Strengths and Weaknesses of Structuralism
Structuralism is a theoretical ideology that sticks to the concept of structure when it comes to understanding different concepts and ideas. Structuralism takes into account the value of form and the process of how this form comes to be. Structures are multi-faceted and it requires a proper grasp and handling of these structures in order to be understood.
As a theoretical doctrine, structuralism regards structure to be more important than function. One main beginning of structuralism is in the field of linguistics, through Ferdinand de Saussure that separated langue and parole or in conceptual terms, linguistic competency and performance respectively. It is also through de Saussure that the concept of sign and signified is presented; the sign is pertaining to how a certain object is expressed. Understanding structuralism through linguistics showcases the presence of relationships between the abstract and the material.
Structuralism has its strengths depending on how it is applied in different fields of expertise. In linguistics, sociology and anthropology, concepts are explained through the structure that they came in. The function of these structures only comes in as secondary. Louis Althusser, a Marxist and sociologist uses structuralism in his social analysis which is notable for his presentation of the concept of state apparatuses. Using structuralism in social analysis opens up different perspectives that identify the dynamics of the society through the presence of different social structures.
In the context of literature and literary criticism, structuralism is associated with the idea of intertextuality. A literary text is part of a greater whole or genre. There exists a universal pattern or structure that aids in the study of literature and how literary texts flow similarly and differently. Structuralism also presents the idea that literature is governed by specific rules based on literary structures. This also puts forward the value of schema in the study of literature; it is through the understanding of more texts that one is able to understand more. In other words, the vastness of one’s experience in literature helps one in understanding literature, both in fragments and as a whole.
The weakness of structuralism lies in how it can be reductive. It relies so much on structure that it deliberately ignores the value of functionality. In linguistics, there is a so-called concept of functional grammar. The functionality of grammar does not heed to the principles of structuralism because it values more how language functions despite the lack of structure. This is applicable to the sociolinguistic approach to the study of language. Sociolinguistics takes into account the dynamism of language and its contextuality. Through context, one is able to understand language. Aside from being reductive, structuralism is also criticized for being deterministic. This is why fields of studies tend to gravitate towards post-structuralism which primarily critiques the premises of structuralism. Structuralism is commonly tagged as being descriptive while post-structuralism leans on being historical. The dichotomy between the two, wherein the latter is defined by the former, is reliant on the acceptance on how meaning-making is perceived. Structuralism tends to stick to a single meaning while post-structuralism embraces multiplicity of meaning. In the work of Barthes, he challenges structuralism by presenting the concept of metalanguage; how grammar and meaning exist beyond the bounds of the traditional knowledge that we have regarding language. This leads to the idea of deconstruction wherein the relationship between text and meaning that is bound by semiotics.
The strengths and weaknesses of structuralism is usually defined and identified through how it is applied in different fields of study. While structuralism will always maintain relevance in specific fields, there are also fields of study wherein structuralism will always receive criticism, time and time again.