Structuralism is a theoretical paradigm that emphasizes that elements of culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure. Alternately, as summarized by philosopher Simon Blackburn, Structuralism is "the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract culture".
Structuralism originated in the early 1900s, in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague, Moscow and Copenhagen schools of linguistics. In the late 1950s and early '60s, when structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance, an array of scholars in the humanities borrowed Saussure's concepts for use in their respective fields of study. French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss was arguably the first such scholar, sparking a widespread interest in Structuralism.
The structuralist mode of reasoning has been applied in a diverse range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary criticism, economics and architecture. The most prominent thinkers associated with structuralism include Lévi-Strauss, linguist Roman Jakobson, and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. As an intellectual movement, structuralism was initially presumed the heir apparent to existentialism. However, by the late 1960s, many of structuralism's basic tenets came under attack from a new wave of predominantly French intellectuals such as the philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, the philosopher and social commentator Jacques Derrida, the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, and the literary critic Roland Barthes. Though elements of their work necessarily relate to structuralism and are informed by it, these theorists have generally been referred to as post-structuralists.
In the 1970s, structuralism was criticised for its rigidity and ahistoricism. Despite this, many of structuralism's proponents, such as Jacques Lacan, continue to assert an influence on continental philosophy and many of the fundamental assumptions of some of structuralism's post-structuralist critics are a continuation of structuralism.
Read more about Structuralism: Overview, Structuralism in Linguistics, Structuralism in Anthropology and Sociology, Structuralism in Literary Theory and Criticism, History and Background, Interpretations and General Criticisms, Bibliography