Structuralism: objectives, areas, theoretical

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O structuralism is a method of scientific analysis of the human and social sciences.s that gained ground in psychology, linguistics, sociology, anthropology and philosophy in the twentieth century. The greatest defenders of structuralism were concentrated among French intellectuals of the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.

Structuralism aims, in general terms and in all the sciences of which it belongs, to understand the way in which onegeneral structure perpetuates in all degrees a base. By understanding this basis, it is possible to understand how knowledge takes place in that area, whether in the human psychological intellect or in language, or in the philosophy or in the general structure of society.

The linguist Ferdinand Saussure was the “father” of structuralism, introducing it to linguistics.
The linguist Ferdinand Saussure was the “father” of structuralism, introducing it to linguistics.

Structuralism and Psychology

The first studies that raised the multidisciplinary structuralist method were by the German psychologist, physician and philosopher

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WilhelmWundt. One of the pioneers of experimental psychology, Wundt sought, through his laboratory of experimental psychology, to validate new means of psychological research. For the psychologist, there is a general structure of the human intellect that tends to be repeated in everyone.

The German philosopher and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt postulated the first signs of the structuralist method in psychology.
The German philosopher and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt postulated the first signs of the structuralist method in psychology.

By understanding the general psychological structure of human beings, it is possible to understand more clearly how human psychological behavior occurs. This thesis of structuralism guarantees an effect much sought after by psychological research: leaving the relativist terrain of the individual and reaching a more scientific and safer level. In this sense, the task of psychology is to understand the general structural bases through the analysis of the individual as a part (like an atom) of a whole.

Read too: Sigmund Freud – neurologist known for being the founder of psychoanalysis

linguistic structuralism

Linguistics also moved efforts to adopt structuralism as a way of studying the phenomenon of language. FerdinandSaussure, a Swiss linguist, is one of the first structuralists in history and the first to implement structuralism in linguistic science. Differentiating himself from the linguists of his time, Saussure he did not believe in a purely historical formation of language. For the Swiss scholar, what raised the need and scientificity of linguistic studies was precisely the possibility of a common structure of the language, regardless of the language in which this language manifests itself.

For Saussure, there was a central structure of language, which was based primarily on two basic elements of languages, signifier and meaning. Significant is the material expression of a word (what it represents in the world, that is, materially). Meaning is the concept represented by the word. The first base is followed by another understanding, the understanding of signs, which constitute the first and most unique symbolic units of language. This element founded the semiology (or semiotics) in linguistic study as the primary point to understand the structure of language. However, despite having initiated linguistic structuralism, Saussure never used the term “structure”, but rather “system”.

Structuralism in Philosophy

Philosophy, especially that of the French strand of twentieth-century thinkers, was strongly influenced by structuralism. Among the historical materialism in Karl Marx it's the existentialism, determined by the theories of Jean-Paul Sartre in France, structuralism emerged through the perspective of thinkers such as Thomas Althusser and Roland Barthes. The short and intense performance of structuralism in the French intellectual milieu lasted long enough to be carried out to its maximum consequences, resulting in the post-structuralist movement.

O poststructuralism, widely disseminated in the French intellectual milieu and to the general media audience by the philosopher Michel Foucault, consists of a exhaustion of structuralism. The foundations of structuralism were taken so seriously that they were exhausted in a movement to extend as far as possible the idea of ​​a basic structure of human knowledge. Since then, names of intellectuals such as Jean-François Lyiotard, Guy Debord, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida and Felix Guattari emerged as the greatest exponents of French post-structuralism.

See too: Contemporary Philosophy: Period of Philosophysbusiness that confronts technological advances

Sociology and Anthropology

Mixing the Philosopher's German Idealism Immanuel Kant, the comparative method of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim and inspired by the linguistic structuralism of Saussure, the Belgian anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss developed structuralism in anthropology.

With strong aspirations for idealism, structuralists did not readily accept the introduction of empirical study methods. Likewise, anthropology could no longer (since the studies of the Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski) work in a purely theoretical way. At the same time, anthropology (even though it is empirical) should seek the essence of structuralism: common bases, that is, structures of the formation of human beings, which were evidenced by culture and the formation of societies.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, the Belgian anthropologist who initiated structuralism in anthropology. [1]
Claude Lévi-Strauss, the Belgian anthropologist who initiated structuralism in anthropology. [1]

There is one basic structure which makes all human formations share the same bases. For Lévi-Strauss, understanding these bases is the way for anthropology to be able to establish itself as a legitimate science. The central search of Strauss's contemporary anthropology is based on the culture. The world has many different cultures (each society develops a culture) and each culture is understood as part of a whole.. The whole is humanity. Understanding the parts, putting them together and understanding their structural elements, as if they were a kind of puzzle, is what structuralism does.

An example of a structural element perceived by Lévi-Strauss was kinship. At work The elementary structures of kinship, the anthropologist realized that, in all cultures studied, kinship is understood as something that should be respected in the conservation of social nuclei and, more than that, incest is a taboo in all formations. social.

To consolidate the structuralist anthropological field studies of Claude Lévi-Strauss, it was also necessary to resort to Malinowski's functionalism, which used the field study of tribal societies, considered closer to a base culture and less contaminated by a scientific, technical and industrial culture. As a field of his studies, Strauss chose Brazilian indigenous societies, living here for many years, a period in which he lived in indigenous tribes, researched the indigenous culture of tribes in Mato Grosso and taught, for a time, at the University of São Paulo (USP). To get deeper into this social science, visit our text: anthropology.

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[1] UNESCO/Michel Ravassard / commons

by Francisco Porfirio
Sociology Professor

Source: Brazil School -
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