In by the schools of phenomenology as well

            In the past, a lot of claims and
counter-claims, as well as of charges and counter-changes has come over
anthropological inquiry. Anthropology, as a discipline, has generated a large
number of theoretical models and a chaos of new methodology until one’s image
of the goals of anthropological inquiry as well as the issues involved in our
study of socio-cultural phenomena can become somewhat vague (Appell, 1980). Unexpectedly,
the spoil of the game go to the theoretician, and not to the ethnographer who
gives a description of a socio-cultural system in lesser or greater point (Appell,

One of the
anthropological theories is Structuralism. In this paper, I will not deal with
the metatheory of structuralism rather I will only discuss Lévi-Strauss’s version
of structural theory. Piaget referred Lévi-Strauss’s version as ‘analytical
structuralism. In this paper I will use this term in discussing Lévi-Strauss’s version
of structuralism to identify it from other approaches. Indeed, in this paper, I
will try to discuss the epistemological issues in this field, specifically on Lévi-Strauss’s

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            Structuralism was primarily
influenced by the schools of phenomenology as well as of Gestalt psychology,
which are both cultivated in Germany between 1910s and 1930s (Briggs &
Meyer, 2009). Phenomenology, as a school of philosophical thought, attempted to
provide philosophy a rational and scientific basis (Briggs & Meyer, 2009).
Mainly, it was interested in describing consciousness and eliminating the gap
that had usually existed between subject and object of human thought (Briggs
& Meyer, 2009). They distinguish consciousness as aware of something, and
that picture, the whole, cannot be parted from the object or the subject but is
the relationship between them (Briggs & Meyer, 2009). Conversely, Gestalt
psychology asserted that all human conscious experience is patterned,
highlighting that the whole is always better than the parts, making it a
holistic view (Briggs & Meyer, 2009). It encourages the view that the human
mind functions by recognizing or imposing structures (Briggs & Meyer,

            In the late 1920s and early 1930s,
Ferdinand de Saussure expounded structuralism as a theoretical framework in
linguistics. He suggested that languages were constructed of concealed rules
that practitioners recognized but are unable to speak about (Briggs &
Meyer, 2009). Indeed, even though we may all speak the same language, we are
not all able to completely convey and express the grammatical rules that govern
why we arrange and organize words in the order we do. Yet, we understand these
set of rules in an implicit level, and we are conscious when we properly use these
rules and when we are able to effectively decode what the other person is
saying to us (Briggs & Meyer, 2009).

During the third
quarter of the twentieth century, anthropological structuralism attained
importance through the writing of Claude Lévi-Strauss, regarded as the father
of structural anthropology (Schneider, n.d.). He proposed that structural
factors design our cultural expressions in order to make them echo with us
under consciousness (Schneider, n.d.). He also suggested that proper focus of
anthropological investigation was on the fundamental patterns of human thought
that generate the cultural categories that systematize worldviews hitherto
studied (Briggs & Meyer, 2009). He thinks these processes were not
deterministic of culture rather he believes that it is operated within culture.
His work was greatly influenced by Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss as well as
the Prague School of structural linguistics which was organized in 1926 and
includes Nikolai Troubetzkoy and Roman Jakobson (Briggs & Meyer, 2009).
From the former, he took and developed the concept of binary contrasts which is
later referred as binary oppositions in his work and became fundamental in his
theory (Briggs & Meyer, 2009).

            In 1972, his book entitled Structuralism and Ecology, detailing the
tenets of what would become structural anthropology, was circulated (Briggs & Meyer, 2009). In this book, he argued
that culture, just like language, is made up of hidden rules that govern the
behavior of its practitioners (Briggs & Meyer, 2009). What made culture
unique and different from each other are the hidden rules that the individuals
understood but are unable to speak out; therefore, the goal of structural
anthropology is to distinguish these rules (Briggs & Meyer, 2009). He
argued that culture us a dialectic process. He suggested a methodological means
of identifying these rules, and this is through the identification of binary
oppositions (Briggs & Meyer, 2009).

            In anthropology, the structuralist
paradigm proposes that the structure of human thought processes is similar in
all cultures, and that these processes exist in the form of binary oppositions
(Briggs & Meyer, 2009). Structuralists maintain that binary oppositions are
mirrored in a variety of cultural institutions (Briggs & Meyer, 2009).
Anthropologists may identify essential thought processes by observing and
looking at such things like myth, kinship, and language (Briggs & Meyer,
2009). It is suggested that a concealed reality exists underneath all cultural
expressions (Briggs & Meyer, 2009). Structuralist aim, then, is to
understand the underlying meaning involved in human thought as conveyed and
communicated in cultural acts.

            In addition, the theoretical
approach provided by structuralism highlights that elements of culture must be
identified in terms of their relationship to the entire system (Briggs &
Meyer, 2009). This idea, that ‘the whole is greater than the parts’, calls to
the Gestalt school of psychology. Basically, elements of culture form parts of
an expressive system, and are not an explanation in and of themselves.
Structuralism, as an analytical model, presumes the universality of human
mental processes in an effort to explain the underlying meaning and “deep
structure” that exists in cultural phenomena (Briggs & Meyer, 2009).

Analytical Structuralism

Analytical structuralism
bases its methodology on the view that culture is a code (Appell, 1980). Analytical
structuralists take the position that “all manifestations of social activity,
whether it be the clothes that are worn, the books that are written or the
systems of kinship and marriage that are practiced in any society, constitute
languages…” (Lane, 1970, p. 13-14). However, using a Chomskian analogy, analytical
structuralists maintain that they are interested with symbolism at the level of
deep structure (at the level of unconsciousness) (Appell, 1980).

In Lévi-Strauss’s
later work on Amerindian myths, the power of social structure stopped and myth
was examined as a complex self-organizing system mirroring basic structuring habits
of the human mind (Schneider, n.d.). The harmonies, which stemmed from logical
relations among properties of the incidents, creatures, or artifacts that the
myths have, were considered as something more significant to the listeners than
the stories that the myth narrates (Schneider, n.d.). Indeed, it was the
harmonies that triggered myths to please individuals, and to be passed on and
on even if they lacked clear and comprehensible narrative structure (Schneider,
n.d.). In his attempt to decode myths, the reduction to contrastive structures
was maintained, but in explaining the pattern, he took a path that is similar
to Noam Chomsky’s generative grammar (in linguistics), relying on features of
the mental structure rather than social structure (Schneider, n.d.). Thus, analytical
structuralists, like Lévi-Strauss, are interested and concerned with
distinguishing the unconscious structures that generate the surface phenomena
and which are boarded in the innate organization of the mind (Appell, 1980).

            Analytical structuralists, then, are
dealing with mental behavior but only in terms of a theory of the investigator
(Appell, 1980). They do not assert that they are openly attempting to define
culture-specific-meaning, the rational meaning if behavior. Nor have they tried
to expound methods for testing their reconstructions against newly produced
materials (Appell, 1980). The test of a structural analysis can only rest in its
internal logic, consistency, and fit with received data (Appell, 1980). The
point in here is that analytical structuralism would therefore rest in the
theory-meaning dimension.

            As a final point, analytical structuralism
does not explicitly deal with the problem of the social locus of its phenomena.
One might assert that the locus of ethnographic reality must rest in the minds
of people since they are dealing with the mental behavior, however they have
presented little interest with the nature of individual’s expression and
articulation with his socio-cultural system (Appell, 1980). In its place, they
use a myth, a ritual, or a segment of other cultural behavior as a collective
representation of a society (Appell, 1980).

            In summary, the basic goal of analytical
structuralism is to ask the questions: “What are the universal mental forms and
processes?” and “How does man perceive himself to be in relation to the world
and to society?” (Appell, 1980).

Features of Analytical Structuralism

            Analytical structuralists explicitly
assert that they are taking into account ethnographic materials in terms of a
system (Appell, 1980). However, it should be mentioned that the characteristics
of the linguistic system and its relevance to sociocultural phenomena has not
yet been adequately investigated (Appell, 1980). And this brings lots of
criticism against it.

            Leach (1971) stated: “…in a
structuralist interpretation, the analyst considers each myth, or ritual
sequence as a whole” (p. 23). This might seem reasonable; however Lévi-Strauss
normally brings his mythic analysis across cultural and temporal boundaries (Appell,
1980). Therefore, at the boundaries, there are certain questions that can be
raised, and that this problem in boundaries appeared to be unanswered in
analytical structuralism.

            The crisis of using abstract
analytical concepts appears to be little reflected on by the analytical
structuralists, even if it can only be adequately dealt with in the discussion
of the basic units (Appell, 1980). Lévi-Strauss, in some of his writings,
refers to his basic units as mythemes or gustemes (though it still depends on
the context of the analysis) (Appell, 1980). He maintains that myth descends in
the field of language and is composed of constituent units (Appell, 1980). These
units are higher than other constituent units since they exist and can be found
at the level of sentences (Appell, 1980). These units contain relation, which
is the basic unit of analytical structuralism. Therefore, just like the
statement of Leach (1970), “the elements of symbolism are not things in
themselves but ‘relations’ organized in pairs and sets… The crucial point is
that the ‘element of structure’ is not a unit thing but a relation X” (p.