In The Savage Mind (1962), the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss used the word bricolage to describe the characteristic patterns of mythological thought. Bricolage is the skill of using whatever is at hand and recombining them to create something new. Levi-Strauss compares the working of the bricoleur and the engineer. The bricoleur, who is the “savage mind”, works with his hands in devious ways, puts pre-existing things together in new ways, and makes do with whatever is at hand. What Levi-Strauss points out here is that signs already in existence are used for purposes that they were originally not meant for.
The working of the bricoleur is parallel to the construction of mythological narratives. As opposed to the bricoleur, the engineer, who is the “scientific mind”, is a true craftsman in that he deals with projects in entirety, taking into account :he availability of materials, and creating new tools. Drawing a parallel, Levi-Strauss argues that mythology functions more like the bricoleur, whereas modern western science works more like an engineer. He suggests that the engineer creates a holistic totalising system, in which there are elements of permanence.
Derrida in Structure Sign and Play criticises Levi-Strauss’ conception of the engineer’s totalizing narrative, arguing that it is not possible for anyone to be the “absolute origin of his own discourse” or to “construct the totality of his language, syntax and lexicon.” Consequently- he remarks that the engineer is a myth created by the bricoleur, because the bricoleur would not be as exciting and inventive if the engineer were not so dreary and unimaginative. As soon as we cease to believe in such an engineer and as soon as we admit that every finite discourse is bound by a certain bricolage, and that the engineer is also a bricoleur, then the very difference upon which bricolage took on its meaning breaks down. Derrida argues that, based on bricolage, Levi-Strauss’ discourse on myths attempts to abandon “all reference to a centre, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin”, and that his discourse is decentered.