Sociology Index


Structuralism refers to theorists such as Claude Levi-Strauss and Jean Piaget who claim that in the most ordinary of events there is a hidden structure or pattern called deep structure. Levi-Strauss’s student Louis Pierre Althusser was among those who sought to merge Marxism and Structuralism in this period. Prominent figures in the structuralist movement are Paul Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Roman Jakobson, and Roland Barthes.

Social echange theory is linked to rational choice theory and structuralism. Structuralism became a fashion in France in the 1960s, coinciding with a decline in popular support for the FCP, and a move of the French Communist Party away from support for the USSR and a split between the intelligentsia and the organised working class culminating in the betrayal of the French General strike and the failure of the 1968 uprisings.

Ferdinand de Saussure's work concerning linguistics is generally considered to be a starting point of 20th century structuralism. Ferdinand de Saussure found, unsurprisingly, that the positivist approach to linguistics, analysing the use of individual phonemes, their various meanings and phonic form, was of little use for comparative linguistics. Saussure’s approach then was to treat the individual phonemes as “arbitrary,” and sought meaning instead in the structures of similarity and difference between phonemes in a given language.

The study of these “structures” proved far more fruitful. For example, what can be learned from the names given to pets; from food categories; from the way a child compares volume in two containers?

Structuralism refers to a method of analyzing phenomena, as in anthropology, linguistics, psychology, or literature, chiefly characterized by contrasting the elemental structures of the phenomena in a system of binary opposition.

David Emile Durkheim as a precursor of structuralism in sociology, Vilfredo Pareto as a precursor of structuralism in economics, though clearly a positivist himself, and Wilhelm Wundt’s experimental psychology as a precursor of structural psychology.

Structuralism appeared in academic psychology for the first time in the 19th century and then reappeared in the second half of the 20th century, when it grew to become one of the most popular approaches in the academic fields that are concerned with analyzing language, culture, and society. 

For the early structuralists the hidden structures in these practices reveal the structure of the human mind. This being so, there should be some uniformity in the pattern found in these practices around the world.

Areas of study that have adopted and developed structuralist premises and methodologies include semiotics and narratology.

The Principle Features of Structuralism - Objectivism
Levi-Strauss makes it quite clear that the “objective”, “non-judgmental”, non-interventionist attitude of the anthropologist cannot and must not be carried over by the anthropologist to her own society. This is not necessarily to accept as fact the Bushman's own view of the structures of her society, but whatever those views are, they are a fact.