Structuralism and Fascism

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Structural linguistics developed in the 1930s and 40s, in Prague, Paris, Copenhagen and other academic centres under the dark shadow of the fascism that had arisen in Germany and Italy. Indeed, Czechoslovakia, Denmark and France would each come under German domination, and structuralists in the USA and especially Britain knew that the ambitions of the Nazi government extended to them. Even those in Geneva had their doubts that Swiss neutrality would be respected.
One obvious impact of fascism on structuralism is the emigration of scholars such as Roman Jakobson to New York, and the courses he gave there in the makeshift École Libre des Hautes Études, to an audience which included Claude Lévi-Strauss. This is generally credited as having been the key moment in the exportation of structuralism from linguistics, first to ethnography, and then to other fields of the humanities and even the sciences. Aspects of the development of this generalised structuralism in the 1950s and 60s have been considered in the light of Marxism in France in this period (including in Joseph 2020). My aim in this talk is, in a similar way, to explore the possibility that, within linguistics, some of the reactions against points of structuralist doctrine can be linked to a perception – not necessarily false – that those points could be taken to align with the fascist positions which the linguists rejected.
Period26 Oct 2023
Held atSemiosalong -- joint online seminar series of the Universities of Tartu (Estonia) and Olomouc (Czech Rep.), Estonia
Degree of RecognitionInternational