Structuralism is a way of thinking about the world which is predominantly concerned with the perceptions and description of structures. At its simplest, structuralism claims that the nature of every element in any given situation has no significance by itself, and in fact is determined by all the other elements involved in that situation. The full significance of any entity cannot be perceived unless and until it is integrated into the structure of which it forms a part (Hawkes, p. 11). Structuralists believe that all human activity is constructed, not natural or “essential.” Consequently, it is the systems of organization that are important (what we do is always a matter of selection within a given construct). By this formulation, “any activity, from the actions of a narrative to not eating one’s peas with a knife, takes place within a system of differences and has meaning only in its relation to other possible activities within that system, not to some meaning that emanates from nature or the divine” (Childers & Hentzi, p. 286.). Major figures include Claude Lévi-Strauss (LAY-vee-strows), A. J. Greimas (GREE-mahs), Jonathan Culler, Roland Barthes (bart), Ferdinand de Saussure (soh-SURR or soh-ZHOR), Roman Jakobson (YAH-keb-sen), Vladimir Propp, and Terence Hawkes.
Semiotics, simply put, is the science of signs. Semiology proposes that a great diversity of our human action and productions–our bodily postures and gestures, the the social rituals we perform, the clothes we wear, the meals we serve, the buildings we inhabit–all convey “shared” meanings to members of a particular culture, and so can be analyzed as signs which function in diverse kinds of signifying systems. Linguistics (the study of verbal signs and structures) is only one branch of semiotics but supplies the basic methods and terms which are used in the study of all other social sign systems (Abrams, p. 170). Major figures include Charles Peirce, Ferdinand de Saussure, Michel Foucault (fou-KOH), Umberto Eco, Gérard Genette, and Roland Barthes (bart).