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 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Formalism, as developed in Russia by Vladmir Propp, Victor Shklovsky, and Roman Jakobson, among others, sought to understand art (or the text) as the sum of the artistic devices used by the artist to create it. In this sense, the Formalists saw meaning as dependent on the "formal" characteristics of the text itself  (plot, rhyme scheme, diction, genre, and so on) rather than any historical or psychological properties it might have. In this way, Formalists tried to distinguish the study of literature as a separate scientific discipline.

Structuralism, as developed by Claude Levi Strauss and Roland Barthes, builds on Formalism in that it also is concerned with the aesthetic or literary features of the text, but goes beyond Formalism to consider the application of those features across many texts or genres of art. Where Formalists carefully scrutinized the text to describe its "literary facts," or those features that separate literary discourse from everyday speech, Structuralists sought to place those features in the larger context of a universal "language" or "structure."  

A good example of the difference can be seen by comparing Formalist and Structuralist treatments of folklore. Vladimir Propp's famous Formalist study of Russian folktales, The Morphology of the Russian Folktale, closely examines and catalogs the different plot devices and character types found in these stories; his method, borrowed from biology, is to identify different "species" of folk tale. Structuralists instead seek to trace the origins of these features, or the larger "structures" to which they belong; meaning is not contained by the text but instead is applied to it by virtue of these larger structures. Levi Strauss's work in folklore asserts that there are essential dualities common to all folklore (like his famous opposition of "raw" and "cooked").