One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

Claude Levi-Strauss

on February 9, 2013

File:Levi-strauss 260.jpgFor my class History of Anthropology, one of the assignments is to choose a theorist and do a short presentation on him/her. So far they have all been very good and informative. The point of the project to show that they are more than just a blurb in a text book. I choose to do a presentation on none other than Claude Levi-Strauss.

Levi-Strauss was born November 28, 1908  and died October 30, 2009, he was 100 years old. He is highly influential to anthropology as well as the most misunderstood anthropologist. His writings can be very difficult read which is probably why many have been turned off of structuralism. During his time, he is responsible for the single most body of theory and writings of anthropology.

Background:

  • 1927–32 Studied philosophy and law at the University of Paris
  • 1934–37 Was as professor of sociology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and did field research on the Indians of Brazil.
  • 1941–45 Visiting professor at the New School for Social Research in New York City
  •                     Where is met Franz Boaz
  • 1959 he was appointed to the chair of social anthropology at the Collège de France

Structuralism:

  • Universal patterns of thought in all forms of human activity
  • analysis of human cultures, the assumption is that all human societies develop and order themselves in similar ways.
  •  the human mind operates on the universal logic of dualities – binary oppositions – that create social meanings
  •   male/female – life/death – nature/culture
  • “the relationship between the elements is as important as the elements themselves

Levi-Strauss argued that the “savage” mind had the same structures as the “civilized” mind and that human characteristics are the sameclaude everywhere. He viewed cultures as symbolic systems of communication and elements that are common to all cultures are identified and studied. Studied: Myth, Kinship, Language, Food, etc.      The goal is to organize data into the most simplest, effective way.

I found that it is easier to talk about his theories through his various works.

Just some titles to check out:

  • Tristes Tropiques – Ethnographic analysis of Amazonian peoples and he wanted to find  “a human society reduced to its most basic expression”
  • Elementary Structures of Kinship – this work focused on kinship and the exchange of women. He argued that kinship is based on an alliance between two families formed when a woman from one group marries a man from another group.
  • Structural Anthropology – The understanding of the “Structural Method” and focused on the man and society in terms of – kinship, social organization, religion, mythology, and art.
  • Savage Mind–  He argues: Myths may be unique & different, but myths of different cultures are surprisingly similar. Argued the universal that the “savage” mind & the “civilized” mind had the same structures & these structures are the same in every culture.

Levi-Strauss was highly influenced by Papa Franz Boaz, his anthropological theories really didn’t rise until he met Boaz. In 1942 he was
at lunch with Boaz in New York, Boaz has a heart attack & died in the arms of Lev-Strauss…It is rumored that Boaz passed on the light of anthropological knowledge to Levi-Strauss…

SO the mystery is… WHO was in the room with Levi-Strauss when he died? Who was the person to receive the light, the beacon of anthropological knowledge?

Why structuralism? It makes sense to me. Just like math is not my subject, someone is very good at it. Anthropology works the same way. There are theories that makes sense to some and not others, thus is why people critique work. Levi-Strauss is not the easiest theorist to read, but once one is able to master his writings…his work is brilliant. There are some of his work that I still don’t understand, but with time I am sure it will get clearer.

Levi-Strauss Presentation – Check it out!

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