What is Structuralism?


I’ve googled it but couldn’t really wrap my brain around any of the definitions.

In: Other

Structuralism was a school of thought in the social sciences that was heavily influenced by the work if linguist Ferndinand de Saussure. De Saussure argued that, rather than language exclusively being a product of consciousness (a view most famously held by Noam Chomsky), consciousness is itself fundamentally shaped by language.

This might sound similar to Karl Marx’s idea that consciousness is fundamentally determined by the structure of socioeconomic class relations, rather than vice-versa. And indeed, most structuralists were also at least partially influenced by Marx.

**Structuralists believed that the consciousness of everyone in society is determined, down to its very roots, by some shared structure of interrelated signs and symbols.**

Louis Althusser conceived this structure in terms of ideologies which have the objective function of preserving the capitalist ruling class. Michel Foucault conceived it in terms of ideologies which preserve power relations more broadly.

Claude Levi-Strauss argued that the myths and legends of “primitive” cultures were of exactly the same nature as the ideologies of “advanced” cultures – they had the same relationship to reality, and fundamentally determined a person’s consciousness in exactly the same way.

Jacques Lacan conceived of the structure in terms of the symbols of the Freudian unconsciousness, and Roland Barthes applied Saussure’s linguistics to literary criticism.