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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton November 16, 2017

Meaning-Centrism in Roland Barthes’ Structuralism

Shuping Zhang
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies


Meaning and form are two important concepts in philosophy, literature, and other humanities, and discussions on the dialectical relationship between meaning and form have lasted for 2,000 years. Though the importance of meaning was considered, attention, interest, and studies were overwhelmingly focused on form much more than meaning, especially in the popular period of aestheticism, formalism, and structuralism. Henceforth, form retained ultimate supremacy over meaning. Roland Barthes was one of the giants of structuralism and was traditionally regarded as a formalist during his structuralist period (1950s–1967). In fact, Barthes’ semiotic thought was composed of two branches, cultural semiotics and literary semiotics. He valued meaning and the way of meaning-making in his cultural semiotics, and was devoted to exploration of hidden meaning, as well as the relationship between meaning and form. He found three layers of meaning hiding in mass media, i.e. denotation, connotation, and myth, which shape and reshape readers’ ideology, and persuade them to accept the ideology of the middle class. While forms are plentiful, even overflowing, meaning is relatively simple, but meaning is of supreme importance, as it manipulates forms in an implicit way. Consequently, Roland Barthes was really meaning-oriented or meaning-centrist in his cultural semiotic thought.

Keywords: form; formalism; meaning; myth

  1. Funding: The project A Semiotic Analysis on Nuo Culture of Baima Tibetan is supported by the Humanities and Social Sciences Foundation, Ministry of Education, China (Grant No. 16YJA850006).


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Published Online: 2017-11-16
Published in Print: 2017-8-28

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