From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
Jump to: navigation, search

Structuralism was first and foremost a method of analysis that dominated French intellectual life in the 1950s and 1960s. It was not a movement as such but rather a label for a mode of thinking and analysis common to a wide range of disciplines, from mathematics to literary criticism. Structuralism was seen to be applicable to all human social phenomena. The disparate collection of thinkers who are now placed, frequently incorrectly, under the rubric Structuralism do not form a coherent group. These often include the psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980); the linguist Roman Jakobson (1896-1982); the literary theorists Roland Barthes (1915-80), Tzvetan Todorov (1939-) and Gérard Genette (1930-); the social theorist Michel Foucault (1926-84); the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser (1918-90); and, of course, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. The sources of Structuralism were very eclectic and its influence wide ranging, but it has now inextricably come to be associated with the work of a single figure, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.

Lévi-Strauss's structural methodology derives from Saussure's foundational distinction between langue and parole (see p. 37) or the distinction between a given system, such as language, and the individual expression or manifestation of that system, as in an individual's speech. Structuralists were not concerned with the meaning of individual signs but with describing the organization of the overall sign-system or 'structure'. Linguistics provided the model for this form of analysis, although the main objects of study for Structuralism were very often non-verbal sign systems; for example, Roland Barthes' study of fashion (1985 [1967]), or Lévi-Strauss's own analysis of kinship systems (1969 [1949]) and food preparation (1966). The basic premise of Structuralism was that all social activity constitutes a language insofar as it involves sign systems with their own intrinsic rules and grammar. Thus, we understand individual acts not in their own right but against a background of social relations from which they derive their meaning.


Structuralism, a major current of thought in the second half of the twentieth century, developed in France from the 1960s onward in reaction to existentialism and humanism. From a methodological point of view, in the analysis and understanding of "objects" (especially those in the social sciences), it tended to see "structures" as pre-eminent and to see the given and its directly observable features as mere "effects." [Ed: Quotes indicate jargon terms in structuralism.]

Arising from the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and in particular from the Prague and Moscow schools, structuralism counts many representatives in various fields. There are the linguist Roman Jakobson, the socioethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the philosopher and archeologist of knowledge Michel Foucault, the reinterpreter of Marxism Louis Althusser, the writers for the periodical Tel Quel, the literary critic Roland Barthes, and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.

Gilles Deleuze, in his article "Á quoi reconnaît-on le structuralisme?" (How to recognize structuralism; 1973), tried to enumerate "formal criteria" for recognizing what is structuralist, in particular, as they apply to the field of psychoanalysis. The criteria are the following:

  1. The symbolic, which proceeds from a rejection of the mere interplay of opposition and complementarity between the real and the imaginary (Lacan, 1974-1975). In Deleuze's view, Freud can be interpreted on the basis of two principles: "the reality principle, with its force of disappointment, and the pleasure principle, with its power of hallucinatory satisfaction," he writes. Carl Gustav Jung and Gaston Bachelard take the perspective of the "transcendent unity and borderline tension" of the two principles. The symbolic, a structure that has nothing to do with perceptible forms (gestalts and figures of the imagination) or with any intelligible essence, must be understood in Louis Althusser's fashion, "as the production of an original and specific theoretical object."
  2. Localization and positioning. Any element of a structure has neither extrinsic designation nor intrinsic meaning, and thus has only one sort of meaning, positional meaning (with no real extent nor imaginary extension). Thus, in genetic biology, "genes are part of a structure insofar as they are inseparable from 'loci, ' places capable of changing their relations within the chromosome." The real subjects or objects are thus not what "occupy the places," since they are determined in a topological and relational way. In hisÉcrits (1966), Jacques Lacan defines inter-subjectivity as a symbolic structural space, that of the signifier.
  3. The differential and the singular, which bring into play the positional units that are the symbolic elements of a structure. The phoneme shows this in an exemplary fashion, since it is a relationship that is neither a thing nor an imaginary, but a component of an elementary differentiation of two words with different meanings ("robbing" and "bobbing" differ by the phonemic relation of "r" and "b"). Singularities are assigned by the differential and produce structural particularities (as do names and attitudes for Lévi-Strauss). Lévi-Strauss uncovered "parentemes," positional units that do not exist outside differential relations (brother/sister, husband/wife, father/mother, maternal uncle/sister's son). Serge Leclaire showed in "Counting with Psychoanalysis" that the "libidinal movements" of the body are linked to symbolic elements of the unconscious, "incarnating the singularities of structure in this place or that."
  4. The differentiating element, the act of differentiation. "The structure is not actualized unless it differentiates itself in time and space," and it does so by its actualization. "The two notions of multiple internal temporality and static ordinal genesis are, in this sense, inseparable from the interplay of structures," Deleuze wrote.
  5. The serial, in other words, the necessary organization of symbolic elements in their differential relations by means of which a structure arranges itself into different developments that play on and through one another. For instance, a social structure is organized into series: economic, political, juridical, etc. An operative structure has at least two series; for instance, phonemes require the second series of morphemes. In Lacan (1966), the unconscious "implies a development in two [variable] series," as his commentaries on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter" or Freud's case of the Rat Man (1955a [1907-1908]) show.
  6. Finally, the empty square, which is the paradoxical element of structure. It can never be filled without being disabled. This singular object x "is the point of convergence of the divergent series as such." It is the "handkerchief" referred to by André Green (an associate of Lacan) in his essay "Othello" (1969), which runs through all the series in the play. The empty square is the guarantor and representative of the third party, "which intervenes essentially in the symbolic system." The object is always displaced in relation to itself, "missing from its own place" according to Lacan, without being distinguished from that place, adds Deleuze.

From Deleuze's article, it is thus clear that structuralism claims that the determinants of reality and those of the imaginary are essentially unconscious structures, because they are in every place and at every time "covered over by their products and their effects." From this viewpoint, one can regard the second Freudian topography of the psychic apparatus as already a structuralist representation of the psyche, since even consciousness, on the plane of the ego, is an effect of the interplay of different agencies: the id, the ego itself in its different characters, and the superego. By way of contrast, Jean Piaget, in his article "La psychologie" (Psychology; 1972), characterizes psychoanalysis as a "complete reductionism" insofar as it seeks, in his view, to reach mental processes by means of "the direct study of the contents of representations and affects" and does not recognize any autonomy of the ego (Heinz Hartmann) "free of sexual conflicts."

It was Jacques Lacan who radically located psychoanalysis within the domain of structuralism. At the beginning of the twenty-first century we are witnessing a return of the subject, which existentialism, for one, refused to abandon. But because it is difficult to see how an autonomous subject, independent of structure, can again be affirmed without returning to ego psychology or existential psychoanalysis (the most traditional rationalism), there does not seem as yet to be any alternative to structuralism.


In the 1950s, Lacan emphasized the role of language and the symbolic order.

Lacan was not a Strcturalist in any strict sense of the term, however, for two reasons.

First, Structuralism sought to dissolve the subject completely and saw subjects as merely the 'effect' of symbolic structures.

Lacan, on the other hand, while seeking to locate the constitution of the subject in relation to the symbolic, does not see the subject as simply reducible to an effect of language or the symbolic order.

Second, for Structuralism, a structure is always complete, while for Lacan the structure - the symbolic order - is never complete.

There is always something left over; an excess or something that exceeds the symbolic.

What exceeds the symbolic is the subject and the object.



Second Edition 2005

Structuralism in linguistics and literary studies found its major starting point in the work of the Swiss linguist ferdinand de saussure at the turn of the twentieth century. But it was more fully realized—in fact, the term "structuralism" was coined—in the ongoing work in linguistics, semiotics, and literary analysis of roman jakobson. (In this development, structuralism should be seen as a subdivision or a methodological field in the larger area of semiotics that finds its origins in the work of charles sanders peirce as well as in that of Saussure.) In the Cours de linguistique générale (1916, Course in General Linguistics, 1959, 1983), the transcription by his students of several courses in general linguistics he offered in 1907–11, Saussure called for the "scientific" study of language as opposed to the work in historical linguistics done in the nineteenth century. His work was an attempt to reduce the huge number of facts about language discovered by nineteenth-century historical linguistics to a manageable number of propositions based upon the formal relationships defining and existing between the elements of language.

Saussure’s systematic reexamination of language is based upon four assumptions: the systematic nature of language, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the relational conception of the elements of language, where linguistic "entities" are defined in relationships of combination and contrast to one another; the arbitrary nature of linguistic elements, where they are defined in terms of the function and purpose they serve rather than in terms of their inherent qualities; and the social nature of language, which ultimately provides the larger context for analysis, determination, and realization of the structure of language. The first three of these assumptions gave rise to what Roman Jakobson came to designate as "structuralism" in 1929: structuralism.In this dense passage Jakobson is articulating the scientific aim of linguistics as opposed to simple, "mechanical" accounting. By focusing on the "structural whole," he articulates the first three of Saussure’s assumptions. First of all, he is asserting that the scientific study of language needs to examine the system, or "code," of language rather than its particular "speech-events." Such a systematic study calls for a "synchronic" conception of the relationships among the elements of language at a particular moment of time rather than the "diachronic" study of the development of language through history. In addition, in abandoning a "mechanical conception of processes," he is also describing the assumption that the basic elements of language are arbitrary and can only be studied in relation to their functions rather than their causes. Finally, Jakobson—and the first three assumptions we are describing—implies that the social nature of language, its articulation and communication of meanings, cannot be ignored in pursuit of mechanical reduction.

Were we to comprise the leading idea of present-day science in its most various manifestations, we could hardly find a more appropriate designation than structuralism. Any set of phenomena examined by contemporary science is treated not as a mechanical agglomeration but as a structural whole, and the basic task is to reveal the inner . . . laws of this system. What appears to be the focus of scientific preoccupations is no longer the outer stimulus, but the internal premises of the development: now the mechanical conception of processes yields to the question of their function. ( "Romantic" 711)

Such a structural analysis governs the conception of all the elements of language in linguistics, from the "distinctive features" that combine to form phonemes to sentences, paragraphs, and more extended segments of language that combine to form discourse insofar as discourse, in the words of Algirdas Julien Greimas, creates a "meaningful whole" (Structural 59). Perhaps this is clearest in the development of the concepts of the "phonemes" and "distinctive features" of language. But the aim of literary structuralism was to extend the method of structural analysis, focusing rigorously on binary oppositions to discover overarching relationships of combination and contrast in language, to discourses beyond the limit of the sentence—poetry, narratives (including the anonymous narratives of folktales studied in Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale[1928] and myth studied in claude lévi-strauss’s "structural anthropology"), film, social formations (including gender and class relations), and wider areas of "semantics" and meaning. Such analyses are based on what Jakobson describes as the fact that language and systems of signification are structured as "both energeia and ergon —in other words, language (or any other social value) as creation and as oeuvre" ( "Signum" 179). In this formulation, language is both the process of articulating meaning (signification) and its product(communication), and these two functions of language are neither identical nor fully congruent. Since the elements of language are arbitrary, moreover, neither contrast nor combination can be said to be "basic." Thus, in language distinctive features combine to form contrasting phonemes on another level of apprehension, phonemes combine to form contrasting morphemes, morphemes combine to form words, words combine to form sentences, sentences form paragraphs, paragraphs form (or are) discourses, discourses embody or imply ideologies, and so forth. In each instance, the "structural whole" of the phoneme or word or sentence or general signification is greater than the sum of its parts (just as water, H 2 O, in Saussure’s example [ Course, trans. Baskin, 103, trans. Harris, 102] is more than the mechanical agglomeration of hydrogen and oxygen).

The three assumptions of structural linguistics Jakobson describes led Saussure to call for a new science that would go beyond linguistic science to study "the life of signs within society," the fourth assumption we are describing. Saussure named this science "semiology (from Greek semeîon ‘sign’)" (trans. Baskin, 16). The "science" of semiotics, as it came to be practiced in eastern Europe in the 1920s and 1930s and Paris in the 1950s and 1960s, widened the study of language and linguistic structures to literary artifacts constituted (or articulated) by those structures. In this, prague school structuralism and French structuralism came to examine meaningful cultural phenomena from the viewpoint of the conditions that make such meaningful phenomena possible, including the structures that give rise to that meaning. But even before the term "structuralism" was coined, many of the principles of structural linguistics (if not the rigorous definitions of structure articulated by Jakobson, Jan Mukařovský in Prague, and Lévi-Strauss in Paris) influenced russian formalism’s study of the particular effects of literature produced by the elements of literature and narrative. In all these areas, Jakobson is a central figure: as a member of the Moscow Linguistic Circle, he participated in Russian Formalism; as an exile in Prague, he helped organize the Prague Linguistic Circle; as an exile in the United States during World War II, he introduced Lévi-Strauss to structural linguistics, which allowed the latter to initiate the structural study of myth and cultural anthropology.

An understanding of Russian Formalism is important for an understanding of the development of literary structuralism in Prague and Paris because in focusing on the formal "devices" that create literary effects it attempted to produce a "science" of literature in the same way that Saussure attempted to produce a "science" of linguistics. However, Russian Formalism assumed that "literature" could be legitimately—that is, "scientifically" —isolated from other cultural phenomena. This assumption led Jakobson, Mukařovský, and Lévi-Strauss to oppose structure to form as the central concept of understanding. That is, the opposition, implicit in formalism, between form and content does not allow for a conception of literature as a social and cultural as well as an aesthetic phenomenon.

Structuralism, in contrast, offers a framework of understanding in which what is structured is not simply "content" but rather phenomena already structured on a different "level" of apprehension, so that the isolated content implicit in literary "formalism" —in New Critical formalism as well as in Russian Formalism—betrays the dynamic relational nature of meaning. This can be seen, as F. W. Galan has argued, by comparing Jakobson’s 1921 description of the object of study in scientific formalism with his later description as a member of the Prague Linguistic Circle. In 1921 Jakobson claimed that literary study should study "literariness," those isolated forms that make an utterance characteristically "literary," and avoid anything "extraliterary" (e.g. , psychology, politics, or philosophy). In 1933 in Prague, Jakobson modified this position in arguing that the poetic function, or "poeticity," can be viewed as only one constituent part of the complex structure of poetry. "According to Jakobson’s structural view, in contrast to his formalist stance," Galan writes, "the difference between art and non-art, or between literary and nonliterary language, is one not of kind but of degree" (107–8). In other words, "poeticity" (unlike "literariness") is a relational rather than an absolute element of a poetic work. When the poetic function is dominant, Jakobson says, "the word is felt as a word and not a mere representation of the object being named or an outburst of emotion, when words and their composition, their meaning, their external and internal form, acquire a weight and value of their own instead of referring to reality" ( "What?" 378, emphasis added).

In other words, Jakobson, and Prague semiotics more generally, emphasizes the global cultural existence of literary discourse in emphasizing the existence of "literature" within configurations of cultural significance. In a similar way, French structuralism in the 1950s and 1960s, growing out of the work of Lévi-Strauss in cultural anthropology, also emphasizes the relationship between structuralism and cultural institutions. Lévi-Strauss studied a wide range of myths, mostly Amerindian myths, and attempted to discover the structure—or what might be called the grammar—of mythological narrative. In this work Lévi-Strauss applied the methods of structural linguistics to narrative, so that structural anthropology analyzes narrative discourse in just the way linguistics analyzes sentences. In this endeavor, he articulated the highest ambition of structuralism and semiotics. "I have tried," he says in Mythologiques I: Le Cru et le cuit (1964, The Raw and the Cooked, 1969), "to transcend the contrast between the tangible and the intelligible by operating from the outset at the sign level. The function of signs is, precisely, to express the one by means of the other" (14). Like the Prague structuralists, he attempted to isolate and define the conditions of meaning in culture, to articulate the relationship between the tangible entities of nature and the intelligible meanings of culture.

Lévi-Strauss, in his important methodological essays, such as "The Structural Study of Myth" and "Structure and Form: Reflections on the Work of Vladimir Propp," as well as in his extensive anthropological work, attempted, as Edmund Leach has noted, to describe the nature of the "human mind" through a kind of structural "algebraic matrix of possible permutations and combinations" (40). This work initiated a literary movement in the 1960s and early 1970s that has proved to be a watershed in modern criticism, causing a major reorientation in literary studies, marked most notably in the United States when Jonathan Culler’s Structuralist Poetics won the annual award for an outstanding book of criticism from the Modern Language Association of America in 1975. (The work of Prague structuralism has only reappeared in Western Europe and America after the work of French structuralism [see Steiner x ]. In "Structure and Form," for instance, Lévi-Strauss goes back to Propp’s contribution to Russian Formalism, which antedates the work at Prague.) As a school of literary criticism, French structuralism attempted to explain literature as a system of signs and codes and the conditions that allow that system to function in a way that emphasizes more than did Prague structuralism the essential intelligibility, as Lévi-Strauss says, of the phenomena it studies. For instance, Greimas’s Recherche de méthode (1966, Structural Semantics, 1983), a book that enlarges the scope of Lévi-Strauss’s Anthropologie structurale (1958, Structural Anthropology, 1963)to analyze meaning in general, asserts that "the phenomenon of language as such [may be] mysterious, but there are no mysteries in language" (65). In this, Greimas attempted to "account for" meaning (including literary meaning) as fully and objectively as Saussure’s linguistic science attempted to account for the phenomenon of language.

The power of structuralism derived, as roland barthes said, from its being "essentially an activity" that could "reconstruct an ‘object’ in such a way as to manifest thereby the rules of functioning" ( "Structuralist" 214). By this, Barthes meant that structuralism focused on the synchronic dimension of a text (the system of langue as opposed to its individual speech events, parole), the specific ways in which a text is like other texts. The structural comparison of texts is based on similarities of function (character development, plot, theme, and so forth, as well as the functional definitions of linguistic elements such as finite verbs, pronouns, tenses, and so forth), relationships that Lévi-Strauss called "homologies." The predominantly synchronic analysis of homologies "re-creates" the text as a "paradigm," a system of structural possibilities. Following these precepts, Greimas, for example, attempts to reduce the 31 functions of Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale to axes of knowledge, desire, and power. In more specific studies of literature, Tzvetan Todorov attempts to describe the "grammar" of narratives (Poétique de la prose, 1971 , The Poetics of Prose, 1977) and to position relationally the "Fantastic" as a genre within a configuration of other literary genres (Introduction à la littérature fantastique, 1970 , The Fantastic, 1973). The genre of the fantastic in his analysis, like the linguistic elements in Saussure’s discussion, is an "entity" of literature precisely because it relates to other so-called entities of literature (which are themselves functions of other relationships).

Perhaps the clearest examples of structuralist analyses of literary texts—examples that in their pretense to scientific objectivity most fully seem to avoid the social and temporal contexts of discourse—are the series of analyses of poems that Roman Jakobson published, analyses of such poems as a Shakespeare sonnet and short lyrics by W. B. Yeats, Aleksandr Pushkin, Andrew Marvell, edgar allan poe, and others. (Roland Barthes’s structuralist analysis of a biblical narrative, "Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives," and Greimas’s book-length study of a single short story by Guy de Maupassant, Maupassant: La Sémiotique du texte[1976, Maupassant: The Semiotics of Text, 1988] , could also stand as examples of structural analyses of anonymous and nonanonymous narratives.) In these analyses, Jakobson uses technical linguistic terminology— "finite verbal forms," "coordinate clauses," "grammatical subject," and so forth—to perform a rigorous analysis of the semantics and syntax of each poem, so that it "emerges," as Victor Erlich has said, "as a system of systems, an intricate web of binary oppositions" (7).

These binary oppositions, as Jakobson and Lévi-Strauss note in their structuralist analysis of charles baudelaire’s "Les Chats," demonstrate that "phenomena of formal distribution obviously have a semantic foundation" (218). In fact, in his headnote to this article, Lévi-Strauss notes that the "superimposed levels" of analysis of the poem— "phonological, phonetic, syntactic, prosodic, semantic, etc." —are repeated in his ethnographic analysis of myths insofar as the structuralist method of analysis is repeated, while myths, he argues, "can be interpreted only on the semantic level, the system of variables (always an indispensable part of structural analysis) supplied by the multiplicity of versions of the same myth, that is to say, a cross section through a body of myths at the semantic level only" (202). Similarly, Jakobson notes in "Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry" that In their analysis of "Les Chats," for example, Lévi-Strauss and Jakobson closely examine the structural oppositions of parts of speech, poetic forms, semantic features (e.g. , animate versus inanimate nouns), and so forth, in order to demonstrate that "the different levels on which we touched blend, complement each other or combine to give the poem the value of an absolute object" (217). Such an "absolute" object is what Greimas calls "the still very vague, yet necessary concept of the meaningful whole [ totalité de signification ] set forth by a message" (Structural 59). It is the phenomenologically given of meaning that is the object of knowledge for all structuralist analyses. (This can be seen in Jakobson’s definition of poeticity in terms of a word being "felt as a word" [ "What?" 378 ].) That given, assumed by Jakobson and Lévi-Strauss, is that meaning is present, unified, and reasonably the object of scientific analysis. The very "effects" of a poem—or, as Lévi-Strauss says, the "profound aesthetic emotions" that myth and, by extension, discourse in general give rise to (Jakobson and Lévi-Strauss 202)—can be subject to rational scientific analysis. Thus, at the end of their analysis they present (in narrative form) the "experience" of the poem, the appearance of "Les Chats" as "a closed system" of grammatical forms and semantic meanings and, simultaneously, "the appearance of an open system in dynamic progression" aiming at "resolving" the felt grammatical/semantic oppositions of the poem between metaphors and metonymies (218–19). In more general terms, Lévi-Strauss argues elsewhere (in "La Geste d’Asdiwal," 1960 , "The Story of Asdiwal," 1967) that the function of mythic discourse is to create the illusory resolution of real social and cultural contradictions.

any unbiased, attentive, exhaustive, total description of the selection, distribution and interrelation of the diverse morphological classes and syntactic constructions in a given poem surprises the examiner himself by unexpected, striking symmetries and antisymmetries, balanced structures, efficient accumulations of equivalent forms and salient contrasts . . . [which] permit us to follow the masterly interplay of the actualized constituents. (127)

Such general terms suggest that along with literary studies like those of Jakobson, structuralism expanded the areas subject to rigorous analysis of discursive and social-cultural phenomena. Barthes’s work, for example, charting a course through the early and late stages of structuralism, illuminated semiotic theory, the system of fashion, narrative structure, textuality, and many other topics. Claude Bremond has attempted to trace the "logic" of narrative. Paris school semiotics, following Greimas, has expanded structural analysis to such divergent areas as gestural language, legal discourse, and social science. Further, in semiotic approaches to semantic theory, closely allied to structuralism, there is significant work by Michael Riffaterre, umberto eco, Jonathan Culler, and others. In these kinds of analysis, as in Jakobson’s linguistic analyses of poetry, structuralism tended to focus on the fixity of relations within synchronic paradigms at the expense of temporality, or the "diachronic" dimension, which involves history. This tendency to avoid dealing with time and social change, a tendency that is much less pronounced in Prague structuralism, concerned many critics of structuralism from its beginning and ultimately became a main component of the "poststructuralist" critique of the scientific goals of structuralism.

In this critique, structuralism’s strength as an analytic technique is connected to what many conceive to be its major weakness. Its self-imposed limitations, most notable in French structuralism, and especially its lack of concern with diachronic change and its focus on general systems rather than on individual cases, became increasingly evident in the late 1960s. The French philosopher jacques derrida offered a particularly decisive critique of Lévi-Strauss in "La Structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines" (1966, L’Écriture et la différence, 1967, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," Writing and Difference, 1978)and in De la grammatologie (1967, On Grammatology, 1976). Derrida points out that the attempt to investigate structure implies the ability to stand outside and apart from it, which is similar to the methods of formalism that both Prague and French structuralism criticized. In specific terms, Derrida critiqued the privileging in Lévi-Strauss of the opposition between "nature" and "culture." Derrida argues that since one never transcends culture, one can never examine it from the "outside" ; there is no standing free of structure, no so-called natural state free of the structural interplay that, in the structuralist analysis, constitutes meaning. For this reason, there is no objective examination of structure, and the attempt to "read" and "interpret" cultural structures cannot be adequately translated into exacting scientific models.

Structuralism and semiotics have come to learn from the critique of the structuralist enterprise and its enabling assumption of the opposition between the tangible and the intelligible, nature and culture. The work of julia kristeva, like that of Barthes (see, e.g. , S/Z, 1970 , S/Z, 1974), both utilizes and goes beyond "structuralism." In such works as Séméiotiké: Recherches pour une sémanalyse (1969), La Révolution du langage poétique (1974, Revolution in Poetic Language, 1984), Pouvoirs de l’horreur (1980, Powers of Horror, 1982), and Histoires d’amour (1983, Tales of Love, 1987)Kristeva combines the "poststructural" work of jacques lacan and Barthes and the earlier critiques of formalism and structural linguistics by mikhail bakhtin with the achievements of structuralism and semiotics. In fact, the poststructuralist critique of structuralism can be "accounted for" within the methodological framework of structuralism first fully articulated by Saussure. The relational and arbitrary nature of signifying phenomena both call for and also breach the first assumption of structuralism, its systematicity. Moreover, this structural account of poststructuralism again implies the fourth assumption we articulate, the social nature of language. Arbitrariness itself, as the structural linguist Émile Benveniste argues, is arbitrary from the outside, but from the inside—from within the society and culture in which languages function—the arbitrary nature of the sign seems necessary. That is, since the elements of meaning are relationally defined and arbitrary, they demand a structural system for their realization. But those very features of relationality and arbitrariness also continually unweave the structural system. Since language can use anything to articulate its meanings, any "structure" can be recontextualized (relationally and arbitrarily). As Greimas notes in Structural Semantics(which is among the most rigorous and systematic expressions of structuralism), the "edifice" of language "appears like a construction without plan or clear aim" (133). This is because "discourse, conceived as a hierarchy of units of communication fitting into one another, contains in itself the negation of that hierarchy by the fact that the units of communication with different dimensions can be at the same time recognized as equivalent" (82). Another way of seeing this is to note that the two global aims of language described by Saussure—the "articulation" and "communication" of meaning (trans. Baskin, 10–14), the structural "processes" and "products" of language that Jakobson mentions—are not fully congruent or compatible (see Schleifer, "Deconstruction"). In this way, then, structuralism, in its scientific study of language and meaning, anticipates and articulates the terms of its own "poststructuralist" critique.

At the end of the twentieth century, structuralism, particularly those strands of thought called "poststructural" and "postmodern," continued to mark discourse in a variety of fields, from literature to the social sciences. Within the frameworks of the four assumptions, John Parker’s Structuration, for example, tracks the twin histories of structuralism and poststructuralism, elaborating on the assumption of systematicity. Similarly, François Dosse’s Histoire du structuralisme,vol. 1 (1991, History of Structuralism: The Rising Sign, 1945–1966, 1997), provides an elegant version of the role of synchronics in linguistics. Christopher Tilley’s Reading Material Culture also elaborates on contemporary applications of structuralism, providing particularly insightful analyses of the role of arbitrariness of the sign in relation to material culture. Finally, Chris Weedon’s Feminist Practice and Poststructural Theory offers a nuanced examination of the fourth assumption, the social nature of the sign, especially in terms of gender roles and subjectivity in predominantly patriarchal societies.



Lacan's structuralist leanings are evident in the thesis that language is a complex network of signifiers, each of which draws meaning in part from the distinctions and similarities it marks (de Saussure, 1983). The resulting holistic view of meaning implies that the signification linked to a symbol or word arises from the individual's immersion into language and reflects a complex of relations between signifiers. For instance, the idea of a wolf is partly defined by its relationships and contrasts with the signification of "dog." Each individual is shaped by the significations that a linguistic group uses to classify or order the world into significant types of thing so as to create an enveloping, contextual, and almost infinitely complex discursive setting for the individual's existence; a setting that configures his or her psyche.

The medium through which language forms and continually transforms the psyche is sociocultural, in particular those relationships in which we are introduced to language. These are relationships of close kinship so that primary group relationships are fundamental in understanding the development of mind and personality. For Lacan (1994/1997), and Levi-Strauss (his anthropological mentor [1978]), the structure and rituals of kinship play an important part in this development so that the psyche, particularly those aspects of it significantly formed before the development of self-critical and reflective awareness, is a palimpsest of significations whose contributory texts are linguistic, relational, and colored by personal interactions.

The network of signifiers realized in the individual psyche is therefore a coproduct of the individual's immersion in two worlds—a causal world and a world of meaning—that are intertwined at every point because the brain (the biological repository of experience) responds, on the one hand, to the interpersonal and cultural world of meaning and, on the other, to the impingement of the environment on the organism.


See also french theory and criticism: 5. 1945 to 1968, roman jakobson, claude lévi-strauss, narratology, russian formalism, ferdinand de saussure, and semiotics. Primary Sources

Roland Barthes, L’Activité structuraliste 1963, The Structuralist Activity Critical Essays Richard Howard, trans. 1972; Roland Barthes, Éléments de sémiologie 1964, Elements of Semiology Annette Lavers, trans. , Colin Smith, trans. , 1967; Roland Barthes, Introduction à l’analyse structurale des récits 1966, Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives Image—Music—Text Stephen Heath, 1977; Claude Bremond, Logique du récit, (1973); Jacques Derrida, De la grammatologie 1967, Of Grammatology Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, trans. , 1976rev. ed., 1988; Jacques Derrida, L’Écriture et la différence 1967, Writing and Difference Alan Bass, trans. , 1978; A. J. Greimas, Maupassant: La Sémiotique du texte: Exercices pratiques 1976, Maupassant: The Semiotics of Text: Practical Exercises Paul Perron, trans. , 1988; A. J. Greimas, On Meaning: Selected Writings in Semiotic Theory, Paul Perron trans. Frank Collins trans. (1987); A. J. Greimas, Sémantique structurale: Recherche de méthode 1966, Structural Semantics: An Attempt at Method Daniele McDowell, trans. , Ronald Schleifer, trans. , Alan Velie, trans. , 1983; A. J. Greimas, J. Courtés, Sémiotique: Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage 1979, Semiotics and Language: An Analytical Dictionary Larry Crist, trans. , et al., 1982; Roman Jakobson, Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry Language and Literature Roman Jakobson , Krystyna Pomorska , Stephen Rudy (1968); Roman Jakobson, Romantic Panslavism—New Slavic Studies 1929, Selected Writings Volume 2 1971; Roman Jakobson, Signum et Signatum 1936, Signum et Signatum M. Heim, trans. Semiotics of Art: Prague School Contributions Ladislav Matejka , Irwin R. Titunik 1976; Roman Jakobson, What Is Poetry? 1934, M. Heim, trans. , Language and Literature ; Roman Jakobson, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Les Chats’ 1962, Katie Furness-Lane, trans. , Introduction to Structuralism Michael Lane , 1970; Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale 1958, Structural Anthropology Clair Jacobson, trans. , Brooke Grundfest Schoepf, trans. , 1963; Claude Lévi-Strauss, La Geste d’Asdiwal 1962, The Story of Asdiwal N. Mann, trans. , Monique Layton, rev. Structural Anthropology Volume 2 1976; Claude Lévi-Strauss, Mythologiques I: Le Cru et la cuit 1964, The Raw and the Cooked John Weightman, trans. , Doreen Weightman, trans. , 1975; Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Structural Study of Myth 1955Structural Anthropology ; Claude Lévi-Strauss, La Structure et la forme: Réflexions sur un ouvrage de Vladimir Propp 1960, Structure and Form: Reflections on a Work by Vladimir Propp 1960Monique Layton, trans. , Anatoly Liberman, rev. , Theory and History of Folklore Vladimir Propp , 1984; Richard Macksey Eugenio Donato The Structuralist Controversy: The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man, (1970); Ferdinand de Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale 1916, Course in General Linguistics Wade Baskin, trans. , 1959Roy Harris, trans. , 1983; Tzvetan Todorov, Introduction à la littérature fantastique 1970, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre Richard Howard, trans. , 1973; Tzvetan Todorov, Poétique de la prose 1971, The Poetics of Prose Richard Howard, trans. , 1977

See Also


  1. Deleuze, Gilles. (1973).Á quoi reconnaît-on le structuralisme? In François Châtelet (Ed.), Histoire de la philosophie, idées, doctrines, le XXe siècle. (pp. 299-335) Paris: Hachette.
  2. Foucault, Michel. (1973). The order of things: An archaeology of the human sciences. New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1966)
  3. Jakobson, Roman. (1963). Essais de linguistique générale. Paris: Minuit.
  4. Lacan, Jacques. (1966).Écrits. Paris: Seuil.
  5. ——. (1974-1975). Le séminaire: Livre XXII, R.S.I. Ornicar?, 2-5.
  6. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. (1963). Structural anthropology (Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf, Trans.). New York: Basic Books. (Original work published 1949)