English 216: Notes for Chapter 6

Chapter 6: Structuralism and Poststructuralism


  • study of knowable underlying structure to all communication & social relation

Ferdinand de Saussure

  • a theory of linguistics: signs = signifier (word or reference) + signified (object or referent)
  • relation: meaning is conventional, resemblance is not involved
  • difference: signs are recognizably not the same as other signs
  • syntagmatic meaning: adding words/phrases (i.e., horizontal)
  • paradigmatic meaning: substituting words/phrases (i.e., vertical)
  • langue: underlying structure, grammar/syntax/vocabulary/pronunciation (homogenous)
  • parole: individual expressions, language in use (heterogenous)
  • synchronic: stable/fixed model of language (Saussure’s approach)
  • diachronic: changing/historically contingent model (not Saussure’s approach)
  • semiotics/semiology: application of Saussurean linguistics to everything
    • i.e., how everything became a “text” to be “read”


Lévi-Strauss on “myths”

  • semiotics as applies to anthropology
  • myths: instances of cultural expression; like parole as controlled by the langue
  • binaries: mythical definitions via opposites, the “other” defines the “self”
  • magical resolution: how binaries create a “world without contradictions”


Roland Barthes, Mythologies

  • (semiotics as applied to popular culture)
  • myths: second-order signs, use signs as signifiers, “depoliticized speech”
  • naturalization: hide ideological content by loading objects with myths
  • demystification: reveal a myth’s construction (i.e., denaturalization)
  • images with text attached
    • relay: when text amplifies the mythical meaning of an image
    • anchorage: when text fixes the mythical meaning of an image



  • underlying system is an illusion, readers create “meaning” in the moment


Jacques Derrida and différance

  • rejection of semiology’s certainty
  • différance: words differ but also infinitely defer, there’s no ultimate signified
  • intertextuality: traces of other texts are detectable in a given text
  • deconstruction: signifier/signified relation is one of dominance
  • political goal is to dismantle the system, not just invert dominance


Michel Foucault, discourse and power

  • redefinition of power, introduction of possibility of resistance
  • discourse (broad definition): a shared sub-language around a topic
  • discourse (Foucault’s definition): enables, constrains, and constitutes
    • enable: make communication possible
    • constrain: limit what’s possible to communicate
    • constitute: creates subjects in the moment of speech (i.e., it reifies)
  • regimes of truth: knowledge & power define “reality”, resistance is entirely possible
    • power: productive, not inherently negative, it’s just what produces reality
  • panopticon: theoretical jail, inmates might be under surveillance at all times
    • panopticism: historical shift from punishment to discipline
    • punishment: spectacle of state power, usually violent
    • discipline: possibility of state surveillance, normalize behaviours
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