Reference Entry

structuralism and post‐structuralism

Edited by Dinah Birch

in The Oxford Companion to English Literature

Seventh edition

Published in print January 2009 | ISBN: 9780192806871
Published online January 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191735066
structuralism and post‐structuralism

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Broad schools of thought that arose in Paris from the 1950s to the 1970s, asserting a powerful influence across a range of different kinds of cultural analysis, from anthropology to literary criticism. Structuralism aimed to create a single general ‘science of signs’ called semiotics or semiology and so to uncover the basic codes or systems of meaning underlying all human cultural activity. Post‐structuralism abandons such grand scientific ambitions, while still roving freely among different cultural forms. Both currents share the same founding principle, which is the primacy of ‘Language’, conceived as an abstract system of differences, over the human mind, hitherto assumed to be the autonomous maker of all meanings, which is demoted to a subordinate position as ‘the subject’ generated by Language. This agreed, structuralism and post‐structuralism disagree on whether Language is knowably fixed as an object of science, or unstably indeterminate and slippery. Opposed conclusions about the relations between literature and science follow: for structuralism, fictional texts are to be seen as instances of scientific laws, while post‐structuralism often regards scientific laws as instances of textual fictions....

Reference Entry.  1351 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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