Structuralism (biology)

Biological or process structuralism is a school of biological thought that objects to an exclusively Darwinian or adaptationist explanation of natural selection such as is described in the 20th century's modern synthesis. It proposes instead that evolution is guided differently, basically by more or less physical forces which shape the development of an animal's body, and sometimes implies that these forces supersede selection altogether.

Structuralists have proposed different mechanisms that might have guided the formation of body plans. Before Darwin, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire argued that animals shared homologous parts, and that if one was enlarged, the others would be reduced in compensation. After Darwin, D'Arcy Thompson hinted at vitalism and offered geometric explanations in his classic 1917 book On Growth and Form. Adolf Seilacher suggested mechanical inflation for "pneu" structures in Ediacaran biota fossils such as Dickinsonia. Günter P. Wagner argued for developmental bias, structural constraints on embryonic development. Stuart Kauffman favoured self-organisation, the idea that complex structure emerges holistically and spontaneously from the dynamic interaction of all parts of an organism. Michael Denton argued for laws of form by which Platonic universals or "Types" are self-organised. Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin proposed biological "spandrels", features created as a byproduct of the adaptation of nearby structures. Gerd B. Müller and Stuart A. Newman argued that the appearance in the fossil record of most of the current phyla in the Cambrian explosion was "pre-Mendelian" evolution caused by physical factors. Brian Goodwin, described by Wagner as part of "a fringe movement in evolutionary biology", denies that biological complexity can be reduced to natural selection, and argues that pattern formation is driven by morphogenetic fields.

Darwinian biologists have criticised structuralism, emphasising that there is plentiful evidence both that natural selection is effective and, from deep homology, that genes have been involved in shaping organisms throughout evolutionary history. They accept that some structures such as the cell membrane self-assemble, but deny the ability of self-organisation to drive large-scale evolution.

Structuralism (philosophy of science)

Structuralism (also known as scientific structuralism or as the structuralistic theory-concept) is an active research program in the philosophy of science, which was first developed in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s by several analytic philosophers.

Western philosophy

Western philosophy is the philosophical thought and work of the Western world. Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of Western culture, beginning with Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics such as Thales (c. 624 – c. 546 BC) and Pythagoras (c. 570 BC – c. 495 BC), and eventually covering a large area of the globe. The word philosophy itself originated from the Ancient Greek: philosophia (φιλοσοφία), literally, "the love of wisdom" (φιλεῖν philein, "to love" and σοφία sophia, "wisdom").

The scope of philosophy in the ancient understanding, and the writings of (at least some of) the ancient philosophers, were all intellectual endeavors. This included the problems of philosophy as they are understood today; but it also included many other disciplines, such as pure mathematics and natural sciences such as physics, astronomy, and biology (Aristotle, for example, wrote on all of these topics).

Related articles
Sub-fields of and approaches to human geography

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.