The structuralist school emerges from theories of language and linguistics, and it looks for underlying elements in culture and literature that can be connected so that critics can develop general conclusions about the individual works and the systems from which they emerge. In fact, structuralism maintains that “…practically everything we do that is specifically human is expressed in language” (Richter 809). Structuralists believe that these language symbols extend far beyond written or oral communication.
For example, codes that represent all sorts of things permeate everything we do: “the performance of music requires complex notation…our economic life rests upon the exchange of labor and goods for symbols, such as cash, checks, stock, and certificates…social life depends on the meaningful gestures and signals of ‘body language’ and revolves around the exchange of small, symbolic favors: drinks, parties, dinners” (Richter 809).
Patterns and Experience
Structuralists assert that, since language exists in patterns, certain underlying elements are common to all human experiences. Structuralists believe we can observe these experiences through patterns: “…if you examine the physical structures of all buildings built in urban America in 1850 to discover the underlying principles that govern their composition, for example, principles of mechanical construction or of artistic form…” you are using a structuralist lens (Tyson 197).
Moreover, “you are also engaged in structuralist activity if you examine the structure of a single building to discover how its composition demonstrates underlying principles of a structural system. In the first example…you’re generating a structural system of classification; in the second, you’re demonstrating that an individual item belongs to a particular structural class” (Tyson 197).
source Purdue Online Writing Lab