What were the reasons of decline or collapse of Structuralism ?

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Payal Khullar eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Structuralism has its roots in linguistics because of the work of Swiss Linguist Ferdinand de Saussure in the early twentieth century. It extends to other fields of study like anthropology, literary criticism, etc. Although it emerged as a widespread movement, it collapsed during the mid-twentieth century, and was replaced by Post-Structuralism that was propounded by Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, etc. In general, a paradigm shift occurs when the prevailing set of theories fail to answer new challenges or thoughts. As a literary movement, Structuralism tried to decipher the meaning of a literary work by focusing on the form and structure or, in simple terms, the linguistic elements of a literary work. Accordingly, it focused on finding the objective meaning of a literary work by analysing its linguistic structures.

But, although the form and structure of a literary work remain fixed, the meaning is highly unstable and keeps changing. For example, the meaning may change in the course of time due to change in the perception, thought process and values. It may also vary vastly from reader to reader. Moreover, many a times, the meaning is not located simply inside the words of the text (metaphorical, symbolic meaning, etc.). Hence a careful study of a literary text cannot be done only through the linguistic structures it contains. Language is not a machine with clear, fixed inputs and outputs. It is a dynamic, higher mental faculty that keeps evolving. Structuralism declined because it was realised that, contrary to Structuralism’s claims, there is no objectivity and universality in any literary text because of the fixity of form. There is no systematic study of structures that can lead to deciphering the correct meaning of the text. The meaning of a literary work remains undecided, unfixed, and unstable.

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