Structuralism is a collective term for interdisciplinary methods and research programs, the structures of relationships and examine the largely unconscious functioning mechanisms of cultural symbol systems.

Structuralism asserts a logical priority of the whole over the parts and tried to adopting an internal connection of phenomena as a structure. Structures organize formal and meaningless reality, they are independent of the individual structured elements and concrete subjects. Structuralism is an intellectual movement that had its heyday in the 1960s to the 1970s and was criticized in some quarters as a fad. There is no uniform structuralism, but only structuralist assumptions which are always productive in the various Strukturalismen and the system character of the structure out: The structure requires the functionality of the parts in a composite whole. Investigation objects are not in themselves considered, since each object only within a general context is ever individuierbar and viewable and as being out of the question. The focus, therefore, is the structure that allows the object status only. An object is not explained by cause relationships, not through the history of ideas or other continuities, but by its contextual structure, in particular by contrasting concepts that make a particular type of object determined, and evidence of its reality in the first place. For example, a word substantially not as a sign that means something, but because of conflicting relationships to other elements of the language; it should be investigated instead of individual utterances, the structure of the language. The understanding of an object arises only through comparison with other objects and by the contemplation of his position within their mutual relations. The structuralist method does not grasp their objects as being in itself, but as objects that exist in the first place by virtue of their classification in structures. These structures are significantly influenced by the conventions of our access to the world. They explain how to transform objects and convert.

Structural differences, a basic assumption

Language is the primary paradigm of structuralist research. Structuralism sees the language as a sign system the basic type any holistic organization of reality. There is the opinion of some structuralists no structure beyond what is language, even if it is an esoteric or even a non-verbal language. There is only so far a structure of the unconscious, as the unconscious speaks and language. There are so far only a structure of the body as the body is believed to be speaking in a language that is the symptoms. Gilles Deleuze therefore: " The things themselves have structure only insofar as they hold a silent discourse, which is the language of signs. " On the significance of language as a basic model of structuralism also pointed Michel Foucault:

" The structuralists put the problem of the formal conditions of the appearance of meaning, where they go mainly from the model of language: the language is an extraordinarily complex and rich subject of analysis in itself, at the same time serves as a model for the analysis of phenomena other meanings that are actually not linguistic. "

A distinction is made ( langue ) and the spoken language (parole ) between the language as a system. Parole is to update the langue by individual speakers. The langue comprises a self-contained, grammatical and phonetic system, which is given the speakers of parole. This synchronic organized system is virtually in each brain structure available and the mass of linguistic utterances. The langue updated in the parole, but has no existence independent of it and is the speakers mostly unconsciously. Two other features of the langue are the arbitrary nature of the linguistic sign and the differential production of its meaning. The linguistic sign consists of a signifier and the signified as a carrier of meaning as content. The difference between the contents generated until the signified and the signifier. The clearest is the differential nature of meaning by the example of binary oppositions such as male / female, up / down, and good / evil. Good Wins its importance only by the difference of evil. Without evil there would not be too good. Thus, a change in the meaning of evil inevitably determines the importance of good new. In addition to the structure there is also a linguistic deep structure of the culture. The cultural and social phenomena can be explained as models of a broader structure of differences along the lines of langue. These include all kinds of texts or social power relations. This can be the example of chess clarify: The importance of the individual chess pieces is determined only by their functional difference to the other figures. Much like chess pieces are interested in individual things and events only if they inform us about the relationships to other elements of the system and thus the underlying system itself.

Structure as a property of systems

It is a basic tenet of structuralism that generate characters not by self-reference, but over the braid other characters sense. Therefore, meaning is never fully present, but always postponed. In addition, the structures are not stable and closed, but changeable and open. Meaning is ultimately indeterminate and mobile. Structures are understood as hidden properties of systems. You will become apparent to scientists only when it the system with a suitable initial hypothesis approaches. If this structures are revealed, it is not about properties of the examined object, but to properties of the theory of the object. These are used to describe the microstructure unstable relationship of the elements:

  • The structure is more than the elements of which it consists ( totality).
  • The items you see are all mutually interdependent. Any change of an element attracts the changes to the other by itself ( interdependence ).
  • The elements change according to certain rules ( transformation).
  • This change regulates itself ( self-regulation).
  • The structure preserved by all the states through which it can assume its own identity. In each of its states, it can be clearly distinguished from another structure ( invariance ).
  • The structure can be generated using a number of well-defined operations ( potential for effective definition).

Segmentation as a method

Structuralism is based on the fundamental assumption that phenomena do not occur in isolation, but are related to other phenomena. Not the things themselves are therefore considered, but the relations between things. The phenomena under investigation are complex in general. Therefore, initially, certain of its phenomena and excluded aspects are considered in isolation. By their statement, the insight into complex relationships should be promoted. The range of the observable is therefore divided into structurally recordable and non-recordable structural issues. The recordable phenomena are segmented. Between segments connection is reconstructed:

" The structural man takes what is given, disassemble it, put it back together; which is seemingly little ( and causes some people to claim that the structuralist work is insignificant, uninteresting, useless ', etc.). And yet this little is seen from another point of view, decisive; because between the two objects, or between the two moments of structuralist activity, something new is formed, and this new one is nothing less than the general intelligible: the simulacrum, which is the the object added intellect, and this addition has so far an anthropological value, as he is the man himself, his history, his situation, his freedom and the resistance that nature opposes to his mind. [ ... ] The structure is actually thus only a simulacrum ( image, silhouette ) of the object, but targeted, interested ' simulacrum, since the imitated object brings something to light, the invisible in the natural object or, if you prefer wants, remained incomprehensible. [ ... ] Creation or reflection here are not true to the original, copies ' of the world, but actual production in a world that resembles the first, but you can not copy, but make it clear wants. [ ... ] Not by the nature of the copied object is an art defined ( a persistent prejudice any realism), but by what man, by reconstructing it adds: the technique is the essence of all creation. [ ... ] The object is re- assembled to make contact features in appearance, and that is, if one may say so, the path that brings forth the work; For this reason, one should not speak of structuralist works, but of structuralist activity. "

This may be an underlying segments more and more abstract level of description to be set, on which a segmentation of their units again possible. In all cases, an attempt is made to capture the analyzed phenomena with a kind of " grid " ( synchronic and diachronic arrangement of their symbols), in which each element is determined by the features, correlations and oppositions, which can be derived from the ratio between the elements. Each item must not be understood in itself, but must be in its function in the whole of the synchronic system. Things are thus presented in a structured and coherent system. Knowing the synchronic relations preceded the observations of the diachronic process. It is not enough there, inherent in the system to look at the evolution of the functions of individual structures. To understand changes in the relations of a system must also come to all other systems of human activity in the view.


Ferdinand de Saussure

As one of the founders of structuralism applies the Geneva linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), who held the early 20th century, Lectures on General Linguistics ( Cours de linguistique générale ), in which he laid the foundation for his new method. His lectures were published posthumously in 1916. According to Saussure, the basis for each speech act (parole ), through which the possibilities of the system ( langue ) are realized varied, in a relational structure whose members are not determined substantial, but " in the validity and value of the one only from the simultaneous presence of other surrender. " De Saussure language as a system of signs, that is, in principle, arbitrary connections between signifier (expression) and signified (content). A sign is not the sensuous incarnation of a pre-existing mental importance. Importance will produced solely by characters. Meaning arises not by reference to objects or thoughts, but only by the differences of the character to other characters in the system. Is novel in Saussure precise in its application of analysis with bonds on which the natural sciences to a subject area such as that of linguistics. Many conceptions of modern semiotic subdisciplines have their origins here. From structure speaks de Saussure but only in passing and in subordinate importance of structuralism, he speaks not at all.

Edward Bradford Titchener

An early proponent of structuralism in psychology was Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927), a student of Wilhelm Wundt. He is counted for elementarist structuralism as representative of the factor analysis in contrast to the more holistic Gestalt psychology. He was the first to distinguish between structuralism and functionalism in American psychology. According to the research approach of Wundt he stood in contrast to the more Darwinian particular, the life and preservation of the species serving functionalism of William James, by making well thought contents to the subject of research.

Roman Jakobson

One of the most influential structuralists of the 20th century was Roman Jakobson Ossipowitsch, the main proponent of Prague structuralism. He worked from structuralist character, voice, communication, and literary theory. After Jakobson means structuralism to consider phenomena as a structured whole and to expose the static or dynamic laws of the respective system. He builds on Edmund Husserl's phenomenology of language. Phenomenology acting for structuralism as a fundamental consideration. Each term is a phenomenological determination. The judgment ends are dependent on their respective positions. The questions were subject- oriented. In order to view the object in itself, it is necessary to exclude the non-essential to accumulate instead of existing knowledge and to form a synthesis. The differential quality of the object compared to other objects is considered.

" Overcoming the statics, the expulsion of the Absolute, which is the essential pathos of the new era [ ... ]. "

Jakobson argues against fragmentation of knowledge and is committed to a holistic approach. He stressed under the influence of Charles Sanders Peirce, the meaning of the terms iconicity ( imagery ) and indexical ( context dependence) and differed between metaphor and metonymy. Jakobson recognized the binaristische basic structure of the language that works in all linguistic operations. Pure random characters do not exist according to Jakobson. All characters are motivated in some way. Synchrony and diachrony formed an inseparable dynamic unit.

" The juxtaposition of synchrony and diachrony was a juxtaposition of system concept and concept of evolution. She loses her principal weight, unless we acknowledge that each system is present as a necessary evolution and on the other hand the evolution inevitably has systemic character. "

Claude Lévi -Strauss

The French anthropologist Claude Lévi -Strauss has provided important contributions to the structure of families, totemic clans and the myths of humanity with its ethno- sociological studies. Social life is an exchange of signs and reading the symbols for Lévi- Strauss. It is for him language in the broadest sense. In the case of sociological and linguistic studies of the one is in full Symbolism. It is the unconscious mind that creates the common and specific character of social realities. The unconscious is responsible for symbolic thought it was a category of collective thinking. The vocabulary get meaning for ourselves and for others only insofar as the unconscious organize it in accordance with its rules and made ​​him do a discourse. The vocabulary mean less than the structure. The structure remains the same, and they realize the symbolic function. Lévi -Strauss sees culture as a context of symbolic systems, at the head of the language, the rules of marriage, economic relations, the arts, science and religion are.

"If, as we believe, the unconscious activity of the mind consists in imposing a content forms, and when these forms for all spirits, the old and the modern, the primitive and the civilized [ ... ] are the same basically - as the study of the symbolic function, as expressed in the language, persuasive evidence - it is necessary and sufficient to find the unconscious structure underlying each institution and each custom, to get a table by itself, the other is valid institutions and other customs, provided of course that Taking the analysis far enough. "

The myths of different cultures according to Lévi -Strauss models of a targeting wholeness savage mind. Not the people think in myths, but the myths think in the people without their knowledge. Regardless of their different content to let the myths attributed to a comparatively small group of so-called mythemes and their combinations. The Mythemen is the fundamental units of myth, eg hero kills the dragon. The mythemes gain their meaning not by its content but by its relation to other Mythemen. Myth, poetry and literature are no creative creations, but the products of structural determination. The human reality itself produces structural models. It is the basic principle that the concept of social structure is not related to the empirical reality, but on the constructed according to these models of reality. Just as scientific thinking based magical thinking on the fundamental assumption that the phenomenal world is system only and thus the order and coherence subject. For the analysis of magical totemic thinking Lévi- Strauss uses the terms contiguity, similarity and opposition. Contiguity between two things is given, which are close together and in a figurative sense, both structurally and functionally belong to the same system. The similarity is not belonging to the same system condition, but that certain things have a characteristic or several characteristics in common. The relationship is thus endowed in this case by the lowest common denominator. When the ratio of the opposition to it ideas are associated with each other that have no common denominator and exclude each other. These are opposites as sacred and profane, raw and cooked, celibacy and marriage, male and female, central and peripheral.

" The magical thinking is not a first attempt, a beginning, a sketch of part of a not yet realized the whole; it forms a well- articulated system and in this respect is independent of the other system, which will explain the science later, apart from the formal analogy that brings them both closer together and the metaphorical from the first a kind of expression which makes the latter. So instead of treating magic and science as opposites, it would be better to put them in parallel, when two types of knowledge, which in terms of their theoretical and practical results are indeed not [ ... ], but not as to the nature of the mental processes that the conditions of both the nature and less than distinguished based on appearance types to which they relate. "

In his 1962 work published in The Savage Mind Levi- Strauss distinguished between cold and hot societies. The distinction between non-historical peoples and the other was unhappy and needed to be replaced. The cold societies attempt by the institutions that they give themselves to cancel as if on automatic, the effect that might have historical factors on its balance and continuity. The hot companies interiorisieren determined the historical becoming, to make it to the engine of development.

Lucien Goldmann

Lucien Goldmann advocated an approach that is referred to as a genetic structuralism. He made ​​an effort to work out certain principles of dialectical literary criticism and to ask about the relationship between literary creation and the social life at the same time. While the structure of a particular individual thought is given reality for the ontological structuralism as a structuring regulative Goldmann believes that the meaningful structure in the course of the history of the human spirit is brought forth by this only. He measures the art and the creative artists have an important role. He considers the social group as the actual subject of cultural creation. Within a social group, feelings, inclinations and ideas formed from. This entsprängen the respective economic and social situation and had a common trend. In the collective consciousness of a group evolved as the elements of a world view that would find their expression in large coherent artistic or philosophical works, and their structure was analogous to that to which zustrebe the whole of the group. Goldmann is based on a homology between the structure of the works and the structure of the belief of a group. Each sociology of intellectual life go from the influence of the social reality of the literary creation. This is a fundamental postulate for the position taken by Goldmann dialectical materialism. This dialectical materialism emphasize the importance of economic factors and the relationships between social classes. However, there were a number of writers and philosophers who denied such an influence. Their opinion, the spiritual values ​​would be devalued by association with the contingent phenomena of social and economic life. Some of these philosophers would still encouraged in this attitude by the desire to fight Marxism as a mainly political ideology that would satisfy the material needs of a primarily uneducated and spiritual values ​​compared with undigested mass of their opinion. In contrast, according to Goldmann can not be separated from economic and social life of the true spiritual values ​​. On the contrary, they seemed just within this life by trying to achieve the best possible him human community. Goldmann describes history as a process of degradation of older structures and the development of newer forests. History is a process of restructuring, with the utopian goal of finding a balance and a balance between the forces of the historical process.

" The genetic structuralism comes from the hypothesis that every human behavior is an attempt to give to a particular situation a meaningful answer, and that this behavior is the balance between the subject of the action and the object to which it refers, ie the surrounding world, tends. This striving for a balance, however, always keeps a fragile and provisional character, as each more or less satisfactory balance between the mental structures of the subject and the environment leads to a state in which changed human behavior from the world, thus allowing the old once can be unsatisfactory balance appear inadequate and a tendency to a new compensation causes, which must be in turn overcome later. "

A structure in its most general form is available by Goldmann, if the elements are connected in a totality that has certain peculiarities as a totality, and if the specifics of the elements entirely or partially of which depend on the totality. Goldmann understood in contrast to the ontological structuralism Structure no archetypal and ahistorical structure, the newly manifested repeatedly in the various individual works. A structure is rather internal coherence and totality whose parts explain each other and can be understood only from the forest here. If the criteria of coherence and functionality of parts within a whole are available, Goldmann speaks of a meaningful structure. These criteria are also the essential conditions of a structure. A senseless structure is a contradiction in itself, the concept of meaningful structure is recorded both a reality and a standard dar. The concept of meaningful structure defining not only the real engine, but also the goal to which zustrebe the totality of human society. The hypothesis of a story that was dominated by the pursuit and the trends in an ever more comprehensive, meaningful and coherent structure, is one of the main positive hypotheses for the study of historical reality. The social objective is a transparent Endgesellschaft, consisting only of such structures that ensure a meaningful and dignified behavior among individuals and to society for Goldmann.

Jacques Lacan

Structuralist methods were applied to cultural phenomena of all kinds, also psychoanalysis. According to Jacques Lacan, the subject has its origins in the symbolic system. The unconscious is structured like a language and would spawned by language. Lacan denies the unity of the cogito ergo sum, so that the ego that thinks with the ego that exists, would be identical. He says instead: "I'm not where I think. " Lacan postulated a " supremacy of the signifier " and developed the structure of the unconscious by Sigmund Freud. There are according to Lacan no predetermined assignment of signifier and signified. Accordingly, there is no fixed meaning. However, the compounds are not completely arbitrary open to every sense. Rather, they obeyed the laws of rhetorical metonymy (mot à mot) and metaphor ( un mot pour un autre ). Thus they would bring a "topic of the unconscious " show: The metonymic structure show that the combination of the signifier with the signified, the omission ( elision ) make possible to that of the signifier the ontological lack ( manque de l' être ) importing into the object relationship. In this way arises the desire ( désir ).

Gilles Deleuze

Gilles Deleuze understands structure no more than a methodological instrument of scientific description and explanation. There is structure only of what is language; even if it was an esoteric or non-verbal language. The places have priority over those who filled out potentially, the true subject is the structure. The classical subject is in Deleuze befitting a subjectivity effect of the structure. He has structuralism succinctly summarized according to seven criteria in a synthesis:

More structuralists

There are in addition numerous other attempts to extend the structuralist method to all cultural disciplines: the linguistics, mythical discourses, anthropology or for example on the study of literature through January Mukařovský, Tzvetan Todorov and Roland Barthes. Louis Althusser Marx underwent an ahistorical, structuralist investigation. In the field of phonetics very early structuralist methods have been developed and applied. The development of the phonetic system of the IPA / API (International Phonetic Association / Association phonétique international ) may be associated with these beginnings. The culture-related structuralism had its heyday in the 1960s to the 1970s. Structuralist methods had continued, especially in semiotics and literary theory. Relationships are partly also to systems theory and psychoanalysis. Applications can be found, inter alia, to in the humanities and social sciences, especially linguistics, epistemology, literature, psychology, sociology and anthropology to architecture. Jakobson's later work in the United States still influenced by Noam Chomsky's work on transformational grammar. The economic structuralism is based on the distinction between center and periphery as the basic structural characteristics of the world economy.


From the Marxist side of structuralism was criticized for its focus on the synchronic system approach, neglecting historicity and evolutionary development. A critical examination of structuralism also brought philosophical currents that were later referred to as post-structuralism. The discourse analysis of Michel Foucault is controversial in its relationship to structuralism. Foucault himself has repeatedly voiced criticism against simple to appointment of structuralist schools. Developed by Jacques Derrida, deconstruction turns also critical of essential theses of classical structuralism. The problems to call structuralism as a unitary concept, Lévi -Strauss had pointed out:

"I do not believe that one can still speak of a structuralism today. There was a whole lot of directions, posing as a structuralist, and others who were referred from outside as structuralist, although they themselves were not there, according to their representatives. "