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Barthes, Roland (1915–1980)

Nick Perry


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Roland Barthes is best known as a literary critic and essayist and as a member of that generation of internationally distinguished French intellectuals ( maîtres à penser ) that includes the philosopher/historian Michel Foucault, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. His relevance for sociology derives above all from the way his writings (1) served to construct linkages between semiology (the study of sign systems), ideological processes, and social structures; (2) made plain just how the possible objects of inquiry of such a “social semiology” might be massively extended; and (3) contributed to the interpretation of readership as social practice. In his consciously quirky and playful exercise in autobiography, Barthes's own laconic summary of his life was “studies, diseases, appointments” (Barthes 1977a: 184). As a student at the Sorbonne his initial academic interest was in classics and French literature. An ongoing struggle with pulmonary tuberculosis, however, a struggle that would last until his early thirties, prevented him from sitting the examination that was the path to, and prerequisite for, an orthodox academic career. In 1947, unable to find work in Paris, he accepted a post as librarian and subsequently as a teacher in L'Institut français in Bucharest, Romania. When the institute's staff were expelled by the Romanian government ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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