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Copy of Structuralism

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Milles wissal

on 4 February 2015

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Transcript of Copy of Structuralism

What is Structuralism?
Analyzes language and literataure as structures
Examples of Structuralist Criticism
General characteristics of Structuralism :
Literary Theory
Milles Wissal and Hachichi Kenza
We often "see", or infer structure when it's not actually present.
“Structuralism isn’t interested in what a text means, but in how a text means what it means” - Lois Tyson
Interpretations and general criticisms the school recieved
Key Passages
Story of the Survivor:

What my story is.
But I cannot forget.
Coming here was a terrible mistake.
I thought I could change. I thought I could put it all behind me.
But I cannot.
They went to Auschwitz. They were killed.
My Brother. He died in the cupboard.
There is nothing left for me.
I thought there was but I am wrong. [Pg. 260]
Similar plot to "The Devil's Arithmetic".
Sarah’s fundamental loss of innocence:

“Finally, the lock clicked, and she tugged the secret door open. A rotten stench hit her like a fist. She drew away… In the back of the cupboard, she glimpsed the small lump of a motionless, curled-up body... she screamed for her mother, for her father, screamed for Michel.” [Pg. 160,Paris 1942]
Similar plot to "Life is Beautiful".
•Structuralism is a theoretical paradigm in sociology, anthropology, linguistics and semiotics positing that elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure. It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel.
• To understand this literary criticism, one must look for what it has in common with other literature rather than how it differs
 “Looking at the BIG picture rather than what is just in front of you.”

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.
• It focused on the way that human behavior is determined by various structures.
Structuralism rejected the concept of human freedom and choice and focused instead on the way that human experience and thus, behavior, is determined by various structures.
• The most important initial work on this score was Claude Lévi-Strauss’ 1949 volume The Elementary Structures of Kinship.
• 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.
• Two important theorists formed structuralism: Charles Sanders Peirce and Ferdinand de Saussure.
• Peirce gave structuralism three important ideas for analyzing the sign systems that define our experiences:
1. iconic signs, in which the signifier resembles the thing signified (such as the stick figures on washroom doors that signify 'Men' or ‘Women';
2. indexes, in which the signifier is a reliable indicator of the presence of the signified (like fire and smoke)
3. true symbols, which the signifier's relation to the thing signified is random and conventional (just as the sound “kat” or the written word “cat” are conventional signs for a feline)
• Peirce also influenced the semiotic school of structuralist theory that uses sign systems.
• Roland Barthes and Jacues Derrida were the ones to focus on how structuralism could be applied to literature.


• The structuralist school emerges from theories of language and it looks for underlying elements in culture and literature that can be connected.

• Barthes, among others showed that the laws that govern language govern all signs, from road signs to articles of clothing.
• Structuralism was heavily influenced by linguistics, especially by the pioneering work of Ferdinand de Saussure.
Saussure’s concept of the phoneme and his idea that phonemes exist in two kinds of relationships:

(the way language has evolved through time) and
(study of language at only one point in time)
• Although structuralism was largely a European phenomenon in its origin and development, it was influenced by American thinkers as well.
• Noam Chomsky identified and distinguished between "surface structures" and "deep structures" in language and linguistic literatures, including texts.

• Structuralism can be applied to virtually any text as it functions as a system of meaning no matter how many works there are, two or two hundred
• Good example of this lies in childhood fairy-tales
 They follow a similar structure of problem, solution and morality.
 Common intertextual connections of royalty, monsters or animals
• Another in dystopias (common themes of violence, survival, nature)
 Hunger Games, Maze Runner – follows a structure of solving the problems following a post-apocalyptic event

The Great Gatsby is an excellent embodiment of binary oppositions which underlie its theme, setting, characters and the meaning of symbols: illusion and disillusionment in theme; ideal land and realistic world in setting; insiders and outsiders in characters; superficial meaning and implied meaning in symbols. These opposed pairs serve as good illustrations of the deep oppositional structure underlying the novel.

Structuralism is the lens that looks for "underlying elements in culture and literature that can be connected so that critics can develop general conclusions about the individual words and system from which they emerge" (Owl at Purdue)

Critics using this lens will relate the text to a structure since they believe every text follows a structure.
Structuralism asks about the deep structure of things, as opposed to causes or consequences. It has a number of characteristics:

1. It is holistic. Parts of a system cannot be investigated in isolation. They can only be understood through their interaction with other parts. The meaning of an utterance depends on the language being spoken; the meaning of a gesture depends on the cultural context.

2. It prioritizes the invariant over the transient. The flux of actions is not important; rather, the underlying system is.

3. Structuralism opposes positivism. Positivists prefer to explain things in terms of observable entities. Structuralists work on the unobservable structure beneath the chaotic observable world.

4. Structuralists acknowledge the constraining nature of social structures. People's actions are constrained, whether they know it or not, by the structures which underlie them.
Also :

1. Words (or signifiers) do not point to things, but they point to concepts (signifieds). The sign signifies a concept, not an external reality. "Table" does not refer to a non-linguistic thing in the world, but rather has meaning because of where it appears in relation to other words. It makes sense to use it in certain places, and not others.

2. All meaning depends on a structure which lies behind every sign. Langue vs. parole. Example: English is a language, but we never encounter "English" apart from specific utterances. There is grammar, and we know when it has been violated, but we never have direct access to the structure itself.

3. We are not concerned about the historical development of something (the "diachronic"), but rather with the set of references at any specific time (the "synchronic"). Example: the fashion system.

4. Signs are arbitrary. There is nothing inherent in the word "table" that necessitates that the word we use must be used.

5. Signs are not infinitely arbitrary. There are limits to the places we can use the word "table."

6. Signs work by signifying a difference from other signs. Example: the first taste of coffee.

Structuralism notes also the importance of:
 Binary Oppositions:
Binary opposition is a key concept that states that all elements of human culture can only be understood in relation to one another and how they function within a larger system or the overall environment. Ex: light/dark, upper-class/lower-class, male/female, good/evil, in/out.

What patterns exist in the text... how does it relate to other texts?
What is the relationship between the text and the culture the text derived from?
What patterns are there in the text that connect to a human experience?
How do other semiotics relating to our culture or the text's culture relate to the semiotics within the text?
The Main Questions to be asked in Structuralism :
In the 1970s, structuralism was criticised for its rigidity and ahistoricism. Structuralism is less popular today than other approaches, such as post-structuralism and deconstruction. Structuralism has often been criticized for being ahistorical and for favoring deterministic structural forces over the ability of people to act.

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." 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.

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 Ricoeur described as "a Kantianism without a transcendental subject".
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.
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.
Cornelius Castoriadis (1975) criticized structuralism as failing to explain symbolic mediation in the social world; 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.
Introduction :
The term "structuralism" is a belated 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." Influencing the thinking of 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.

What is Semiotics?
Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols such as graphs and how that can be interpreted within a text.

It was also founded in the 1920's by Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Pierce.
characteristics of Semiotics:
Semiotics "..appl[y] structuralist insights to the study of...sign systems...a non-linguistic object or behavior...that can be analyzed as if it were a language" (Tyson 205).

For example, the picture of the reclining blond beauty in the skin-tight, black velvet dress on the billboard...'tells' us that those who drink this whiskey (presumably male) will be attractive to...beautiful women like the one displayed here" (Tyson 205). Lastly, Richter states, "semiotics takes off from Peirce - for whom language is one of numerous sign systems - and structuralism takes off from Saussure, for whom language was the sign system par excellence" (810).

In Ferdinand de Saussure's 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:

a "signifier" (the "sound pattern" of a word, either in mental projection—as when one silently recites lines from a poem to one's self—or in actual, physical realization as part of a speech act)
a "signified" (the concept or meaning of the word)
In Linguistic :
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.
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.[12] 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
The structuralist mode of reasoning has been applied in a diverse range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary criticism, economics and architecture
Structuralism In :
Concepts important to Structuralism/Structural Analysis
(the underlying system [of language])

(the actual performance [of language] in everyday life

theory vs. practice
analysis= the study of a system at a present point in time

analysis= a historical study of a system through time
Binary oppositions
we define signs (etc.) in relation to one another; pairs
Marked & unmarked:
unmarked is transparent, obvious, normal, while marked is seen as deviant or inferior

texts exist in relation to other texts, and reference them (Barthes)
Question: What are some examples of the invisible privilege of the unmarked?

Example: Color film and the "Shirley Card"

Conclusion :
Main Scholars and Figures of the School:
Claude Lévi-Strauss
Structural Anthropology
the father of modern anthropology whose work inspired structuralism
Studied law and philosophy in Paris, switched focus to Philosophy in 1931
The Elementary Structures of Kinship
came to be regarded as one of the most important anthropological works on kinship.
Applied the Structural Lingustics of Ferdinand de Saussure to Anthropology.
Brazil: 1935-1939
"The existence of structural similarities among seemingly different myths of different cultures was one of Lévi-Strauss's particular areas of interest." (Tyson 215)
Roland Barthes
Semiotics, Post-Structuralism
1939-1948: Studied for degree in grammar and philology. During this time he contributed to a Parisian paper, and from that he wrote his first full length work
Writing Degree Zero.
Challenged traditional academic views of literary criticism.
"[Barthes] argues that professional wrestling (the brand of wrestling in which the contestents use pseudonyms [...], dress in costume, and orchestrate the match in advance) can be viewed as a sign system" (Tyson 217)
A "sign system", in this case, refers to what each of the wrestlers represent. One wrestler might represent the "good guy" and the other "the bad guy" or maybe each one simply represents too different ways of life the audience can identify with.
Northrop Frye
Archetypal Literary Criticism
Became a prominent academic figure when first book,
Fearful Symmetry,

published in 1947.
Received multiple literary awards from The Royal Society of Canada, as well as recognition from the most prestigious Canadian colleges.
The first essay in his second published book
Historical Criticism: Theory of Modes
follows Frye's study of Tragic, Comic, and Thematic literature. He then defines each of those 3 genres using "modes". By defining each genre using these modes, we can see the ethos of the primary character in the story in relation to the other characters present. For example
Theory of Modes
A character in the Mythic fictional mode is "superior in kind to both men and their environment" (Tyson 223). The ethos of that character is further defined when you change the literary genre; for example, in a Tragic Myth, the character posses, on some level, the characteristics or traits of Dionysus.
"According to Frye, human beings project their narrative imaginations in two fundamental ways: in representations of an deal world and in representations of the real world." (Tyson 221)
Ferdinand de Saussure
Structural Linguistics
Published first book at age 21: (Dissertation on the PrimitiveVowel System in Indo-European Languages) - translated.
After writing his doctoral thesis on the Sanskrit locative absolute, he was awarded his doctoral degree.
Developed concept of Structural Linguistics between 1913 and 1915, lectures published posthumously in 1916.
"Saussure argued that words do not simply refer to objects in the world for which they stand." (Tyson 213)
Structuralism by :
Structuralism is a fundamental school of thought that provides insight and connection for both real-world and literary subjects.

As humans, we constantly create connections and patterns whether we're aware of it or not.

The End
Thanks for listening

The Outline :
- Introduction
-History and background
- what is structuralism ?
-Important Concepts related to Structuralism
-General characteristics of Structuralism
-Main Scholars and Figures of the School
- The Main Questions to be asked in Structuralism
-Structuralism In :
- Literary theory and Criticism
Examples of Structuralist Criticism
-Interpretations and General Criticisms that the School received

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