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The Elementary Structures of Kinship New edition Edition

3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807046692
ISBN-10: 0807046698
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 541 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; New edition edition (1969)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807046698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807046692
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Christopher P. Atwood on January 24, 2001
In this large and very dense work on kinship, Claude Levi-Strauss advances a distinctive approach to the issues of kinship, one that focuses not on descent (the relation of children to parents) but on marriage ("alliance" in anthropological jargon), seen as the exchange of women between groups. In the 1950s and 1960s, Claude Levi-Strauss's work became an inspiration for a school of "Alliance Theorists" who challenged the British social anthropological world's then-dominant view that descent is primary and alliance a secondary means of reproducing the lineage. Yet Levi-Strauss's analysis of kinship should be of interest to more than just anthropologists; as the Confucians recognized, kinship is the basic equipment of humanity and thus its mechanics are worth the attention of all those interested in understanding humanity.
Not that Levi-Strauss makes the task of a would-be reader easy, as he gives the reader little or no help in telling the forest from the trees. His most off-putting habit is to write his chapters like a detective story, in which he assembles a large number of odd features in Australian or Naga or Manchu kinship terms and practices as clues, then considers and discards several possible interpretations, and then only at the end of the chapter "solves" the case, informing the reader of the crucial concepts, terms, and arguments that make sense of the clues. By that time, I'd usually had forgotten the details of the clues and had to go back and review the chapter again.
Persistent readers will, however, find the ideas involved profound and important. I would strongly recommend that readers skims the conclusion to chapters first and particularly the conclusion to the large parts first, before heading on to the details.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Martin Asiner on April 20, 2011
In THE ELEMENTARY STRUCTURES OF KINSHIP, Claude Levi-Strauss sought to discern a universal world order that lurked beneath the surfaces of a bewilderingly large number of primitive tribes from all over the world. He asks the reader to infer from this text that human beings are pretty much the same in all eras in all societies. This reader involvement is no easy task since Levi-Strauss likes to fill his pages with a complex webbery of charts and figures, all of which are meant to clarify a dense prose style that mentions, analyzes, and compares primitive tribes and clans. Still, the prudent reader probably knew this in advance and was willing to slog patiently to uncover evidence that the human species is not a fragmented and discordant hodge-podge of divergent cultures as the current generation of deconstructionists and relativists so relentlessly press. Rather, a considered reading strongly suggests that the basic building blocks of human society and discourse are founded upon a finite set of kinship rules that do not explain why we are the way we are but do direct us to look past these seemingly divergent rules to apprehend a hidden reality that has always been there from the dawn of recorded history. It is this "hidden reality" that Levi-Strauss seeks to point out.

Although Levi-Strauss analyzes the process of how even convoluted systems of kinship structure the flow of possessions, intellectual achievements, and women, he presents his theses using the binary polarities that he learned from his colleague in Structuralism Ferdinand de Saussure, who posited the idea that all of human discourse can only be expressed intelligently by placing paired words back to back separated by a slash: man/woman, hot/cold, death/life and the like.
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When Evangelicals insist marriage is between one man and one woman because that is what early marriages were, anthropologists want to cry out, "Don't you ever read our reports?".
Anthropologists like Levi-Strauss amply verify that early (or elementary) marriages were unions between groups such as clans or moieties. Proof of this position is demonstarted by the wide spread practices of levirate and sororate (with instances of the levirate filling the Old Testament). When one of the spouses dies, his or her link in the union is automatically filled with a brother or sister.
When the union is between moieties (society is divided into two groups) the resulting marriages and descent result in predictable patterns that Levi-Strauss analyzes in detail, as the other reviewers note.
Not a book for light reading; I suspect many anthrpologists have avoided it, but it is a valuable source for theories of what holds societies together, suggtesting that answers lie in the nature of thought, an idea more thoroughly explored in The Savage Mind (The Nature of Human Society Series).
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