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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great work by a forerunner of Anthropology!, March 17, 2000
Richard Callaby (Bradenton, Florida) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Structural Anthropology (Paperback)
I personally consider this book to be one of the greatest works in the field of Anthropology. It is an exhaustive treatment on a particular way of looking at how Anthropology is performed. Through various examples from different cultures the author attempts to show how this *structural* approach to Anthropology is viewed. This book changed how many social Anthropologists did their work. Written by one of the most pre-eminent Anthropologists of our time it will most undoubtly stand the test of time for many decades to come.
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36 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, June 7, 2003
This review is from: Structural Anthropology (Paperback)
Levi-Strauss ranks with Darwin for being hugely misunderstood. Like Darwin, what people say about Levi-Strauss is so often completely wrong that I strongly doubt he's ever really read.

Levi-Strauss believed that all cultures share the same basic characteristics. "Struturalism is the search for hidden harmonies," he said. One of my favorite quips from him is how interesting it is to see how the same personality type will be cast in different cultural roles--how the same basic humanity signifies radically different things to different cultures.

Levi-Strauss believed it is not important to try and figure out when a culture branched off from another, or what preceeded what: culture should be considered on its own terms. If a pot is interesting, it's interesting, no matter what its context.

The reason this physicist is curious about a dead anthropologist is that many of the misunderstandings of regular old evolution can be cleared up, as Saussure recommended, by considering both evolutionary history--how dinosaurs turned into birds--and evolutionary structure--why, at any given step in evolution, the dino-bird was best adapted to its enviornment. Gould has made a career out of clearing up this confusion; too bad our schools leave students in the dark.

And it's also interesting from the point of view of physics. Clouds, for instance, have a structure which is determined by wiggling water vapor. By looking at the shape of the clouds, we can determine just how the vapor is wiggling.

All cloud shapes can be predicted--not by solving deterministic physical laws (i.e. time evolution) but by making strucutral predictions based on guesses. It is a sort of physical law which corresponds to the structuralist view of evolution: at any given time, a cloud looks the way it does because it solves a kind of 'best fit' problem. It does *not* look that way because we can solve the time evolution; those equations are in principle unsolvable because the degrees of freedom is so high. The cause of cloud shape is not force or energy (which in physics are used to solve the time evolution of single or few bodies--vertical evolution), but information and order (which are used when the number of interacting elements is so high that only statistical arguments can be made--horizontal evolution).

A perfect example of structuralism was made by Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace. In it, he argued that the course of Russia's history was not written by Napoleon, and that following Napoleon's motivations (vertical evolution) gave one the illusion that he was in control of his own decisions. In fact, Russia's history was written by the sum total of its people, each influenced into their decisions by their immediate surroundings (horizontal evolution). History then emerges in the same manner as an ant society: one person puts down a pebble, only to have it picked up and put down again somewhere else, seemingly at random. Yet the colony has certain well-defined traits. In physics the colony would be said to be a self-organizing structure, what Stuart Kauffman calls 'order for free'. So too is human history, and attempting to ground it around Churchills and Napoleons is hen-picking.

Prigogine (a chemist) pointed Levi-Strauss out in his Nobel lecture. There's only a handful of people in the world who really understand why. I encourage you to find out!

PS: I remind the writer below of the Elements of Style rule: never enclose words in quotations, as though you were admitted to a secret world that knows better. Quotation marks are the authors' indication either that he knows the word he uses is poorly chosen, or that he doesn't actually know what it means.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Levi-Strauss' STRUCTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY: Still Readable Still Useful, April 21, 2011
This review is from: Structural Anthropology (Paperback)
In 1959, when Claude-Levi-Strauss published his STRUCTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, his academic colleagues were not yet conversant with the general theory of Structuralism, which was then just emerging. To them, all societies in all eras could be accounted for in terms of their purpose/function or their historical genesis. Neither of these satisfied Levi-Strauss. A few years earlier, he met and heard the Structuralist theories of Ferdinand de Saussure, who tried to account for in a similar way the means by which human beings communicated. De Saussure saw all of human society as constructed of interlocking frameworks or structures and once one could isolate how these structures interacted on a microscopic level (the "langue" or total human discourse and the "parole" or the individual human utterances), then what would emerge would be the linguistic Grand Theory of Everything. Levi-Strauss immediately saw the relevance to his domain of expertise, cultural anthropolgy. In this book as in his earlier ELEMENTARY STRUCTURES OF KINSHIP (1949), he combined analyses of how kinship was no more than another human construction that could be explained in terms of its own micro units with his emerging theory of myth. In the essays that comprise STRUCTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, Levi-Strauss sought to simplify huge masses of data so that society's forward movement could be predicted in a manner reminiscent of science fiction author Isaac Asimov, who wrote similarly of cultural future histories using the Cassandra-like tool of Psychohistory. Levi-Strauss' general thrust was accepted by mainstream academia until Jacques Derrida came along with his deconstructionism that denied that there is any unifying links at the core of humanity. Derrida charged that Levi-Strauss was guilty of placing a one size fits all anthropological blanket over a confusing and confused hodge-podge of fragmented human beings. Today, in 2011, the jury is still out on that one but no one can so easily dismiss the not-so-quaint notion that human beings do share some common links other than DNA.
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Structural Anthropology
Structural Anthropology by Claude Levi-Strauss (Paperback - June 7, 1974)
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