Thorpe, James. the Aims and Methods of Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literature

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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. It works to uncover all the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel. 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".[1] Structuralism originated 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 '60s, when structural linguistics was 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 Lévi-Strauss, linguist Roman Jakobson, and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. As an intellectual movement, structuralism was initially presumed to be the heir apparent to existentialism. 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 and social commentatorJacques 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 criticised for its rigidity and ahistoricism. Despite this, many of structuralism's proponents, such asJacques 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.[3] THE ORIGINS OF STRUCTURALISM connect with the work of Ferdinand de Saussure on linguistics, along with the linguistics of the Prague andMoscow schools. In brief, de Saussure's structural linguistics propounded three related concepts.[1] 1. De 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.'"[4] As summarized by philosopher John Searle,[5] de Saussure established that 'I understand the sentence "the cat is on the mat" the way I do because I know how it would relate to an indefinite—indeed infinite—set of other sentences, "the dog is on the mat," "the cat is on the couch," etc.' The term "structuralism" itself appeared in the works of French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. This gave rise, in France, to the "structuralist movement", which spurred the work of such thinkers as Louis Althusser, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, as well as thestructural Marxism of Nicos Poulantzas. Most members of this movement did not describe...
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