Claude Levi Strauss’ Structural Anthropology

Applying Saussurean principles to the realm of anthropology, Claude Levi Strauss in his Structuralist Anthropology (1958) analysed cultural phenomena including mythology, kinship and food preparation. Employing the concepts of langue and parole in his search for the fundamental structures of the human mind, Levi-Strauss argued that myths from all cultures as well as human thought across cultures share the same underlying structures, as they are all governed by universal laws.

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In the wake of this theory, in his The Savage Mind, where he compares the bricoleur and the engineer, he observed that the savage mind has the same structures as the civilised mind, and that human nature is the same everywhere. He proposed that all myths consist of the same underlying structures — elements that oppose and contradict each other, and other elements that mediate and resolve those oppositions, for instance, figures like the trickster, raven, coyote appear in the myths of all cultures serving the same purpose. Levi Strauss was inspired by the philosophy of Hegel who explained that in every situation there are two opposing forces and their resolution — the thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Levi-Strauss also coined the word “mytheme”, which is the smallest component part of a myth, and proposed it that these mythemes may be studied synchronically or diachronically to analyse the deep structure of myth.

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