Study Guide

Structuralism Timeline

How It All Went Down

1916: Publication of Ferdinand de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics.

Course in General Linguistics is the text that that is foundational to structuralism as a theoretical movement. It outlined Saussure's fundamental ideas about language, including concepts such as "signifier" and "signified," the distinction between "langue" and "parole," etc.

1926: The Prague School (or Prague Linguistic Circle) is founded in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

The Prague School was a circle of linguistic scholars that included the very influential Russian linguist Roman Jakobson. Yes, he was Russian, but preferred Czechoslovakia. Prague School linguists built on Saussure's ideas to develop the field of "structural linguistics."

1928: The Russian philologist Vladimir Propp publishes Morphology of the Folktale.

Propp's study of Russian folktales is one of the first examples of structural literary analysis. It argues that most fairy tales could be broken into 31 functions, basically so that there's one per Baskin Robbins flavor.

1941-1945: Claude Lévi-Strauss comes under the influence of Roman Jakobson in New York.

After fleeing Nazi-occupied France at the beginning of World War II, Claude Lévi-Strauss lands in New York, where the linguist Roman Jakobson is by now also living and teaching. Lévi-Strauss attends Jakobson's lectures on structural linguistics and these lectures lead Lévi-Strauss to begin applying structuralist ideas to the field of anthropology.

1949: Claude Lévi-Strauss publishes The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949).

Lévi-Strauss's first work applying structural concepts to anthropology. This is the beginning of the infiltration of structuralist ideas in fields outside of linguistics.

1958: Claude Lévi-Strauss publishes Structural Anthropology (1958).

The book in which Lévi-Strauss develops the aims and goals of structural anthropology as an approach to the study of culture and society. The book popularized structuralism as a theoretical approach, kind of like a chemistry textbook gives the foundations for big experiments.

1966: Roland Barthes publishes the essay "An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative."

This is one of the most influential essays in structural literary theory. It outlines a structural approach to the study of literature and narrative. In the essay, Barthes takes concepts from structural linguistics and applies them to the study of literary texts.

1968: Roland Barthes publishes "The Death of the Author."

This essay is a turning point in Barthes' thinking, indicating the beginning of his move from structuralism to post-structuralism. Barthes argues that it is the reader, not the writer, who counts in literary study. Why? Because the author is dead! He says that the act of reading a text always remains unfinished, because it is always based on various readers' interpretations. This contradicts the structuralist idea that a text reflects a "finished" structure that is unchanging.

1969: Tzvetan Todorov publishes Grammar of the Decameron.

In this work, Todorov looks at the 100 stories in Giovanni Boccaccio's oh-so scandalous Italian Renaissance book The Decameron and tries to find the "grammar" governing the plots of all the various stories. It's a classic of structural literary analysis.

1975: Jonathan Culler publishes Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature.

This text, which examines the structuralist movement as it had developed in continental Europe (especially in France), was one of the first English-language introductions to structuralism. Unfortunately for English-speakers pumped on structuralism, the theory's opponents were gearing up for battle.

1976: Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology (originally published in 1967) is translated and published in English.

The beginning of the end! By the late 1970s and early 1980s, post-structuralism and deconstruction are beginning to challenge the dominance of structuralism. This is reflected in the rising popularity of theorists like Jacques Derrida, whose deconstructive approach to language and literature takes down the structuralist idea that language is a clear, logical system made up of binary oppositions. Sayonara, Saussure! By this point, even theorists such as Roland Barthes, who started out a structuralist, begin to question some of structuralism's basic assumptions. The deep structure begins looking kind of shallow.