Thursday, 7 October 2010

Structural Anthropology as a Method in Researching Urban Transformation in Bandung


Structuralism is a mode of thinking and a method of analysis, mainly used in the 20th century field of social sciences and humanities. Methodologically, structuralism analyzes large-scale systems by examining the relations and functions of the smallest related elements of such systems. Structuralism in this context was used ranging from human languages and cultural practices to works of literature.

For the purpose of this research, structural approaches introduced by Claude Lévi-Strauss that are more related to the domain of anthropology and cultural phenomena studies will be used. Lévi-Strauss basic procedures to structuralism are: (1) Structural analysis examines unconscious infrastructures of cultural phenomena,(2) Structural analysis regards the elements of infrastructure as relational, not as separated, independent entities, (3) Structural analysis attends the system in a single-minded way, and (4) Structural analysis offers general laws accounting for the underlying organizing patterns of phenomena.

The views of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, both of whom that thinking and approaches towards any subject of studies were concerned with underlying causes, unconscious motivations, and transpersonal forces, were paralleled to Lévi-Strauss’ methods that values deep structures over surface phenomena. Similar to Marxism and Freudianism, structuralism continues the ongoing diminishment of the individual, portraying the single element as a construct and consequence of impersonal systems. It regards collective controls and conventions over the subject of analysis.  

Structuralism in Architecture
In 1950s and 1960s, structuralists’ thoughts that were already popular in the linguistics and anthropology fields began to influence works of architecture in the United States and Europe. The work of Lévi-Strauss in anthropology and Ferdinand de Saussure in linguistics led to the idea of the existence of ‘deep structures’ in their respective fields of studies. Generally, structuralism in this context was characterized by the attempt to study relationships linking phenomena, rather than studying the phenomena themselves in isolation. This led to the view that individual phenomena are part of the cause and effect of a larger matrix of phenomena, rather than as the outcome of a linear chain of cause and effect. Lévi-Strauss’s studies on traditional cultures drew attention to the built forms of these cultures, and as there seemed to be ‘deep structures’ shaping the social patterns of these cultures, there should also be ‘deep structures’ defining the organization of their built environment. It is in this context that I believed, structural analysis would be appropriate to be used as a method in analyzing the ‘deep structures’ of the community in Bandung city in order to reveal the ‘deep structures’ of their cultural and daily life practices that have shaped and transformed their built environment.

Another influence that structuralism had on architecture came from the interest of a number of architects, such as Aldo van Eyck, Peter and Allison Smithson, Herman Hertzberger and John Habraken, who grafted onto the traditional architectural approach with a set of formal gestures that symbolized the broader shifts in thoughts in which structuralism is represented. Generally, this approach organized architecture as arrangements that are less or more flexible and interchangeable, and can be defined as clear set of modules. Space was categorized and divided to patterns of use and combined according to devised sets of rules. In this approach, components of architectural forms were generally articulated and were made clearer, and again are very appropriate to be used as an approach in devising methods in the design simulations of this thesis. 

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