structuralism, theory that uses culturally interconnected signs to reconstruct systems of relationships rather than studying isolated, material things in themselves. This method found wide use from the early 20th cent. in a variety of fields, especially linguistics, particularly as formulated by Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson. Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss used structuralism to study the kinship systems of different societies. No single element in such a system has meaning except as an integral part of a set of structural connections. These interconnections are said to be binary in nature and are viewed as the permanent, organizational categories of experience. Structuralism has been influential in literary criticism and history, as with the work of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. In France after 1968 this search for the deep structure of the mind was criticized by such "poststructuralists" as Jacques Derrida, who abandoned the goal of reconstructing reality scientifically in favor of "deconstructing" the illusions of metaphysics (see semiotics).
See J. Culler, Structuralist Poetics (1976); J. Sturrock, ed., Structuralism and Since: From Lévi-Strauss to Derrida (1979).