6 Structuralism and post-structuralism Structuralism, unlike the other approaches discussed here, is, as Terry Eagleton (1983) points out, ‘quite indifferent to the cultural value of its object: anything from War and Peace to The War Cry will do. The method is analytical, not evaluative’ (96). Structuralism is a way of approaching texts and practices that is derived from the theoretical work of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. Its principal exponents are French: Louis Althusser in Marxist theory, Roland Barthes in literary and cultural studies, Michel Foucault in philosophy and history, Jacques Lacan in psychoanalysis, Claude Lévi-Strauss in anthropology and Pierre Macherey in literary theory. Their work is often very different, and at times very difficult. What unites these authors is the influence of Saussure, and the use of a particular vocabulary drawn from his work. It is as well, then, to start our exploration with a consideration of his work in linguistics. This is best approached by examining a number of key concepts. Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved. Ferdinand de Saussure Saussure divides language into two component parts. When I write the word ‘cat’ it produces the inscription ‘cat’, but also the concept or mental image of a cat: a four-legged feline creature. He calls the first the ‘signifier’, and the second the ‘signified’. Together (like two sides of a coin or a sheet of paper) they make up the ‘sign’. He then goes on to argue that the relationship between signifier and signified is completely arbitrary. The word ‘cat’, for example, has no cat-like qualities; there is no reason why the signifier ‘cat’ should produce the signified ‘cat’: four-legged feline creature (other languages have different signifiers to produce the same signified). The relationship between the two is simply the result of convention – of cultural agreement (see Table 6.1). The signifier ‘cat’ could just as easily produce the signified ‘dog’: four-legged canine creature. On the basis of this claim, he suggests that meaning is not the result of an essential correspondence between signifiers and signifieds; it is rather the result of difference and relationship. In other words, Saussure’s is a relational theory of language. Meaning is produced not through a one-to-one relation to things in the world, but by establishing difference. For example, ‘mother’ has meaning in relation to ‘father’, ‘daughter’, ‘son’, Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group. Created from csusm on 2022-04-01 03:11:02. Ferdinand de Saussure Table 6.1 Words for ‘cat’, various languages. Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved. Chinese English French German Japanese Spanish Russian mao cat chat katze neiko gato koska etc. Traffic lights operate within a system of four signs: red = stop, green = go, amber = prepare for red, amber and red = prepare for green. The relationship between the signifier ‘green’ and the signified ‘go’ is arbitrary; there is nothing in the colour green that naturally attaches it to the verb ‘go’. Traffic lights would work equally well if red signified ‘go’ and green signified ‘stop’. The system works not by expressing a natural meaning but by marking a difference, a distinction within a system of difference and relationships. To make the point about meaning being relational rather than substantial, Saussure gives the example of train systems. The 12.11 from Bochum to Bremen, for instance, runs every day at the same time. To each of these trains we assign the same identity (‘the 12.11 from Bochum to Bremen’). However, we know that the locomotive, the carriages, the staff, are unlikely to be the same each day. The identity of the train is fixed not by its substance, but by its relational distinction from other trains, running at other times, on other routes. Saussure’s other example is the game of chess. A knight, for example, could be represented in any way a designer thought desirable, provided that how it was represented marked it as different from the other chess pieces. According to Saussure, meaning is also made in a process of combination and selection, horizontally along the syntagmatic axis, and vertically along the paradigmatic axis. For example, the sentence, ‘Miriam made chicken broth today’, is meaningful through the accumulation of its different parts: Miriam/made/chicken broth/today. Its meaning is complete only once the final word is spoken or inscribed. Saussure calls this process the syntagmatic axis of language. One can add other parts to extend its meaningfulness: ‘Miriam made chicken broth today while dreaming about her lover.’ Meaning is thus accumulated along the syntagmatic axis of language. This is perfectly clear when a sentence is interrupted. For example, ‘I was going to say that  .  .  .’; ‘It is clear to me that David should  .  .  .’; ‘ You promised to tell me about  .  .  .’. Substituting certain parts of the sentence for new parts can also change meaning. For example, I could write, ‘Miriam made salad today while dreaming about her lover’ or ‘Miriam made chicken broth today while dreaming about her new car’. Such substitutions are said to be operating along the paradigmatic axis of language. Let us consider a more politically charged example. ‘ Terrorists carried out an attack on an army base today.’ Substitutions from the paradigmatic axis could alter the meaning of this sentence considerably. If we substitute ‘freedom fighters’ or ‘anti-imperialist volunteers’ Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group. Created from csusm on 2022-04-01 03:11:02. 117 Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved. 118 Chapter 6 Structuralism and post-structuralism for the word ‘terrorists’ we would have a sentence meaningful in quite a different way. This would be achieved without any reference to a corresponding reality outside of the sentence itself. The meaning of the sentence is produced through a process of selection and combination. This is because the relationship between ‘sign’ and ‘referent’ (in our earlier example, real cats in the real world) is also conventional. It follows, therefore, that the language we speak does not simply reflect the material reality of the world; rather, by providing us with a conceptual map with which to impose a certain order on what we see and experience, the language we speak plays a significant role in shaping what constitutes for us the reality of the material world. Structuralists argue that language organizes and constructs our sense of reality – different languages in effect produce different mappings of the real. When, for example, a European gazes at a snowscape, he or she sees snow. An Inuit, with over thirty words to describe snow and ice, looking at the same snowscape would presumably see so much more. Therefore an Inuit and a European standing together surveying the snow­ scape would in fact be seeing two quite different conceptual scenes. Similarly, Australian Aborigines have many words to describe the desert. What these examples demonstrate to a structuralist is that the way we conceptualize the world is ultimately dependent on the language we speak. And by analogy, it will depend on the culture we inhabit. The meanings made possible by language are thus the result of the interplay of a network of relationships between combination and selection, similarity and difference. Meaning cannot be accounted for by reference to an extra-linguistic reality. As Saussure (1974) insists, ‘in language there are only differences without positive terms  .  .  .  [L]anguage has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system’ (120; original emphasis). We might want to query this assumption by noting that Inuits name the snowscape differently because of the material bearing it has on their day-to-day existence. It could also be objected that substituting ‘terrorists’ for ‘freedom fighters’ produc

Do you have a similar assignment and would want someone to complete it for you? Click on the ORDER NOW option to get instant services at essayloop.com. We assure you of a well written and plagiarism free papers delivered within your specified deadline.