Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.



Structuralism in social science

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-R036-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Any school of thought in the social sciences that stresses the priority of order over action is ‘structural’. In the twentieth century, however, ‘structuralism’ has been used to denote a European, largely French language, school of thought that applied methods and conceptions of order developed in structural linguistics to a wide variety of cultural and social phenomena. Structuralism aspired to be a scientific approach to language and social phenomena that, in conceiving of them as governed by autonomous law-governed structures, minimized consideration of social-historical context and individual as well as collective action. Structural linguistics was developed in the early part of the twentieth century primarily by the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure. After the Second World War, it fostered roughly three phases of structural approaches to social phenomena. Under the lead of above all the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, classical structuralism applied structural linguistic conceptions of structure with relatively little transformation to such social phenomena as kinship structures, myths, cooking practices, religion and ideology. At the same time, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan appropriated Saussure’s conceptual apparatus to retheorize the Freudian unconscious. In the 1960s, a second phase of structural thought, neo-structuralism, extended structural linguistic notions of order to a fuller spectrum of social phenomena, including knowledge, politics and society as a whole. Many of Saussure’s trademark conceptions were abandoned, however, during this phase. Since the 1970s, a third phase of structuralism has advanced general theories of social life that centre on how structures govern action. In so refocusing structural theory, however, the new structuralists have broken with the conception of structure that heretofore reigned in structural thought.

Citing this article:
Schatzki, Theodore R.. Structuralism in social science, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-R036-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches


Related Articles