- Series: Structural Anthropology (Book 1)
- Paperback: 410 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Revised ed. edition (June 7, 1974)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 046509516X
- ISBN-13: 978-0465095162
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Structural Anthropology Revised ed. Edition
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"Lvi-Strauss is not only one of the extremely few scholars of sufficient distinction to be able to say, without presumption, what social anthropology is about; but he has also actually demonstrated...that he is pre-eminently worth listening to. He does not simply practice social anthropology, he makes exciting and original contributions to it." -- Nature
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
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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.