Structuralism, semiotics, poststructuralism and the analysis of meaning

STRUCTURALISM is the movement of theoretical investigations of the analysis of  structures which explain the universe of human beings, headquartered in France. Its peak came in 1960s in France. Structuralism’s basic linguistic aspects take Saussure’s thoughts on signs composed of ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’. Language is intellectually tangible only when the words have meaningful relationships with others, that is, it is interrelations  between particulars that give signs meanings. The term, structuralism is used in works associated with schools and movements which link to Saussure, Piaget, Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, etc.

SEMIOLOGY/SEMIOTICS explain science of signs within social life. The term, ‘semiotics’ means the questions or theory of linguistic system of meanings introduced by Charles Morris. According to Morris, semiotics has three aspects; they are semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics.

Semiotics or Semiology also mean theory of signs; Peirce called it ‘semiotics’ and Saussure called it ‘semiology’. In this sense, sign could be either verbal or non-verbal.

Whilst his study was centred in linguistics, Saussure provided an assumption with an open answer for the definition of  ‘sign’ in semiology study in the future, stating that semiology cannot be fully understood yet with the technology and knowledge of his time. Barthes then expanded the definition; he added every other signs of communications in social activity.

Pierce’s semiotics which is said to be more influential in the United States was developed in a different way and made the understandings or meaning of semiotics in France and the United States unlike as a result. Pierce considered the structure of sign in a triadic form, and called it ‘representamen’. A representamen works in the relationship between interpretation, symbol, and reference.

POST STRUCTURALISM is the reaction to structuralism, a variety of postmodernism. Thus, it celebrates and/or accepts chaos of the nature which cannot be read in an unified methodology; the theorist often emphasise the inevitable plurality and instability of meanings. The movements are associated with Derrida, Foucalt, Kristeva, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Lyotard, and Rorty (plus later Barthes).

DECONSTRUCTION is a style of textual analysis first suggested by Derrida. It seems that Derrida’s aim in introducing this term was to explain that a text consists of its main (protagonist) concept and opposing (antagonist) concept; therefore a text would explain both ideas whilst it does not seem to support its opponent. However, Derrida states that there is no definition to the term, ‘deconstruction’.


Therefore, it may be impossible to describe the characteristics of deconstruction thoughts properly.

DIFFÉRANCE is another term introduced by Derrida which is used to criticise linguistic theories. Diffeerance in French can literally translated as ‘difference’ and ‘differal’. Derrida’s use of the term was intended to explain that different combination and order of words make signs different as Saussurian linguistics says; differénce however, argues and adds the sense that there is no fixed or final meaning for a sign, as the possibility of interpretation is limitless and is beyond the limit of verbal systems.

INTERTEXUALITY explains the relationship between texts; the thought suggests that every text is made up by the connections with other things such as its authors, its readers, and the readers’/authors’ social world in the cultural and historical contexts, i.e., a text is a mosaic which borrows elements from other texts. For Kristeva, intertexuality is the key idea of semiotics.

SAUSSURE, Ferdinand de (1857 – 1913) was a Swiss linguist, is often described as the father of structuralism and semiology (meanwhile Peirce calls it semiotics), and has a great influence on structural linguistics. He explains the difference between two aspects of language, langue and parole. langue literally means ‘language’ and ‘tongue’ whilst he used this term to explain the language as an abstract system which is supported by a group of its users in the community;  parole would mean ‘speech by an individual’. He claimed that his studies of linguistics, language as a medium of communication, are about langue rather than parole. His key idea was that the linguistic signs achieve meanings only when they are put in a meaningful combinations of words and have connections with other signs. For Saussureans, linguistics communication is associated with signs. The sign is made up of ‘signifier’ (set of physical items/objects, e.g. sounds, letters, etc.) and is a ‘signified’ (a concept, an image).

BARTHES, Roland (1915 – 80) was a French writer, literary theorist, and critic of French culture and society. He is well known for declaring the Death of the Author, in his article ‘La Mort de l’auteur’ (1968). He is regarded as an important personality of the study of semiotics and structuralism, whilst his took his own path from marxism and structuralism toward existentialism and poststructuralism. His main concern was the study of various kinds of signs in social life and the relationship between those signs, especially those of images and social world. In La Mort de l’auteur, he criticised traditional implication of ‘the author’ in literary works which emphasises authors’ dominance over texts; Barthes argues that this suggestion is egoistic and oppressive. On the contrary, according to Barthes, a text attains meanings not only by the author but also by being understood by readers within the literary world where the text dwells, i.e., texts reflect the social worlds of its authors and of readers, and its meanings are supported by those elements. Therefore, the traditional assumption of reading is questionable for texts should not be read with single idea given by the author, as texts would be comprehend in various ways.

DERRIDA, Jacques (1930 – 2004) was an Algeria-born French philosopher, theorist, leading figure of deconstruction movements. He was also a teacher of philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. In France, he is considered as a philosopher who relates to Nietzsche and Heideger; whereas in English speaking world, it was critical theorists who found him interesting and once became enthusiastic about him although he was a rather difficult and incomprehensible one. He wrote enormously. He attacked logocentrism (or phonocentrism) and Hussel’s argument against Saussure which claims that signs themselves have meanings. It is thought that Derrida’s objective was to proclaim that the readers are creators as much as authors are, as the possibility of interpretation and re-interpretation is infinitive, because literal works contain meanings in outside of signs as well as they do as a as sets of signs, and the readers would find meanings in ‘margins’ of texts.

KRISTEVA, Julia (1941 – ) is a Bulgarian-born French professor of literature, psychoanalyst, theorist, and writer, professor of literature. She was educated by French nuns and came to Paris in 1965. She is said to be one of the most influential feminists along with Luce Irigaray and Helen Cixous; she however sees feminism as a rather questionable idea, as she claims that feminism is a new religion if it talks of the war between sexes.  She was a leading member of Tel Quel, the left wing theorists group. Her works mainly lie on where semiotics, psychoanalysis, rhythmics, symbolic system, literature, and sensualism meet.

She is best known for her idea on intertexuality in the study of Bakhtin. She states that the experiences/status of amusement include both negative and positive dimensions; therefore, it is dialogical rather than monological.

She tried to identify the style and the theory of musicality in poetic language. Similarly, she tries to figure out  the relationship between semiotics and subjectivity, and between love and melancholia. From her experience as a psychoanalyst, she finds her patients from particular background showing “an expression of a generalized social distress” (Macey 2000, p. 219) as their depression. The finding supports her assumption that admission of “the other exists within everyone in the form of unconscious” exemplifies “a model for a new cosmopolitan” (ibid), as we see ourselves from a distance as we do to others (especially in our era).

Viewing: Advertising and subversion of advertising messages, appropriation work.

Signifier: Pasta, Cheese, Tomato, Mushroom, Onions, A tin, Peppers

Signified: Ingredients for Pasta/Pasta-related products

lolcats and silent film, who knew?

“the relationships between image and text in both lolcats and silent films share striking similarities. both captions and intertitles were introduced to augment and extend the possibilities of the visual content.”



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