A Whole New World: Aladdin and the Concept of Structuration

Structuration; the concept that as human beings we are bound by the rules that we have created and developed, but since we are their creator, we have the potential to change these rules as we please if prompted by a strong enough force.

The concept of structuration is one that is often taught, and quickly forgotten about, in Intro to International Relations classes. It is a concept widely reverenced by much of the liberal arts community, and a hallmark that has inspired some of the most prominent constructivist theories such as Marxism and Feminism. It is also the driving factor behind the popular 1992 Disney Classic: Aladdin.

In the opening scene, the movie’s namesake character Aladdin is already beginning to process the concept of structuration. A self-professed Street-Rat, Aladdin cannot afford any food and begins to steal his bread, disrupting the system set in place. He longs for a world where everyone can eat without worry and stares at the palace of the Sultan with envy.

As he stares at the palace, the process of structuration is beginning to take place within its walls. Princess Jasmine, young and coming of age to marry continually rejects her suitors- all of whom must be royal. She despises the idea that her betrothed must be a pretentious royal as well as the fact that she has little-to-no control over her own future.  In an attempt to escape this fate, even temporarily, she sneaks out into the city unescorted. 

Jafar, the assistant to Jasmine’s father (the Sultan), doesn’t have a grasp of the concept of structuration just yet, he wants to change the rules imposed on him by other people in order to gain power, but fails to realize that since people created these rules, people can also change them. He seeks instead to change the rules by magic, and engages in a lengthy search for a wish-granting genie.

By mid-film, Aladdin and Jasmine have had a dangerous and exciting encounter with one another, and find themselves in the early stages of romance when Aladdin is forced to leave Jasmine’s side and made to go treasure hunting for Jafar. Eventually, Aladdin, after becoming the master of the wish-granting genie that Jafar sought, engages more fully in the concept of structuration by simultaneously challenging society’s norms and accepting them. He challenges the ability that the “Street Rats” in his community have to climb the social ladder by turning into a prince using one of his wishes. At the same time, this act is also an acceptance of his society’s rule that the princess is only allowed to marry a prince. Once a prince, Aladdin makes several attempts to woo Jasmine, and experiences varying degrees of success.

With a magic genie no longer much of an option, Jafar begins to grasp the full potential of structuration. He seeks to edit pre-existing law in order to make himself Sultan. He implements a clause stating that if Jasmine fails to wed in the near future, she must marry the assistant to the sultan- Jafar himself. This law would even allow him to remove Jasmine and her father from the Kingdom after his ascension to power.

His plans are foiled when Jasmine agrees to marry Aladdin. When Aladdin loses control of his genie Jafar becomes the genie’s master, and Aladdin’s true peasant identity is exposed- disqualifying him to marry Jasmine. Through a series of very intense scenes, Aladdin regains control over the genie, and Jafar is banished from the kingdom.

It is in the final scene that all of the main characters fully understand the concept of structuration, and that they can, in fact, change the rules that bind them. Aladdin frees the genie, rather than using him as a means to marry Jasmine, although he still wants to. Jasmine insists that she is in love with Aladdin and that she wishes to marry him, despite the fact that he isn’t a prince. In light of his daughter’s feelings the Sultan- aloof throughout most of the film- abruptly realizes that as the Sultan he is in charge of making and changing the law and he decides to change the law so that his daughter can marry her true love.

Aladdin is a simple and beautiful demonstration of the concept of structuration. In the real world changing the social constructs that bind common people is not so easy. Structuration has been the root of many of the most notable conflicts and movements throughout history such as the women’s and civil rights movements, the Bolshevik revolution, and the various waves of feminism that occurred throughout the twentieth century.


4N Policy Now is a non- partisan, non-biased organization. All of the views expressed in the content published on this site are the sole opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 4N Policy Now.


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