Structuralism – a very short overview

Post #8 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

Jacques Derrida’s Given Time can be read in part as a critique of structuralism, the central belief of which is that elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure, such as language. It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel.

Structuralism is a methodology, i.e. a body of methods, rules and beliefs, that has been applied to a diverse range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary criticism, economics and architecture. The most prominent thinkers associated with structuralism include the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss; whose “discreet and respectful critique” of Marcel Mauss is in turn critiqued by Derrida in chapter 3 of Given Time.

As an intellectual movement, structuralism was initially presumed to be the heir apparent to existentialism. However, by the late 1960s, many of structuralism’s basic tenets came under attack from a new wave of predominantly French intellectuals, including Jacques Derrida.

Derek Hampson

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