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6. Structuralism and Poststructuralism

Daniel Chaffee and Charles Lemert

Subject Sociology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405169004.2009.00007.x


All sciences, including human and cultural sciences, begin with the assumption that the field of objects and events they study is structured. In all fields of empirical study, structure is a formal term stipulating the prior existence of order in the field under investigation. “Structuralism,” thereby, is an organized and shared attitude among scholars or experts that takes the structures of any observable field of objects or events with utter seriousness, occasionally to an extreme. It is possible, broadly speaking, to say that all fields of empirical research are structuralist in the sense that, whatever their particular subjects, science, as it has come to be in the modern world, looks for structures that are enduring, organizing, and salient with respect to a field of events and objects. A “structuralism” can also be understood as a method because the contents of most empirical fields cannot be observed directly because, more often than not, their objects behave in irregular, even arbitrary, ways such that events cannot be located with respect to organizing structures. Thus, in social fields especially, the structures thought to organize events and objects are ultimately instruments of their measurement. In sociology, for example, numeric data used to define the structure of income distributions are also measures of inequality. “Structuralism,” thereby, is in effect theories ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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