On structuralism

Pages: 6 (1431 mots) Publié le: 11 mars 2011
Overview
Structuralists view society and its rules as expressions of deep structures, often binary codes, that express our primary natures. A systematic study of such codes is semiotics, which was later hijacked by Poststructuralists as evidence that language alone provides a true reality.
Introduction: Pierce
Ferdinand de Saussure was not the first to propose a science of signs: theAmerican Charles Pierce (1839-1914) independently {1} developed semiology within the context of pragmatism. Pierce side-stepped Descartes' scepticism, observing that we are persuaded by the number and variety of arguments supporting a conclusion, rather than by the meditations of one individual, even ourselves. "The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed upon by all who investigate is what wemean by truth, and the object represented in this opinion is real." Pierce examined these investigations (methods of inquiry, standards of inference, ways of clarifying, identifying hypotheses, etc.), classifying them by the number of relations they exhibit. Meaning and understanding involve threefold relations, and as such constituted signs. Semiotics is a theory of how we are guided and constrainedin interpreting signs, and some of Pierce's terminology is still widely used: iconic (sign resembles referent), indexical (sign is causally associated with referent) and symbolic (sign has an arbitrary relation to referent). Indeed, most things ultimately could be seen as signs: mathematical and logical symbolism, even science itself.
Saussure's Semiotics
Saussure worked on a much smallercanvas and devised a semiology that properly applied to linguistics. Certainly the signified (concept) and signifier (sound or letter group) were connected only arbitrarily, as had been noted since Aristotle. But Saussure made it a cardinal feature of his system: the principle of arbitrariness, he said, dominates all linguistics. The English call their faithful friend dog and the Spanish perro.Historically, there are reasons for the difference, but Saussure's approach removes them from consideration: we look only at language as normal speakers use it now.
Binary opposition is a common feature of the western intellectual tradition (e.g. individual versus society, true versus false) and Saussure writes this opposition into his system. No particular unit (word, sound, concept) has anyintrinsic value beyond what it derives from the presence of other units in the system, similar or dissimilar. Any unit (and that includes larger elements of syntax and meaning) can substitute for any other, or be compared to another. Words acquire their values in two ways. One is by virtue of being strung together in sentences: their syntagmatic relationships. The other is paradigmatic, associative, fromexperience of the world outside, whether directly through sense impressions or via mental operations. This paradigmatic way is not logical: we build up chains of associations — school, playtime, games, competition, etc. — where the end members have no obvious connection with each other. {2}
Two points need to be made. Firstly, language can be studied from many aspects (as individual expression,social need, aesthetic shape, etc.) but Saussure's approach cuts these off, treating language as a self-contained system of signs. The arbitrary nature of signs is a product of that approach: it is not proved by his system but presupposed by it. Secondly, the binary opposition is a structuring device: a conscious choice. Formal logic has a stronger case for the opposition (true or false) but hasin practice an imperfect grasp on the world, commonly uses more than two values, and has branched into deontic, modal etc. forms.
Lévi-Strauss
Structuralism originated in the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss on pre-literate peoples. Lévi-Strauss {3} was a contemporary of Sartre and French existentialism, but his thinking went back to the collectivist notions of the sociologist Emile Durkheim, who...
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