Structuralism, from which Structural Analysis derives, is the methodological principle that human culture is made up of systems in which a change in any element produces changes in the others. Four basic types of theoretical or critical activities have been regarded as structuralist: the use of language as a structural model, the search for universal functions or actions in texts, the explanation of how meaning is possible, and the post-structuralist denial of objective meaning. In the field of literature, in which Structuralism and Post-Structuralism have gained particular importance, Structuralism seeks to explain the structures underlying literary texts either in terms of a grammar modeled on that of language or in terms of Ferdinand de Saussure's principle that the meaning of each word depends on its place in the total system of language.
Though limited to literature, this definition from the Dictionary of Concepts in Literary Criticism and Theory provides an understanding of what Structuralism or Structural Analysis is about. The French theorist Roland Barthes expands this definition by characterizing Structuralism in terms of its reconstitutive activity:
"The goal of all structuralist activity, whether reflexive or poetic, is to reconstruct an 'object,' in such a way as to manifest thereby the rules of functioning (the 'functions') of this object. The structure is therefore actually a simulacrum of the object, but it is a directed, interested simulacrum, since the imitated object makes something appear which remained invisible or, if one prefers, unintelligible in the natural object" (Barthes, 1963).
For Jean-Marie Benoist,
"An analysis is structural if, and only if, it displays the content as a model, i.e., if it can isolate a formal set of elements and relations in terms of which it is possible to argue without entering upon the significance of the given content" (Benoist, 8).
In other words, Structuralism is not concerned with the content of a text or any other kind of system; rather, it analyzes and explores the structures underlying the text or system, which make the content possible. One of the leading principles of Structuralism is that the form defines the content ("form is content"). That is, that the underlying structure of a text or system, which presents and organizes the content, determines the nature of that content as well as its message or communicated information. Thus Structuralism analyzes how meaning is possible and how it is transmitted - regardless of the actual meaning.
According to Claude LÚvy-Strauss, as well as other Structuralist thinkers in linguistics, anthropology, psychology, and biology (as well as other disciplines), the human mind structured to operate in certain ways and which determines the way we think and operate, regardless of the discipline we are working, the culture we are living in, or the language that we speak. The view that there is in man an innate, genetically, transmitted and determined mechanism that acts as a structuring force is one underlying premises of Structuralism and, though this view is far from reaching consensus among Structuralist thinkers, it has lead to the belief that there are permanent structures in our minds that determine who we are and what we can be. In this sense, this view of Structuralism is simply based on the application of structuralist principles to the human mind.
Whether these principles can be applied only to texts, science, research methods, systems, etc., or be expanded to the human mind remains to be seen. However, this debate illustrates the basic premises of Structuralism and their universal application. Like Discourse or Critical Analysis, Structural Analysis (which can be considered part of Discourse Analysis) may be applied to any discipline. What differs Structuralism from Discourse Analysis is its scientific claim or, rather, it's focus on underlying structures instead of content. Through this focus, Structuralism claims to preserve a certain level of objectivity in its analysis. Structuralism has turned into Post-Structuralism and many of the thinkers who were previously considered Structuralists are now labeled Post-Structuralists. This is the case of Michel Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, and Lacan, as well as of others. Again, this illustrates the close kinship between Structuralism and Discourse Analysis and that theories and philosophies are not easily classified and distinguished from each other. Suffice it to note here, that Discourse Analysis is a broader concept than Structuralism and that current theories of Discourse Analysis rely upon the premises established by Structuralism. It should also be noted that Structural Analysis plays an important role in the fields of Engineering and Chemistry and other "hard" sciences. While the principles are basically the same, structural analysis in these fields is probably not surrounded by the same controversy and the term "Structuralism" probably does not apply in the same manner as in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Structural Analysis can be used to study any kind of system, text, or material. It applies equally to the Humanities and Social Sciences as well as to the "hard" Sciences, though with different connotations. The methods of Structural Analysis might be different in each discipline. For example, Structural Analysis in Linguistics or Psychology might differ from Structural Analysis in Literature or the study of information retrieval and organization. The basic premises, however, are the same. As with all other methods of research the validity of the conclusions obtained through structural analysis depend on the quality and rigor of the study. In the Social Sciences, the validity of Structural Analysis may rest on quantifiable and verifiable research; though this may also be the case in the Humanities, the construction of the argument might have more importance. The major advantage of Structural Analysis is that it enables an awareness to underlying structures and reveals their limiting and conditioning nature. However, it does not enable analysis of the content. Another disadvantage is that the search for ultimate and final structures (especially in Psychology and Anthropology) may stifle innovation and enhancement (not to mention its limiting character with regard to human psychology and interaction).
- Barthes, Roland. "The Structuralist Activity." In Critical Essays. Trans. R. Howard. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 1972.
- This essay is a good starting point and introduction to both Structuralism and the thought of one its main theorists, the French critic Roland Barthes. The brief nature of the essay and its summarizing of Barthes major ideas makes this essay particularly appealing.
- Benoist, Jean-Marie. The Structural Revolution. Trans. A. Pomerans. London: Widenfeld and Nicolson, 1978.
- Collection of essays by Jean-Marie Benoist which relate structuralism to a number of philosophical and literary traditions.
- Harris, Wendell. "Structuralism." Dictionary of Concepts in Literary Criticism and Theory. New York : Greenwood Press, 1992. 378-387.
- Though the article is concerned with Structuralism in regards to Literary Criticism and Theory, it provides an excellent, brief explanation of the concepts behind structuralist thought and constitutes a good introduction to the various theories within Structuralism in regards to narrative texts.
Other Useful Print Resources
- Badcock, Christopher. Lévy-Strauss: Structuralism and Sociological Theory. London: Hutchinson, 1975.
- This is a useful explanation of Claude Lévy-Strauss' theory and importance for Social Criticism and Structuralism, especially since Lévy-Strauss can be difficult to grasp. The book is mostly free of structuralist jargon and written from the point of view of sociological theory and the history of sociological thought.
- Ehrmann, Jacques, Ed. Structuralism. New York: Anchor Books, 1970.
- This is a collection essays by important theorists and scholars on Structuralism in Linguistics, Anthropology, Art, Psychiatry, and Literature. The authors include such important figures as Claude Lévy-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Michael Riffaterre, and Tzvetan Todorov. In addition, the volume provides bibliographies on Structuralism in all three disciplines. This is a good introductory resource, though sometimes difficult of access, as some of the essays are written by the theorists themselves.
- Gibson, Rex. Structuralism and Education. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984.
- As a part of the series Studies in Teaching and Learning, Structuralism and Education provides an excellent introduction the application of structuralist theories to the study of education. Gibson explains Structuralism, its methods, concepts, and origins, while remaining skeptical about its claim to inform human behavior. In addition, the volume contains a chapter on Structural Analysis as a method of studying educational practice, that provides a useful definition as well as examples of Structural Analysis.
- Structural Equation Modeling is a statistical method. It was designed for the areas of the social sciences where precise measurements are difficult to find, but where the investigator supposes that there is some underlying construct that cannot be measured directly but nevertheless can be assessed indirectly by measuring a number of relevant indicators. Structural equation modeling, and in particular the special case of factor analysis, was developed for this purpose, typically dealing with individuals' behavior, attitudes or mental performance. This page on Structural Equation Modeling contains an index of SEM-related resources available on the WWW; this includes links to listservs, general sites on Structural Equation Modeling, as well as special topics, software applications, and course syllabi. It is an excellent place to start exploring Structural Equation Modeling, as it provides a complete overview over the method (through the links), as well as access to current software.
- Full text access to the following paper by Duane Truex: "The Debate in Structural Linguistics: how it may impact the information systems field." This paper argues that the use of concepts in Information Science research which have been borrowed from references disciplines may present difficulties when the concepts are only partially imported into IS research. Providing an introduction into the ongoing debate in the field of linguistics, between Chomskyan structural linguists and linguists developing the notion of emergent grammars, the paper provides insight as to how that debate may impact the field of Information Science.
- Structural Anthropology, by Claude LÚvi-Strauss (1958), Chapter II: Structural Analysis in Linguistics and in Anthropology. Full text access to Claude Levi-Strauss' essay on structural analysis in Linguistics and Anthropology. Quite a long and difficult read, yet the most famous texts on how Structuralism applies to Anthropology and society; includes links to full primary texts by other famous thinkers of structural analysis, i.e. Ferdinand de Saussure, Durkheim, Althusser, and Marx. The page is part of a "Miniature Library of Philosophy" by Andy Blunden and contains numerous links to other relevant information on Structuralism as well as other Critical Theories that are worthwhile to explore.
- Large site on Statistical Data Analysis with numerous links, as well as bibliographic information; link to Structural Analysis of Discrete Data and other examples of statistical structural analysis. This is such a long page and the information/links to Structural Analysis are difficult to find. I recommend searching for "structural" once the page is done loading.
- Page by Professor John Lye of Brock University on "Elements of Structuralism and its Application to Literary Theory." The page provides a definition of Structuralism and describes how it applies to literature. In addition, it provides a description of Structural Analysis in a broader sense and a useful glossary of vocabulary that is also applies to other fields. This is a good page to gain an understanding of what Structuralism is and how it can be applied to texts of any discipline.
Examples of Structural Analysis
- Beghtol, Clare. Stories: Applications of Narrative Discourse Analysis to Issues in Information Storage and Retrieval. Knowledge Organization 24.2 (1997): 64-71.
- According to Clare Beghtol, research into narrative discourse (Discourse Analysis) is relevant to issues in document storage and retrieval, especially in the Arts and Humanities. The author contends that document retrieval may be simplified if fundamental categories that occur in texts can be isolated. Applying structuralist methods, Beghtol aims at analyzing texts in such manner that would allow a clear categorization of their nature and content. Beghtol is particularly interested in identifying reliable distinctions between narrative and non-narrative texts. Indeed, such a distinction would enable or enhance current problematic classification practices, especially in the classification of fiction. Through a clear distinction and categorization of fictional as well as non-fictional texts, user access to information could be greatly enhanced.
- Florance, Valerie. "Medical Knowledge for Clinical Problem Solving: A Structural Analysis of Clinical Questions." Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 80 (1992): 140-149.
- Concerned with the underutilization of current biomedical literature by physicians, Valerie Florance explores the nature of clinically applicable medical knowledge through a structural analysis of clinical questions. Through a survey of 60 question based on the actual online search requests of practicing physicians, Florance identified four states of information valuable in patient care: pre-diagnostic assessment; diagnostic; treatment choice; and learning. She concludes that clinical problem solving requires a blend of declaration and procedural knowledge.
- Salisbury, Lutishoor. "Structural Analysis and Design in a Library Environment." International Library Review 21 (1989): 231-239.
- Salisbury uses a structured approach to evaluate the application of structured analysis in requirement analysis and system design. The author starts by defining "structured approach" as a method that enables to organize problems hierarchically and to break them down into smaller understandable and workable problems, with recognizable relationships and sub-problems. In this manner, the author is able to recognize and solve the sub-problems, without losing sight of the overall system problem. The paper is an example of how a structured approach (which follows the same principles as those of Structure Analysis) can be applied to the field of Information Science.
- Yaru, Dang. "Structural Modeling of Network Systems in Citation Analysis." Journal of the American Society for Information Science 48 (1997): 946-952.
- Yaru describes the construction of a citation network system, including some subsystems (time sequence network, co-citation network, couple network) and establishes the structural modeling system for these systems by means of system engineering. This is an example the application of structural modeling to analyze and enhance a citation system (citation index).