Examples of structuralism differ based on the field they are associated with. Structuralism is a school of thought in linguistics, psychology and anthropology. It is also used as a method of criticizing works of literature.
Purdue OWL, structuralism can be one of the most complicated theories to understand. It helps to examine what it means in each field and to look at various examples of it.
What Is Structuralism in Linguistics?
The linguist Ferdinand de Saussure developed three concepts to help with the understanding of language and linguistics. He argued that there is a "
langue," or idealized concept of language, and "parole," which is the language people use. He also defined the concept of a "sign," which is a combination of the signified, an idea, as well as a signifier, the image or sound of the item itself. Signs have meaning because of their connections with other signs.
The simplest way to understand structuralism is to consider that things only make sense and only have understanding because of their relationship to other things. Structural linguistics argues that communication with language goes beyond the written or spoken.
What Is Structuralism in Psychology?
Structuralism is also a school of thought in the field of psychology. It is one of the earliest schools of thought in psychology and is no longer really practiced. Wilhelm Wundt is the person credited with developing structural psychology.
The goal of structuralism in psychology was to break down thought processes into their most simplistic components. A key part of structural psychology was introspection. Patients were encouraged to look inward to analyze and evaluate what was going on in their minds.
What Is Structuralism in Literary Theory?
Saussurean linguistics and structuralism had an impact on literary theory, particularly during the middle of the 20th century. A structuralist literary critic or theorist might examine how a short story, novel, or other piece of literature is written and, in the process, gain an understanding of its construction.
A notable example of structuralism in literary theory is the work of the critic Northrop Frye, who worked to categorize works in the Western canon. Frye developed categories he labeled "mythoi":
- Modes, such as comic or tragic.
- Symbols, such as literal, mythical, or formal.
- Myths, such a comedy, satire, tragedy, or romance.
- Genre, such as drama, lyric poetry, or epic poetry.
What Is Structuralism in Anthropology?
Claude Levi-Strauss, sometimes called the father of modern anthropology, is often credited with bringing structuralist methods to the study of cultures. Levi-Strauss looked at cultures as different systems, each of which could be examined and understood by how their elements related to each other. A key part of Levi-Strauss' structural anthropology was a belief that there were universal experiences shared by all humans.
Do People Still Use Structuralism Today?
Although some examples of structuralism have died away as newer schools of thought have been developed, structuralism is still practiced in some fields today. Structural psychology is largely a thing of the past, but there are still literary critics, linguists, and anthropologists who use structuralist practices in their work.