Linguistics and Structuralism

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Structuralism is a mode of thinking and a method of analysis practiced in 20th-century social sciences and humanities; it focuses on recurring patterns of thought and behaviour – it seeks to analyse social relationships in terms of highly abstract relational structures. Structuralism is distinctly different from that applied to Radcliffe-Brown – it involves more the bio and psychological aspect of human studies rather than social structures. Claude Levi-Strauss was the one to pioneer structuralism; he suggested that cultural phenomena such as myths, art, kinship systems and language display certain ordered patterns or structures. With these, he believed that the structure of the human mind could be revealed. He reasoned that behind the surface of individual cultures there must exist natural properties common to us all: innate structures universal to all man. Levi-Strauss focused his attention on the patterns or structures existing beneath the customs and beliefs of all cultures.

Methodologically, Strauss drew his models from structural linguistics, analysing forms of social activity as though they were languages. In other words, the things a society does, the way people in this society act, is compared to language; behaviour is acted out unconsciously as is grammar in the case of language. Therefore, societies differ just as grammar differs between one culture and another, but what Levi-Strauss sought was the universal/common structure behind it. He believed that while the surface phenomenon may vary, the underlying ordering principles are the same.

Levi-Strauss believed that basic thinking occurs as sets of contrasts. All cultures think in to terms of opposites so as to classify-meaning we must be able to distinguish between things. For example, life, death; spirit, body; black, white; red, green (stop and go) – these words alone do not carry much significance; they have a meaning and that's it – basic facts. We take the words as they are...
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