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Structure is a fundamental, tangible or intangible notion referring to the recognition, observation, nature, and permanence of patterns and relationships of entities. This notion may itself be an object, such as a built structure, or an attribute, such as the structure of society. From a child’s verbal description of a snowflake, to the detailed scientific analysis of the properties of magnetic fields, the concept of structure is now often an essential foundation of nearly every mode of inquiry and discovery in science, philosophy, and art. In early 20th-century and earlier thought, form often plays a role comparable to that of structure in contemporary thought. The neo-Kantianism of Ernst Cassirer (cf. his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, completed in 1929 and published in English translation in the 1950s) is sometimes regarded as a precursor of the later shift to structuralism and poststructuralism.
The description of structure implicitly offers an account of what a system is made of: a configuration of items, a collection of inter-related components or services. A structure may be a hierarchy (a cascade of one-to-many relationships), a network featuring many-to-many links, or a lattice featuring connections between components that are neighbors in space.