Claude Levi-Strauss and Structuralism

Clause was a French Anthropologist who was critical to the development of structuralism, or “the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity”. Moreover, structures exist in all cultures and that all cultural practices can be found across cultures because that have similar structural roots.

Levi-Strauss, C. (1955). “The Structural Study of Myth” and “The Structural Analysis in Linguistics and Anthropology” in Structural Anthropology.

The Structural Study of Myth (206-231)
208- “If the content of a myth is contingent, how are we going to explain the fact that myths throughout the world are so similar?”
230- “The kind of logic in mythical thougth is as rigorous as that of modern science, and that the difference lies, not in the quality of intellectual process, but in the nature of the things to which it is applied.

Levi-Strauss surveys different myths across time and space and categorically structures them and shows that each myth is built from certain relations (i.e. participant, family status, sentimental status, and transformation). Using structuralism, he can find reoccuring patterns in myths across cultures, proving that no culture is lacking in intellectual level, but merely has a different way of expressing the same thing as another culture. Thus, Cinderella will reoccur in a different form in every society. While content varies in myth, both across cultures and across times, structure remains the same and stays the same in different cultures and times. Levi-Strauss is primarily concerned with the underlying structure which exists in groups of myths. The basic premise of Levi-Strauss’s argument is that myth is language. Myth functions as both “langue” and “parole” (Saussure). According to Levi-Strauss a myth also has langue (order) which is the synchronous structure which enables the specific parole (social execution) of a certain myth (212-213).

The Structural Analysis in Linguistics and Anthropology (31-54)
-“Finally, the recurrence of kinship patterns, marriage rules, similar prescribed attitudes betwen certains types of relatives, and so forth, in scattered regions of the globe and in fudnamentally different societies, leads us to believe that, in the case of kinship as well as linguistics, the observable phenomena result from the action of laws which are general but implicit” (34)
In another words, kinship is a structured cultural event, liken to linguistics. But we can’t use the same logic per say as linguistics because their tool of measurement in the phoneme. (36) “Linguistics teaches us precisely that structural analysis cannot be applied to words directly, but only to words previously broken down into phonemes.” Kinship terms constitute systems, but to what end?

There is a difference between terms and attitudes (from those terms) (38). Attitudes between relations can be mapped according to the different descents, see page 45. Relations of the “first order” are dependent on the relations at the “second order” (51).


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