Thursday, December 20, 2012

The emergence of structuralism in the late 1950’s in disciplines such as linguistics, anthropology, & psychology


Russell Van Edsinga

Professor Gilliland

Philosophy 408: Phenomenology and Existentialism

Presentation #2

Before I cover structuralisms impact on the late 1950’s in the disciplines such as linguistics, anthropology, and psychology, Ill first go over the definitional aspect, in case some of you aren’t as familiar with this theory.

-Structuralism is a theoretical paradigm (in the philosophy of science, a generally accepted model of how ideas relate to one another, forming a conceptual framework within which scientific research is carried out) that emphasizes that elements of culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure. The philosopher by the name of Simon Blackburn- a British academic philosopher known for his work in quasi-realism- summarized structuralism as: "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 rejects the concept of human freedom and choice and focused instead on the way that human experience and thus, behavior, is determined by various structures. It argued that human culture may be understood by means of a structure-—modeled on language -that is distinct both from the organizations of reality and the organization of ideas and imagination

The structuralist mode of reasoning has been applied in a diverse range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary criticism, economics and architecture.

            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 in linguistics, 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 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.    

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, existentialism, such as that asserted by Jean-Paul Sartre, was the dominant European intellectual movement. Structuralism rose to prominence in France in the wake of existentialism, particularly in the 1960s. The initial popularity of structuralism in France led to its spread across the globe.      

By the early 1960s structuralism as a movement was coming into its own and some believed that it offered a single unified approach to human life that would embrace all disciplines. Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida focused on how structuralism could be applied to literature.

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.

Structuralism is less popular today than other approaches, such as post-structuralism and deconstruction.

In the 1980s, deconstruction—and its emphasis on the fundamental ambiguity of language rather than its crystalline logical structure—became popular. By the end of the century structuralism was seen as a historically important school of thought, but the movements that it spawned, rather than structuralism itself, commanded attention

Structuralism is less popular today than other approaches, such as post-structuralism and deconstruction. Structuralism has often been criticized for being ahistorical and for favoring deterministic structural forces over the ability of people to act. The precise nature of the revision of structuralism differs with each post-structuralist author, though common themes include the rejection of the self-sufficiency of the structures that structuralism posits and an interrogation of the binary oppositions that constitute those structures. This theory proposed that there are certain theoretical and conceptual opposites, often arranged in a hierarchy, which human logic has given to text. Such binary pairs could include Enlightenment/Romantic, male/female, speech/writing, rational/emotional, signifier/signified, symbolic/imaginary. Post-structuralism rejects the notion of the essential quality of the dominant relation in the hierarchy, choosing rather to expose these relations and the dependency of the dominant term on its apparently subservient counterpart. The only way to properly understand these meanings is to deconstruct the assumptions and knowledge systems that produce the illusion of singular meaning. This « deconstruction can explain how male can become female, how speech can become writing, and how rational can become emotional

Put briefly-

Structuralism was an intellectual movement in France in the 1950s and 1960s that studied the underlying structures in cultural products (such as texts) and used analytical concepts from linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and other fields to interpret those structures. It emphasized the logical and scientific nature of its results.

Post-structuralism offers a way of studying how knowledge is produced and critiques structuralism premises. It argues that because history and culture condition the study of underlying structures, both are subject to biases and misinterpretations. A post-structuralist approach argues that to understand an object (e.g., a text), it is necessary to study both the object itself and the systems of knowledge that produced the object.

As for its impact on psychology-

 Structuralism in psychology refers to the theory founded by Edward B. Titchener, who was a student of (Vil-heim Vunt) Wilhelm Wundt. Titchener said that only observable events constituted science and that any speculation concerning unobservable events has no place in society. he wrote- “It is true, nevertheless, that observation is the single and proprietary method of science, and that experiment, regarded as scientific method, is nothing else than observation safeguarded and assisted.” which basically means that the complex perceptions can be raised through basic sensory information.

 

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