- A general intellectual movement whose headquarters have been in France, and whose heyday was in the 1960s. The common feature of structuralist positions 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. Thus superficially diverse sets of myth, or works of art, or practices of marriage, might be revealed as sharing the same pattern. Structuralism owes its origin to the work of Saussure in linguistics, and one form of the doctrine holds that all sign systems are linguistic in nature. One of the early successes of structuralist investigation in linguistics was the discovery that phonetic units (phonemes) gain their identity through a network of relationships (opposition, difference) between sounds rather than through the brute physical nature of a given sound. Structuralism in linguistics embraced not only phonetics but semantics, and describes the approach of the Prague school, and the dominant American school of linguistics (E. Sapir, L. Bloomfield) for the first half of the 20th century. Although Chomsky's approach to linguistics is in this broad sense structuralist, his opposition to the Bloomfield school lay in their concentration on surface structure at the expense of deep structure (see generative grammar ).In anthropology, the leading structuralist was Lévi-Strauss, whose Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949) seeks to show how a wide variety of kinship and institutional arrangements can be referred back to basic structures of communication, thought of as fundamental patterns of the working of the mind, and from which the surface variety is generated. Other structuralist approaches to their respective subjects are found in the psychoanalytic theories of Lacan and the Marxism of Althusser . See also post-structuralism.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.