Claude Lévi-Strauss was one of the foremost social anthropologists of the 20th century. Lévi-Strauss’s revolutionary structuralist approach to anthropology has influenced countless anthropologists and social scientists. Structural anthropology is rooted in the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure and seeks out structures (behaviors, beliefs, etc.) that are universal across cultures. Read on and learn some hot anthropological facts that are guaranteed to cook your brain.
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ELEMENTARY STRUCTURES OF KINSHIP
Lévi-Strauss’ first major work was 1949’s Elementary Structures of Kinship. In this work, Lévi-Strauss analyzes how families are organized. Lévi-Strauss uses a structuralist approach to identify the incest taboo as a cultural universal.
Lévi-Strauss’ 1955 Tristes Tropiques is difficult to categorize: it is part travelogue, part memoir, and part anthropological study. In Tristes Levi-Strauss recounts his time spent researching in Brazil, India, and the Caribbean. Divided into nine parts, Tristes begins with Lévi-Strauss’ declaration that: “I hate traveling and explorers” and explores the detrimental legacy of colonialism in the places he visits. Topics discussed in Tristes include anthropological studies of Brazilian tribes such as the Tupi and Bororo, the caste system of India, and a lengthy analysis of a sunset seen while traveling on a boat from Marseilles to Brazil.
THE SAVAGE MIND
Despite the title The Savage Mind does not refer to any specific tribe or location—although Lévi-Strauss does analyze the behavior of certain aboriginal groups—but rather a kind of “untamed” mindset. The Savage Mind, Lévi-Strauss argues, is one that uses whatever materials are at hand to solve a problem. In a memorable image, Lévi-Strauss likens the savage mind to a bricoleur - an artist who creates using a wide range of bits and pieces collected from various places. Instead of relying on pre-established systems of meaning, such as an engineer relying on scientific principles, the bricoleur can combine systems and symbols in new ways without regard for their normative use.
THE RAW AND THE COOKED
The Raw and the Cooked is the first part of Lévi-Strauss’ four-volume Mythologiques. In The Raw and the Cooked Lévi-Strauss situates all cultures along an axis of “raw” (of the natural world) and “cooked” (of human culture). The book examines nearly 200 myths through the lens of binary oppositions such as the titular one between “raw” and “cooked.” Lévi-Strauss developed a concept known as the Culinary Triangle to demonstrate the complex interplay between food preparation and culture.
Mythologiques is Lévi-Strauss’ four-volume magnum opus of cultural anthropology. The four volumes are: The Raw and the Cooked, From Honey to Ashes (subtitled “Introduction to a Science of Mythology”), The Origin of Table Manners, and The Naked Man. The first two works of the tetralogy are primarily concerned with South American myths, with the latter two examining the mythological systems of North America.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Visit this site to learn more about Lévi-Strauss’ concept of the Culinary Triangle, as well as its contemporary relevance.
For some truly head spinning stuff, check out this article on bricolage.
Tristes Tropiques is far from a colorful travelogue. Read a review of this act of “melancholy anthropology” here.
This video offers a helpful discussion of Structuralism, including its origins in the theories of de Saussure:
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