History and Theory of Social Anthropology: Structuralism of Claude Levi-Strauss – Essay Example

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The paper "History and Theory of Social Anthropology: Structuralism of Claude Levi-Strauss" is a perfect example of an essay on anthropology. The intention in this paper is to discuss the theory of structuralism as propounded by Claude Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist, and philosopher. Levi-Strauss used structuralism as a ‘ tool’ for the study and understanding of human society and culture.   He is considered ‘ one of the fathers of structuralism’ and ‘ the most important structuralist anthropologist’ . He was born in Belgium in 1908 and studied law, philosophy, and sociology at the University of Paris from 1927-1932 before turning to anthropology.

From 1934 to 1937 he taught sociology at the University of Sã o Paulo in Brazil, during which time he also conducted fieldwork study among various native peoples of the Amazon. In 1939-1940 he served in the French Army, but in 1941 he fled to the US from the German occupation and was at the New School for Social Research in New York in 1941, where he worked as a professor during 1942-1945. In 1950 he was appointed Director of Studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes É tudes at the University of Paris and in 1959 he was appointed Chair of Social Anthropology at the Collè ge de France. Structuralism As mentioned above, Levi-Strauss has the reputation of being the ‘ founder’ of ‘ Structural anthropology’ .

Structuralism was heavily influenced by linguistics, especially by Ferdinand de Saussure. At an elementary level, Tobin gives an example of domestic pets to illuminate the relation between structural anthropology and structural linguistics. He says: “ In structural anthropology as in structural linguistics, the focus is on identifying the relations that underlie languages, as opposed to focusing on the history of words.   For example, a structural linguist would not be interested in the historical relationship between the French word “ chat” and the English word “ cat” , but he would be interested in the relationship between the word “ cat” and other English words, such as “ kitten” , “ dog” , and “ pet” .  A structural linguist would observe that a kitten is both a type of cat (that is to say, a young one) and not yet a cat; and cats and dogs are different from each other but both are types of pets.   Building on such observations, a structural linguist identifies the logic at work in the language.   Similarly, a structural anthropologist looks for the logic at work in culture” (Tobin). “ Saussure’ s concept of the phoneme (the smallest basic speech sound or unit of pronunciation) and his idea that phonemes exist in two kinds of relationships: diachronic and synchronic were found useful by Levi-Strauss.

A phoneme has a diachronic, or "horizontal, " relationship with those other phonemes that precede and follow it in a particular usage (as in a sentence), utterance, or narrative— what Saussure, a linguist, called parole (French for "word").

A phoneme has a synchronic, or "vertical, " relationship with the entire system of language within which individual usages, utterances, or narratives have meaning— what Saussure called langue (French for "tongue, " as in "native tongue, " meaning language).

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