One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

Finally a Post!

I just realized that I haven’t posted in about a week, silly me. But life sometimes gets in the way of things. Last week I was battling allergies that turned into a head cold, that is now all in my chest. This has made it challenging to focus on school work and thesis research because I have been drugged on on anti-congestion and ny-quail. Needless to say, my work was not the best that was produced during the course of last week.

On a good note I have finished my zoo observation project which required me to learn excel to produce charts and tables to explain the amount of time each individual used sections of the enclosure, time spent performing activities and behaviors, postures, and locomotion. I am pretty pleased with it, lets hope the instructor is as well.

In regards to my thesis, I have been challenged by the some of the writing assignments for Research and Design. Which is a really good thing, because it requires me to think outside of the box for my topic. I am essentially studying fake cultures that do not have archaeological evidence or any real existence within the threads of reality in the sense that we can travel to Middle Earth. But what Lord of the Rings does have are historical documents within the context of the writing (when Gandalf goes and researches the existence of the one Ring in the Fellowship or the maps in Hobbit when the dwarfs are trying to figure out how to get into the mountain), there is also languages that are specific to the an individual culture and there are languages that unit communication between all the cultures (Common Speech), and each have their own cultural traditions and rituals that are shape the identity of the cultures.

But yes, I am doing a structural analysis on Lord of the Rings
Why?
Well why not? I am interested in many things, but I wanted to focus a thesis on something fun and challenging at the same time. The challenge is that it is not real, a fake culture. But each culture within has it’s own history that has helped shape it cultural construction. Each culture has a history and language, the whole of Middle of Earth has a history and shared language that allows each of the cultures to communicate and interact with one another, whether it be for good or bad.

As I mentioned before,I am interested in the use of languages within each of these cultures and how it shapes each. Much like our own cultures and languages. The languages were constructed by Tolkien, and they are used today just like Trekies who learn Klingon.

I am also interested in comparing it to the construction of myth.
I love theory and I love reading, so why not? They may be fiction but that makes it just as real to the characters within the story.
In order to achieve all this I had to structurally break down Lord of the Rings…that process has begun and I am loving every moment of it. Analysis of myth has been done, so the resources are there. I am just going to apply it to Lord of the Rings.

One thing I have learned from research and coming up with a thesis topic, is that it should be fun. Does this have any anthropological value? Well that is up for interpretation. I see fiction writing as a reflection of the self. Many authors use familiar aspects from personal experience, cultural histories, and influences of one’s culture to construct these fictions.

I wanted a challenge, and breaking down and discussing anthropological concepts of a fictional culture fits that bill. As Brian told me the other day, “if you can do this with a fake culture, how much easier would be to do with an existing culture.”

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Claude Levi-Strauss

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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