Examining the apotheosis of heroic anthropology Essay Example
Examining the apotheosis of heroic anthropology Essay Example

Examining the apotheosis of heroic anthropology Essay Example

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  • Published: August 13, 2017
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Levi-Strauss played a significant role in shaping twentieth-century thought, highlighting its importance and potential for anthropology in the 21st century. Anthropologists worldwide celebrated his 100th birthday by reflecting on his life, works, legacy, and contributions to the field. His extensive body of influential work spans various disciplines such as methodology, philosophy, history, humanitarianism, mythology, linguistics, aesthetics, knowledge, and logic. It is crucial to acknowledge and appreciate his ongoing relevance in contemporary theory as it serves as the best tribute to his lasting impact in anthropology.

Anthropology in modern times is primarily focused on investigating topics such as migration, diseases, poverty, feminism, self-awareness, corruption, globalization, cultural conflicts, civil wars, human rights, cultural activism, fundamentalism, terrorism, and other related subjects. Attempting to bring Levi-Strauss back to a prominent position can be difficult since it encompasses all of these soc


ial and political issues simultaneously. However, it is possible to demonstrate that structural anthropology can provide innovative explanations not only for the dynamics of social systems and the implementation of competitive and strategic behaviors. Two aspects are particularly evident in Levi-Strauss's work: his attention to the epistemic problems surrounding anthropological knowledge and his ethical vision of the anthropologist's role.

Levi-Strauss's talent and genius lies in his ability to establish the theoretical foundations of a groundbreaking field that encompasses both science and the humanities in anthropology. His first notable work, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1967 [1949]), illustrates the transition from nature to culture and reveals the underlying principles of human society. Additionally, his Mythologiques (1964, 1966, 1968, 1971) delves into the functioning of the Savage Mind (1962a) and uncovers the fundamental basis of human knowledge. Levi-Strauss's monumental Tristes Tropiques (1955) no

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only epitomizes anthropology as both a discipline and a humanitarian endeavor but also serves as an anticipatory call for the emergence of a future theoretical anthropology.

Despite criticism from his detractors, Levi-Strauss was attentive and knowledgeable about recent topical, ethical, methodological, and epistemic discussions. In his writing, he laid the foundation for a new epistemology and ethics, introducing new assumptions and procedures for acquiring knowledge, as well as a fresh approach to methodology and global awareness (see Doja 2005, 2006a, 2006c, 2008a). However, due to cultural and linguistic translation challenges and the whims of intellectual fashion, the true value of Levi-Strauss's work has been obscured. Particularly in the Anglo-American world, his original approach to history and his significant theoretical and epistemic contributions to general knowledge and the humanitarianism of structural anthropology as a human science have been overlooked and underappreciated, if not intentionally distorted.

Some aspects of anthropology can be seen as encompassing the philosophical parameters of an increasing concern with political issues and conflicts in the post-colonial era, as well as issues of contextualization and self-awareness in light of the declining coherency of meta-narrative and expansive theory. Levi-Strauss utilized structural arguments effectively in analyzing cultural order, while also acknowledging the temporary nature of this order through the use of information, irreversibility, and deconstruction. Some aspects of Levi-Strauss's theory can be seen as offering a viable methodology for developing advanced anthropological approaches to topics such as history, agency, culture, and society. However, critics have focused on addressing his substantive viewpoints, particularly his inadequate definition of structure, history, and agency, as well as his association with structural linguistics. Undeniably, these are crucial issues in understanding Levi-Strauss's ideas and

the intertwined development of structural linguistics and anthropology.However, when we compare Levi-Strauss with structural linguistics, we distort our understanding of his legacy and his ongoing significance in anthropology and social theory.

While reexamining the longstanding debate between Derrida and Levi-Strauss regarding the role of authorship, I reached the same conclusion as other writers that we need to question the extent to which a version of structural linguistics, retrospectively invented by "poststructuralists," has replaced the actual concept in popular imagination. Levi-Strauss's concept of structural linguistics brilliantly extrapolated from a specific moment in linguistics, showcasing its wider implications for understanding human culture. However, when analyzing mythology from a structural viewpoint, there may be other important influences beyond linguistic structural linguistics such as music, new mathematics, information theory, cognitive science, cybernetics, game theory, biology, and catastrophe theory. It can be argued that Levi-Strauss elevated anthropology into a scientific endeavor with a more sophisticated intellectual framework for comprehending humanity than what is commonly acknowledged or achieved in the field.Levi-Strauss brought about an epistemic interruption with old methods of analysis, creating an anthropological scientific revolution. He subjected affinity and matrimony to consecutive Copernican revolutions and believed in classifying exercises and the transformational logic of myths. His originality lies in challenging the resistance between human nature and cultural diversity, demonstrating that one underlies the other. Levi-Strauss aimed to reconcile this rule and challenge ethnographic empiricist philosophy.

At the same time, Levi-Strauss attempted to identify universal laws of the human mind as they manifest themselves in various aspects of culture, such as affinity, myth, art, and primitive forms of categorization. His goal was to promote cultural diversity and establish the intellectual unity of humanity.

Levi-Strauss's broad statements can be easily criticized, and there are flaws in some of his arguments, including his controversial "dislike" of Islam expressed in Tristes Tropiques, his reservations about the events of May '68 in France, and his opposition to the election of the first female member of the French Academy. However, although it is possible to dispute specific points, this does not diminish the validity of his overall generalizations.

Despite any future impact and potential criticism of his work, Levi-Strauss's theory remains an unparalleled achievement that cannot be surpassed. While his structural analysis may not be as influential as it once was, it still holds tremendous value and originality in understanding cultural and societal aspects of human life. His unique perspective on contemporary issues, such as traditional Christmas celebrations and female gender, adds a distinctiveness to his body of work. Additionally, Levi-Strauss's contemplation on the relationship between human condition and market economy, as well as his exploration of modern sociality in relation to diseases like mad-cow disease, further exemplify his unconventional thinking. Ultimately, it is crucial to recognize Levi-Strauss's deep ecological mindset alongside his intellectual contributions.

The review of a "corrupt" humanitarianism that prioritizes "Man" above all other living beings is still extremely relevant today. It is no surprise that Levi-Strauss has continuously and unwaveringly discussed this topic again and again (2007). His works cannot be simplified to just a method or philosophy. They are a intricate collection of texts that are often connected through hidden links, and their significance is still yet to be fully understood.

In this particular context, the focus when reexamining the Savage Mind (1962a) is not so much on analyzing the logic

of classificatory systems, but on discussing the impact of emotions on societal relations and the ethical aspect of Levi-Strauss's thought. Levi-Strauss's structural anthropology can be seen as essentially an epistemology that has already presented an original approach to ethics. Despite his vanity, idiosyncrasies, and eccentric range of interests and obsessions, Levi-Strauss has proven to be a lasting figure in the history of social theory and anthropology. By acknowledging that mental satisfaction is derived from "good to think" ideas (1962b: 132 [Eng. 1963: 89]), he steered anthropology towards a more formal methodology with scientific aspirations.

Levi-Strauss unknowingly sparked a rational enthusiasm that swept through all societal scientific disciplines and the humanities, earning him the title of "a hero of our time" according to Susan Sontag (1963 [1990]). Clifford Geertz also noted that Levi-Strauss was highly committed to his profession, driven by a personal vision and a quest for personal redemption (Geertz 1967 [1973]: 346). As Richard Shweder describes, Levi-Strauss turned an expedition to the Amazon into a visionary pursuit and transformed anthropology into a religious mission to protect humanity from itself (Hayes; Hayes 1970). In the "heroic" practice of Levi-Strauss's anthropology, the ethnographic fieldwork becomes a psychological ordeal where the anthropologist questions their own assumptions and beliefs through contact with the unfamiliar Other. At the same time, they must bear witness as indigenous cultures are irreversibly destroyed by modernization. Levi-Strauss's anthropology is a deductive and self-evident science, grounded in the framework of model theory.

The main focus of this text is the importance of the human mind and the integrity of the world, as emphasized by Edward B. Tylor. However, rather than trying to reconstruct the evolutionary path

towards modernity, the author suggests analyzing the universal "grammar" and structural properties of the mind itself. This approach is compared to the foundational work of anthropologists like Lewis Morgan and Sir James Frazer, highlighting Levi-Strauss's inclusion of both mental and material aspects. As a result, it anticipates a comprehensive scientific approach and future theoretical anthropology.

Under Levi-Strauss's guidance, anthropological research consisted of three interconnected phases: ethnography, ethnology, and anthropology. These phases were united by the methodological analysis and topic of analysis, moving from specific case studies to the formulation of general laws. Levi-Strauss's goal was to establish theoretical anthropology as distinct from and complementary to ethnography, similar to the distinction between theoretical and experimental natural philosophies. Additionally, he aimed to reconcile the conflict between individuality and holistic theory by highlighting the relationship between sociology and anthropology. They both study collective behavior and social structures, analogous to thermodynamics and quantum mechanics in modern natural philosophies, which examine the collective behavior and internal structure of atoms and molecules. Through his early works, Levi-Strauss laid the foundation for the structural study of kinship.The intriguing aspect of the Elementary Structures of Kinship ( 1967 [ 1949 ] ) lies in its combination of a highly specialized subdivision of anthropology with a broader section dedicated to societal theory.

The basic types of confederation provided an initial example of the establishing principles of civilization and their ability to generate a limited number of coherent forms. Based on this premise, anthropology appears to have a responsibility to compile a systematic inventory of all socially stable forms. As argued by Scubla in 1998, when he began working on the four volumes of Mythologiques in the

1960s, his interest had evolved into sets of relationships that could just as easily be compared to music, mathematics, or physics. His transformation of conflicting or hierarchical relationships into relationships of complementarity or reciprocity is connected to broader concepts of mediation, regulation, and homeostasis, or negative feedback, drawn from Durkheim's theory of social coherence, Mauss's theory of reciprocity, and cybernetics.In fact, while both the linguistic and musical theoretical explanations may partially explain the combinational and differential nature of myth, Levi-Strauss's analytical approach to myth and his examination of the relationship between different complex systems, whether they are societal, cultural, or mythic systems, is further perceived as a transformational relationship. This needs to be interpreted based on a conceptualization model grounded in the context of the prevailing science and technology of the time, as demonstrated by new mathematics, information science, cybernetics, game theory, biology, and catastrophe theory. The principles of structural anthropology may appear quite similar to the principles of quantum physics, which offer insights into atomic structures.

Levi-Strauss has shown the strict patterns of myth's transformational structure in social science, similar to how Einstein demonstrated the structural relativity of the universe in natural science. Like Einstein did with the universe, Levi-Strauss has given mythical schemas the same status as "absolute objects" (1964: 21 [Eng. 1969: 13], 1971: 33 [Eng. 1981: 38]). In 1676, Isaac Newton famously stated, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants," referring to his own work on optics. Unfortunately, our increasingly individualistic world often leads us to overlook the contributions of our intellectual predecessors. This neglect is not out of disloyalty but due to our own

self-importance and it harms both social sciences and anthropology as a whole.

Perhaps Levi-Strauss is not yet the Einstein he believed anthropology was waiting for (1956 [1958]: 180 [Eng. 1963: 162]) nor the Mendeleyev cosmologist of social sciences he aspired to be (1955: 203 [Eng. 1973: 178]). However, he does provide a periodic table of subjects in which anthropology has its designated place (1964 [1973]: 350-351 [Eng. 1977: 298-299]), he constructs his famous "atom of affinity" in line with the new philosophies (1945 [1958]: 58 [Eng. 1963: 48]), and he discusses mythical patterns and the concept of "absolute objects" (1964: 21 [Eng.)

In 1969, 13 people [ Eng.1981: 38 ] and in 1971, 33 people [ Eng.1981: 38 ] were inspired by Levi-Strauss to participate in a new intellectual adventure in the field of anthropology. Despite facing criticism for many years, Levi-Strauss's structural methods are recognized as the most significant modern innovation in the social and behavioral sciences [ Gardner 1981: twelve ]. It is believed that one hundred years from now, Levi-Strauss's research program will be regarded as more accurate than that of his strongest critics, indicating his importance as a great thinker [ Gardner 1985: 241-242 ]. Recent experimental research has supported Levi-Strauss's claim of an algebraic structure to human mind and knowledge, as demonstrated through narrative references seen as mathematical groups composed of numeral sets [ Haskell 2008 ].The persistence and continued relevance of Levi-Straussian ideas such as affinity, taxonomy, and transformational analysis are noteworthy. These concepts, which have played a crucial role in anthropology for a significant period, are still considered valuable and continue to resonate with contemporary cultural anthropologists.

The use of Levi-Strauss's

bricoleur label in cultural anthropology today is not much of a stretch, as many anthropologists employ advanced techniques that involve collaboration and creativity in their research methods (Leinaweaver 2010). Scholars from diverse perspectives, training, and backgrounds are forging collaborative work like bricoleurs. Levi-Strauss's most lasting impact is his inspiration for researchers to generate innovative hypotheses that can be tested through empirical research. This indicates that the influence of structural anthropology extends beyond its initial establishment of legitimacy and notable achievements.

In addition to many other things, it is important to acknowledge the purpose of recovering the same process without simply applying Levi-Strauss's method. This involves using the dynamic aspect of structural linguistics and its transformational perspective on other socio-cultural phenomena, such as rituals and societal organization. Levi-Strauss's analysis is often seen as influenced by a functional approach. By interpreting Levi-Strauss's work as a political treatise, his analysis is revitalized and moves away from the perceived rational objectivity of his work on symbolism. Instead, it reveals his deeply political agenda. What Levi-Strauss referred to as "exchange of adult females" actually refers to an exchange of marriage partners, both male and female, depending on the context and seen from a relational perspective. This perspective effectively challenges simplistic analyses that focus solely on his supposed objectification of women, his homophobic preference for heterosexual marriage over other forms of union, or his alleged essentialist view of racial purity. The origins of society in the incest taboo lead to an essentially anti-liberal understanding of the inevitability of social relationships. (see Strong 2002; Fassin 2009).Levi-Strauss's authoritative intercession explored crucial theoretical and analytic issues relevant to the study of society. He emphasized the

deep involvement of gender and sexuality in the study and practice of affinity. Additionally, he offered a distinct and counter-hegemonic alternative to conventional narratives in Western political thought.

In the 1970s and 1980s, research on affinity became controversial due to the delayed recognition of the Western biocentrism underlying its key premises. Despite the uncertainties in anthropological involvement in the study of affinity, Levi-Strauss's concept of "house" and "house societies" developed in his last Lectures has been effectively utilized in recent anthropological studies. Additionally, his ideas on affinity continue to be carefully considered by the scholarly community. In the past two decades, there has been a notable focus on understanding how affinity is perceived, practiced, and given significance. This is particularly relevant for scholars interested in emerging reproductive technologies and the increasing interconnectedness of local and global processes, especially in relation to cross-border marriages and migration of domestic and sex workers.These studies show a growing scholarly interest in how social relations have become more geographically dispersed, impersonal, and influenced by broader political-economic or capitalist processes. There is also a growing concern about the commodification and connection of intimate and personal relations, particularly those related to reproductive labor, family, and domestic units, with multinational mobility and migration. This presents new ethnographic challenges and opportunities. The main question regarding the interconnectedness between intimate and broader political processes is not merely about rhetoric or which societies use the "language of affinity" to discuss political and economic interests. It is about whether Levi-Strauss's claims about the "language of affinity" are used by him to discuss relations that different societies express in the "language of the house" or broader political processes. (Constable


It is more important in planetary systems and procedures for adult females to play the role of power operators in both ritualized and organized force. The relationship between biological sex and organized force has been debated by scholars for decades. However, recent research has highlighted the speedy changes in gender roles and ideas about masculinity and femininity during times of war and the role of mobilization in defining manhood and womanhood. In the post-Cold War period, "new wars" have used gender in various ways, with external humanitarian organizations unintentionally reinforcing the perception of men as perpetrators of violence and women as victims during peace-building efforts. Anthropologists today focus on local uniqueness and historically specific manifestations of cultural practices rather than grand narratives.A small number of people are willing to accept the idea that civilizations and societies are simply structured combinations of elements. This tendency to prioritize the importance of "constructions" over individuals, as Levi-Strauss's structural version of anthropology has often emphasized, is a notable aspect of his work and can be considered controversial. However, Levi-Strauss's assertion that taxonomy is a fundamental aspect of human thought demonstrates how significant patterns that differentiate one human group from another are in his writings.

While Levi-Strauss believed that totemism was an important manifestation of categorizations, many anthropologists now focus on exploring systematic patterns in various contexts around the world, such as identity politics related to race, ethnicity, religion, indigeneity, gender, and sexuality. These studies aim to understand the meanings and production of designations and examine conflicts between different groups to identify the form, force, and impact of political power. Categorization and taxonomy continue to play a crucial role in cultural

anthropology, whether it is through examining how clashes and state involvement perpetuate differences or analyzing how everyday practices reinforce distinctness. Ultimately, these studies often unintentionally echo Levi-Strauss's claim that relational difference is the true essence of society, highlighting the creative possibilities that emerge from these differences.In his work Race and History (1952 [1973]), Levi-Strauss refuted the concept of "race" having a biological basis. He also dismissed evolutionary arguments that promote the superiority of Western civilization and rejected the idea that certain civilizations exist outside of history. Furthermore, he argued that no civilization can solely claim credit for its accomplishments because every civilization is interconnected and relies on others.

Another general tendency can be observed in a significant number of studies on colonialism, military bases, embedded anthropologists, humanism, interventionism, and in a number of studies focused on the intersection of science, politics, and markets, which is seen as the gradual expansion of neoliberal logics and its implications for the state as a political entity. This trend reflects the ongoing interest among anthropologists in new forms and contexts of market capitalism, as well as a growing concern for the intersections of political and scientific epistemologies. These concerns are particularly evident in discussions around state policies and societal actions related to public health, the environment, and natural resources (Richland 2009). Each of these trends and concerns undoubtedly reflects the anxieties expressed by Levi-Strauss about the "mechanical civilization" of the West. The recent return to Levi-Strauss's thermic analysis of history and his thought-provoking distinction between "historical temperatures" in his model of "cold" and "hot" societies (1961: 37-48 [Eng. 1969: 32-42]) is now being advocated as a heuristic rather than a

systematic differentiation between cultural epochs.

The use of public service corporations as a methodological approach for anthropological inquiry can be seen as an effective analytical convention rather than a condition of cultural and societal realities. It is important to avoid rigid academic perspectives and strive for analytical fluidity and theoretical hybridity. This continuous reconsideration and adaptation can be viewed as a promising exploration of "Anthropological Futures" (Fischer 2009), where seemingly contradictory approaches can coexist. By combining Levi-Straussian structural analysis, cognitive commitments, border district epistemology, and the politics of practice and agency, a more robust theoretical framework can be developed. Although this proposal needs further examination, it has the potential to advance our understanding of the world and contribute to the revival of vibrant theoretical debates that were lacking in the 1980s.

The text suggests that understanding the relationship between political ideology and culture can reveal new insights into the integration of knowledge. This insight could lead to significant developments in societal and anthropological theory, generating both new empirical findings and theoretical syntheses for innovative research directions. It also highlights that structural anthropology, inspired by this understanding, is concerned with social conflict, change, practice, and agency, which is often overlooked but essential to Levi-Strauss's theory. Furthermore, the text argues that the new morphodynamic epistemic undertaking of the structural paradigm in current anthropology goes beyond the general discourse in social science, which discusses issues like identity shifting and fluidity without providing precise explanations of how these changes occur.In the same way that symbols, myths, centripetal qualities, and the arts were once seen as ambiguous and changeable, social individualities can also be ambivalent and fluid. To increase accuracy and persuasiveness

in understanding this, Levi-Strauss's theory can provide more clarity.

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