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theory that uses culturally interconnected signs to reconstruct systems of relationships rather than studying isolated, material things in themselves. This method found wide use from the early 20th cent. in a variety of fields, especially linguisticslinguistics,
scientific study of language, covering the structure (morphology and syntax; see grammar), sounds (phonology), and meaning (semantics), as well as the history of the relations of languages to each other and the cultural place of language in human behavior.
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, particularly as formulated by Ferdinand de SaussureSaussure, Ferdinand de
, 1857–1913, Swiss linguist. One of the founders of modern linguistics, he established the structural study of language, emphasizing the arbitrary relationship of the linguistic sign to that which it signifies.
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 and Roman JakobsonJakobson, Roman
, 1896–1982, Russian-American linguist and literary critic, b. Moscow. He coined the term structural linguistics and stressed that the aim of historical linguistics is the study not of isolated changes within a language but of systematic change.
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. Anthropologist Claude Lévi-StraussLévi-Strauss, Claude
, 1908–2009, French anthropologist, b. Brussels, Belgium, Ph.D Univ. of Paris, 1948. He carried out research in Brazil from 1935 to 1939.
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 used structuralism to study the kinship systems of different societies. No single element in such a system has meaning except as an integral part of a set of structural connections. These interconnections are said to be binary in nature and are viewed as the permanent, organizational categories of experience. Structuralism has been influential in literary criticism and history, as with the work of Roland BarthesBarthes, Roland
, 1915–80, French critic. Barthes was one of the founding figures in the theoretical movement centered around the journal Tel Quel. In his earlier works, such as Writing Degree Zero (tr. 1953) and Mythologies (1957, tr.
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 and Michel FoucaultFoucault, Michel,
1926–84, French philosopher and historian. He was professor at the Collège de France (1970–84). He is renowned for historical studies that reveal the sometimes morally disturbing power relations inherent in social practices.
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. In France after 1968 this search for the deep structure of the mind was criticized by such "poststructuralists" as Jacques DerridaDerrida, Jacques
, 1930–2004, French philosopher, b. El Biar, Algeria. A graduate of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, he taught there and at the Sorbonne, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and a number of American
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, who abandoned the goal of reconstructing reality scientifically in favor of "deconstructing" the illusions of metaphysicsmetaphysics
, branch of philosophy concerned with the ultimate nature of existence. It perpetuates the Metaphysics of Aristotle, a collection of treatises placed after the Physics [Gr.
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 (see semioticssemiotics
or semiology,
discipline deriving from the American logician C. S. Peirce and the French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. It has come to mean generally the study of any cultural product (e.g., a text) as a formal system of signs.
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See J. Culler, Structuralist Poetics (1976); J. Sturrock, ed., Structuralism and Since: From Lévi-Strauss to Derrida (1979).


  1. any sociological analysis in terms of SOCIAL STRUCTURE.
  2. (more especially) any form of analysis in which 'structures’ take priority (ontologically, methodologically, etc.) over human actors.
  3. (in LINGUISTICS, e.g. SAUSSURE and CHOMSKY) an approach which concentrates analysis on the structural features of LANGUAGE(S); especially the study of the synchronic relations between linguistic elements rather than, as previously in linguistics, engaging in diachronic, historical or comparative study (see SYNCHRONIC AND DIACHRONIC).
  4. those methodological and theoretical approaches to cultural and sociological analysis based on the assumption that societies can be analysed, analogously with language and linguistics (see sense 3), as 'signifying systems’. In these approaches, the emphasis is on the analysis of’unobservable’ but detectable structural relations between ‘conceptual elements’ in social life (e.g. relations of opposition and contrast, or hierarchy). These conceptual elements are seen as the ultimate object of study in social science and the structural determinants of social reality. The view is that essentially the same methods of analysis apply, whether the phenomenon in question be, for example, a text, or a society. Structuralism in sociological analysis is seen in the work of the anthropologist Claude LÉVI-STRAUSS, the cultural semiologists Roland BARTHES and the psychoanalytic theorist Jacques LACAN. In the work of Lévi-Strauss, for example, social myths and, by extension, other social forms, are presented as arising from the tendency of the human mind to think in terms of binary opposites (e.g. ‘the raw and the cooked’, or in kinship relations, the marriageable and the unmarriageable).
  5. any doctrine stating that social analysis should be concerned with exploring beneath 'surface appearances’ in order to reach the deeper, ultimately more ‘real’, structures seen as determining social relations. Symptomatic of this general view is Marx's suggestion that ‘if essence and appearance coincided there would be no need for science’. Although far from always being dependent on linguistic analogies, in recent years structuralism in this sense has gained a new impetus in borrowing some concepts from structuralism sense 4 (e.g. see ALTHUSSERIAN MARXISM).
For Lacan, structuralism succeeds by ‘decentring’ the previously central place of the individual in much social analysis. Likewise, for Foucault, individuals are no longer to be seen as the 'subjects’ of history.

Critics of all types of structuralism in sociology argue that sociology must continue to take as central the human actor's involvement in the construction and reconstruction of meaning and the social world: structuralism is accused of an unjustified REIFICATION in its account of social reality. Among other objections to structuralism are a rejection of its ahistorical approach and the speculative and allegedly ‘untestable’ nature of much of its theorizing.

A halfway house between theories of structure and theories of individual agency has often been attempted. BERGER and Pullberg (1966), for example, propose a dialectical theory of the social construction of reality, in which 'social structure’ does not stand on its own, ‘apart from the human activity that produced it’, but, that once created, ‘is encountered by the individual (both) as an alien facticity (and) … a coercive instrumentality’. More recently, GIDDENS has proposed a notion of DUALITY OF STRUCTURE involving both structure and individual agency. For Giddens, to enquire into the 'structuration’ of social practices ‘is to seek to explain how it comes about that structures are constituted through actions, and, reciprocally, how action is constituted structurally’ (see also STRUCTURATION THEORY).

The debate over agency and structure in sociology can be seen as fundamental to the discipline and unlikely ever to be resolved. The debate revolves around the issue of whether or not there are underlying causes and UNANTICIPATED CONSEQUENCES (OF SOCIAL ACTION), and if so, how sociologists are able to investigate these. Whatever the reservations about structuralism, it is clear that conceptions of structuralism in all of the above senses must be acknowledged as a raising of central questions in sociological analysis that have been valuable in combating a one-sided individualism. Structuralism in senses 3 , 4 and 5 enjoyed a period as a vogue perspective in the 1960s and 70s, justifiably so, because it gave a new impetus to theoretical sociology in a number of areas (e.g. see SEMIOTICS). Equally, however, structuralism is often seen as itself unjustifiably onesided, (see STRUCTURE AND AGENCY) even by some of its own previous leading proponents (see POSTSTRUCTURALISM).



a scientific orientation in the humanities that arose in the 1920’s and later acquired various philosophical and ideological interpretations. The emergence of structuralism as a definite scientific orientation was bound up with the transition of some of the humanities from a primarily descriptive, empirical level to an abstract, theoretical level of analysis. This transition was based on the use of the structural method, of modeling, and of elements of formalization and mathematicization.

The structural method—the basis of scientific structuralism in this specific sense—was initially developed in structural linguistics and was later extended to the study of literature, to ethnography, to history, and to certain other areas of the humanities. Thus, in a broad sense, structuralism embraces a wide range of fields of knowledge that differ appreciably both in terms of specific modifications of the structural method and in terms of its actual role in research. In a narrower, stricter sense, structuralism is meant as a set of scientific and philosophical ideas, related to the application of the structural method, that became most prevalent in France in the 1960’s. The main exponents of French structuralism were the ethnologist C. Lévi-Strauss, the cultural historian M. Foucault, the psychoanalyst J. Lacan, and the literary critic R. Barthes, as well as the Italian art scholar U. Eco.

The basis of the structural method is the explication of structure in its specifically structuralist meaning—as a set of relations that remain invariant through certain transformations. Structure is interpreted here not simply as a stable framework for a given entity, but rather as an aggregate of rules by which one entity can be made to yield a series of other entities by transposition of its elements and by certain other symmetrical transformations. Thus, the structural patterns common to a given set of entities are brought to light not by dismissing the differences among these entities, but by bringing out the differences as concrete alternative versions that change into one another, or as variants of a single abstract invariant. This process of deduction and transformation is governed by rules drawn from various divisions of discrete, “qualitative” mathematics, such as the theory of groups and combinatorial analysis.

Under this approach, the center of gravity devolves upon the processes of transformation in objects of the most varied nature, so that a characteristic feature of the structural method is the shifting of attention from elements and their “natural” properties to the relationships among elements and to the relational, or system-acquired, properties that depend on such relationships. In structuralism, this is formulated as the methodological primacy of relationships over the elements in a system.

The following can be identified as basic procedures of the structural method: (1) isolation of an initial set or block of objects (for example, a body of texts, in the case of cultural objects) that can be assumed to share a common structure; for the variable objects of humanistic studies, this means, first of all, fixing these objects in time—establishing their limits in terms of coexisting objects and temporarily ignoring their development, as required by the methodological primacy of synchrony over diachro-ny: the synchronic relations of coexistence and of direct interaction are to be studied first, followed by history and diachronic development; (2) division of these objects, or texts, into rudimentary segments, or parts, in which heterogeneous pairs of elements are linked by characteristic, repetitive relationships, wherein the relational properties essential to a given relationship are brought to light in each element; and (3) disclosure of the relationships of transformation among the segments, systematiza-tion of these relationships, and creation of an abstract structure either by direct synthesis or by formal logic analogues and mathematical modeling, after which all the theoretically possible consequences, or specific variants, are deduced from the structure and verified in practice.

Implementation of these procedures presupposes, consequently, the imposition of certain limitations on the object (for example, ignoring its development, or ignoring the substratum of the elements), which is what makes it possible to reveal an abstract structure as an aggregate of latent internal relationships; the elements bearing the relational properties are found at the intersection of such latent relationships. If these procedures are carried out to a logical conclusion, the resulting structure can be dealt with in terms of mathematical logic, whose operations are strict enough to permit the deductive construction of a theory.

As interpreted here, the structural method, applied to the humanities, brought about a radical restructuring of the very subject matter of humanistic studies—the creation of new types of ideal objects of a highly constructive nature and the emergence of new types of interdisciplinary relationships. As a rule, the structural aspect in the humanities is isolated on the basis of a sign system, so that scientific structuralism is closely intertwined with semiotics, forming a unified complex of structural and semiotic studies in which the methods of cybernetics and of information theory carry considerable weight.

A characteristic feature of the structuralist approach to sign systems is the attempt to reveal the subconscious, deep-seated structures and latent mechanisms of these systems that lie behind conscious manipulation with signs, words, images, and symbols. From the standpoint of structuralism, it is precisely the shift to the study of such structures of the unconscious that ensures the scientific objectivity of research, creating two possible alternatives: disengagement from the concept of the subject or perception of the subject as a secondary formation derived from these structures. The concept of the unconscious, infused with the tradition of Freudianism, has been substantially reinterpreted here: for Lacan the unconscious is structured as language, and for Lévi-Strauss it imposes a structural order on elements entering from the outside—impulses, emotions, concepts, and recollections.

Scientific structuralism examines culture as an aggregate of sign systems, of which language is the most important one, but also including science, art, religion, mythology, customs, fashion, and advertising. The latent patterns in these objects—patterns to which man unconsciously submits—are precisely what structur-al-semiotic analysis can reveal. The deep-seated layers of culture that correspond to these patterns are differently defined under different conceptual schemes—for example, the concept of “epis-teme” that characterizes the deeper levels of knowledge in Foucault’s work, the concept of “writing” of R. Barthes and J. Derrida, and of the “mental structures” of Lévi-Strauss; but they are viewed in all cases as mediating the relationship between the human consciousness and the world. According to structuralism, man’s consciousness and self-consciousness, ignorant of such mediation, are in effect the source of illusions concerning the free will and sovereign behavior of the human self. In this connection, structuralism reexamines some traditional humanistic concepts, such as the creator, the creative activity, and that which is created. Opposing the traditional “history of ideas,” structuralism emphasizes the qualitative transformations of culture based on a radical restructuring of deep-seated structures. At the same time, at another level of abstraction, structuralism is searching for broad typological generalizations, for human universals, and for universal models and laws of intellectual activity.

Scientific structuralism has proved fruitful in the study of primitive tribal cultures, in the study of folklore, and in other areas. At the same time, it has given rise to pointed discussions of a specifically scientific and philosophical nature.

Philosophical interpretations of structuralism may be divided along two basic lines: the philosophical ideas of the scientific structuralists themselves and the structuralist ideology that became popular in France in the 1960’s. The structuralists formulated their philosophical ideas in the process of interpreting the humanities” transition to an abstract, theoretical level and the movement in the direction of the natural sciences. This interpretation, which was largely worked out within the Cartesian-Kantian tradition but was also influenced by positivism and Freudianism, led to the proposal of dualistic conceptions—the “Kantianism without a transcendental subject” of Lévi-Strauss and the historical a prioris of Foucault.

The exaggeration of the role of unconscious mechanisms in sign systems and in culture as a whole, combined with overly broad generalizations, introduces elements of eclecticism into the conceptual scheme of structuralism; in its basic principles, however, the scheme generally reproduces with certain modifications the Kantian dualism of form (in the given case, of unconscious structures) and content (empirical data). The specific “antisubjective” tendency of structuralism is strongly bound up with the drive against existentialism and against other subjectivist currents that reject the possibility of objective knowledge of man. At the same time, the conceptions of structuralism, taking the form not of theoretically developed systems but rather of individual pronouncements and philosophical hypotheses, often turn out to be unstable, given to compromise with this very same existentialism or with phenomenology, for example.

The structuralist ideology represents yet another step toward investing with absolute value certain scientific theses of structuralism, in part despite the structuralists themselves; furthermore, these theses are carried over to a global interpretation of contemporary social problems. On this plane, structuralism is viewed—by some of its adherents as well as by critics—as a kind of contemporary world view based on the counterposing of structure to man and to history (the “death of man” idea, adopted in particular by critics of structuralism). In a transmuted form, this contraposition reflects the contradictions between the personality and various structures of state-monopoly capitalism. At the same time, the substitution of “structure in general,” symbolizing a kind of antihumanist principle, for specific social structures obscures actual social problems and is exploited both by the technocratic and by the anarchist school of thought. The structuralist ideology suffered a blow from the exacerbation of social conflicts during the late 1960’s in France and in other countries, which was perceived as a practical refutation of the myth of the “omnipotence of structures.”

Exponents of existentialism, of personalism, and of phenomenology have subjected structuralism as a whole to sharp criticism as a scientistic, antihumanistic trend. This criticism, starting out from the points of view of abstract humanism and subjectivistic irrationalism, was most directed against the very idea of scientific study of social phenomena. In contrast to the nihilistic critics, who frequently fail to differentiate between the special, scientific and the general, philosophical levels in structuralism, the Marxists in France, in the USSR, and in other countries provide a scientific analysis of structuralism as a complex and contradictory set of ideas requiring a differentiated approach. Emphasizing the legitimacy and at the same time the limitations of the structural method as one among other specialized scientific methods, Marxist criticism rebuffs the various attempts to use the structural method in opposition to or as a substitute for materialist dialectics. While bringing a principled critique to bear on the structuralist ideology, Marxists make a distinction between the ideology and positive scientific research.


Lévi-Strauss, C. “Struktura mifov.” Voprosy filosofii, 1970, no. 7.
Lévi-Strauss, C. “Koldun i ego magiia.” Priroda, 1974, nos. 7–8.
Gretskii, M. N. Frantsuzskiistrukturalizm. Moscow, 1971.
Gretskii, M. N. “Strukturalizm: osnovnye problemy i urovni ikh resheniia.” Filosofskie nauki, 1974, no. 4.
Séve, L. “O strukturalizme.” Problemv mira i sotsializma, 1971, nos. 5–6.
Senokosov, Iu. P. “Diskussiia o strukturalizme vo Frantsii.” Voprosy filosofii, 1968, no. 6.
Avtonomova, N. S. “Kontseptsiia “arkheologicheskogo znaniia” M. Fuko.” Ibid., 1972, no. 10.
Avtonomova, N. S. “Psikhoanaliticheskaia kontseptsiia Zhaka Lakana.” Ibid., 1973, no. 11.
Mouloud, N. Sovremennyi strukturalizm. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from French.)
Blauberg, I. V., and E. G. Iudin. Stanovlenie i sushchnost’ sistemnogo podkhoda. Moscow, 1973. Chapter 4.
Sakharova, T. A. Ot filosofii sushchestvovaniia k strukturalizmu. Moscow, 1974.
Filippov, L. N. “Strukturalizm (filosofskie aspekty).” In Burzhuaznaia filosofiia XX veka. Moscow, 1974.
Strukturalizm: “za” i “protiv.” Moscow, 1975. (Collection of translated articles.)
Lévi-Strauss, C. Anthropologie structurale deux. Paris, 1973.
Foucault, M. Les Mots et les choses. Paris, 1966.
Foucault, M. L’Archéologie du savoir. Paris, 1969.
Foucault, M. Surveiller etpunir. Paris, 1975.
Lacan, J. Ecrits. Paris, 1966.
Barthes, R. Le Degré zéro de l’écriture, suivi de Eléments de sémiologie. Paris, 1965.
Barthes, R. Le Système de la mode. Paris, 1967.
Derrida, J. L’Écriture et la différence. Paris, 1967.
Théorie d’ensemble. Paris, 1968.
Eco, U. Opera aperta. Milan, 1967.
“Problèmes du structuralisme.” Les Temps modernes, 1966, no. 246.
“Structuralisme et marxisme.” La Pensée, 1967. no. 135.
Sebag, L. Marxisme et structuralisme. Paris, 1964.
Piaget, J. Le Structuralisme. Paris, 1968.
Structuralism: A Reader. London, 1970.




in literary theory and criticism, an approach that studies literary art as a system whose elements can be integrated and transformed. It arose under the influence of such related disciplines as linguistics, semiotics, logic, and ethnology and through the reinterpretation of the legacy of the Russian Society for the Study of Poetic Language (OPOIAZ). It was also influenced by the phenomenological aesthetics of R. Ingarden.

From the 1930’s, the most creative period of the Linguistic Circle of Prague, to the early 1960’s, the structuralists regarded literature as communication. Structuralism focused on the functional interdependencies of the elements of a literary work. A work of literature was regarded as a hierarchically organized systemic whole whose internal connections could be reduced to dual (binary) relationships.

In the 1960’s, literary criticism was influenced by the concepts and methods of information theory, mathematical logic, probability, and set theory. According to Ts. Todorov, structuralism differs from traditional approaches to literary art in that it studies the abstract potentialities of literature as such, viewing the literary text as one means of realizing these potentialities. Structuralism poses the task of creating a universal “linguistics of speech” (compare M. M. Bakhtin’s “metalinguistics”), which would include literary theory and criticism. The study of the transformation of the hypothetical deep-seated structures of a literary text into surface structures has been initiated by the structuralists.

Structuralism also devotes considerable attention to the logic of the narrative; the study of this subject was anticipated in V. Ia. Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale (1928). The structuralists have developed the approach of lu. N. Tynianov in their study of the typology of the historical relations between specific works and these works” sociocultural milieu. The scholars lu. M. Lot-man, E. M. Meletinskii, V. V. Ivanov, V. N. Toporov, and B. A. Uspenskii in the USSR, as well as scholars in the European socialist countries, study structuralism as one of several approaches to works of literature. The pronouncements of structuralists have often served as an impetus for heated discussions among theorists of literature.


Simpozium po strukturnomu izucheniiu znakovykh sistem. Moscow, 1962.
Trudy po znakovym sistemam, fascs. 1–7. Tartu, 1964–75. “Diskussiia o strukturalizme v literaturovedenii.” Voprosy literatury, 1965, no. 6; 1967, nos. 1, 10.
Strukturalizm: “za iprotiv”: Sb. perevodnykh st. Moscow, 1975.
Khrestomatiiapo teoreticheskomu literaturovedeniiu, I. Tartu, 1976.
Approaches to Semiotics. The Hague, 1964—. (Series of monographs.)
Qu’est-ce que le structuralisme? Paris, 1968.
Semiotica: Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies. The Hague, 1969—.
Poétique: Revue de théorie et d’analyse littéraires. Paris, 1970—.
Poetics: International Review for the Theory of Literature. The Hague-Paris, 1971—.
Mukařovský, J. Cestamipoetiky a esletiky. Prague, 1971.
Essais de sémiotique poétique. par A. J. Greimas. Paris [1972].
Jakobson, R. Questions de poétique. Paris, 1973.
Eimeimacher, K. Arbeiten sowjetischer Semiotiker der Moskauer und Tartuer Schule (Auswahlbibliographie). Kronberg, 1974.




Structuralism is a school of thought initiated in the early twentieth century by the great linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1875–1913). The structuralist method was applied to the field of anthropology by Claude Levi-Strauss (1908–), who is recognized as the greatest exponent of structuralism. The basic tenet of the structuralist school is that the human mind organizes its apprehension of the world into dyadic structures, so that any given word or concept “makes sense” only in terms of its contrast with its opposite. In other words, up has meaning only in contrast with down, dark in contrast with light, and so on. Another structuralist assertion is that we perceive the world through our language, and hence we cannot separate the contents of our mind into words and wordless concepts. Many of the insights of structuralism have been carried over into post-structuralism/post-modernism. This latter movement is particularly sensitive to the manner in which linguistic metaphors structure our thought.

While structuralism is not often associated with dream analysis, it is easy to see how structuralism explains certain characteristics of dream experience. Dream landscapes often, for example, go through complete transformations, frequently changing into their diametric opposites. Such transformations are easy to understand in terms of the natural link that structuralism postulates between opposites. Dreams often represent certain feelings or situations through literalized metaphors (e.g., one might dream that one’s employer is one’s Siamese twin, attached at the spine—a concrete symbol of the emotional experience of the boss constantly being “on one’s back”). This is a perfect example of the characteristic of language to constantly rely upon metaphors to convey messages.


Based on the findings in anthropology, ethnology, and psychology by Claude Lévi-Strauss in his search for primordial societal constructs or patterns which serve as the basis for all later cultural developments, Structuralism in architecture connotes the referral to basic structural forms, archeforms, from which architectural design and construction can derive. The Dutch architect, Aldo van Eyck, is often cited as a main representative, although structural ideas have also been expressed by early Le Corbusier, by Louis Kahn, and by others.


an approach to anthropology and other social sciences and to literature that interprets and analyses its material in terms of oppositions, contrasts, and hierarchical structures, esp as they might reflect universal mental characteristics or organizing principles
References in periodicals archive ?
Yet, in spite of Wilcken accurately diagnosing structuralism as presaging the so called 'death of the subject' and the dissolution of 'Man', Levi-Strauss does come across in the book as humanist by temperament and academic inclination--a gentlemanly and, with age, increasingly avuncular, if rather reclusive, figure who had not just created an austere theoretical and methodological system, but also championed the finer qualities of 'the savage mind'.
In anthropology, the time-honored intellectual method of situating something in a context and finding the utilitarian links connecting part to whole was mercilessly sundered by structuralism.
5) To be sure, it could be contended that Culler's description of the scientific project of structuralism in its semiological and/or semiotic unfolding is a rhetorical move needed to present the stated aim of his work, notably an account of what came after structuralism, that is post-structuralism or deconstruction.
This is curious, to say the least, since it is this core notion in Bloomfield's work that shaped American structuralism and led directly to Zellig Harris' distributionalism and its natural sequel, early generative grammar (Seuren 1998: 203-233).
Petronio, who excels at postmodern structuralism, decided this time to take a more emotional route with Iris latest choreography.
Successive chapters discuss semiotics, structuralism, post structuralism, psychoanalysis, historicism, feminism, and Marxism.
We have seen many metalanguages in American culture in the last half of the 20th century generated by feminism, civil rights movements, peace movements, environmentalism, the abortion debate, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction.
For years, he's rambled on about existentialism, modernism, structuralism, pointillism, and postmodernism, but there's surely one -ism that best describes his own work: a load of old jism.
In the area of technolore, Kevin Powell, director of the Interspace development project in the CANIS lab (Community Architectures of Network Information Systems, Graduate School of Library and Information Science), applies folkloristic concepts of structuralism versus contextualism to the design and use of computer tools.
Structuralism was based on the search for deep, underlying similarities in cultural phenomena, including myth, art, and literature.
There, they quickly joined the ranks of the city's underground filmmakers and became key players in a movement later to be known as Structuralism.
He shared with them a healthy iconoclasm but an unhealthy literary style full of exhibitionistic verbal punning and clever-clever references to structuralism and situationism.

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