Discuss the relationship between formalism and structuralism. It is said that formalism contributed to the development of structuralism and structuralism is an extension of formalism. Please help...

Discuss the relationship between formalism and structuralism. 

It is said that formalism contributed to the development of structuralism and structuralism is an extension of formalism. Please help me in writing an assignment in it tracing out all the dimensions of these two literary theories' relationship.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Formalism and Structuralism both emerged in the early 1900s. Formalists focused on the texts of literature. They reduced the importance of cultural, biographical, or historical influence on a literary text. Instead, they focused on the form of the text: the grammar, the syntax, plot structure, roles, archetypes, characters. In other words, they focused on the structural characteristics that define a text as literature or poetry. They wanted to show how literature was different from other kinds of writing. So, there is a structural component to their literary analysis. 

Structuralism is a bit more broad and has been applied to other fields such as psychology, architecture, sociology, and anthropology. Structuralists believe that there is an abstract structure of language and culture. How that abstract structure is enacted in human life depends upon the interactions of humans themselves. For example, German culture and language are different from Chinese culture and language but things like grammar (subject/predicate) and certain interactions (economic, social) are similar. For structuralists, this shows that although cultures and languages are different, there are basic constant, abstract structures that apply to all languages and cultures. 

Formalism and Structuralism both emerged and influenced each other at a time when science (Einstein - early 1900s) and sociology were growing in importance. So, those of the arts, humanities, and human sciences wanted to make attempts at proving the scientific merit of their respective fields. This was both a strength and a weakness for Formalism and Structuralism because while it gave them some scientific credentials, they did so by ignoring the historical and personal aspects of culture and the arts. 

Formalism and Structuralism share this idea that for a certain area of human life, there are abstract rules that determine certain functions. Formalists have a set of criteria for literature, a set of rules and structures that determine what is literature. Structuralists have sets of rules and structures that determine how a language works and/or how a culture interacts. One could say that structuralism is a broader application of the Formalist idea that an event or an object (such as a literary text) is defined (and for Structuralist, determined) by some abstract set of rules. Both Structuralists and Formalists have been criticized for reducing the role of history (social and political) in their analyses of literature, language and culture. Both movements aimed at being scientific. 

 

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