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Darwin-L Message Log 7:20 (March 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<7:20>From TOMASO@utxvms.cc.utexas.edu  Wed Mar  9 19:13:50 1994

Date: Wed, 09 Mar 1994 19:13:39 -0600 (CST)
From: TOMASO@utxvms.cc.utexas.edu
Subject: Re: DARWIN-L digest 163
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

 More on Structuralism and social evolution.

Bob O'Hara correctly points out that Levi-Strauss and other explicitly
structuralist theorists in anthropology designed structuralist methodology and
theory as a counter to social evolutionary arguments.  According to Levi
Strauss, structuralism should focus on the synchronic and dialectic/dualistic
relations between mental structures (it is worth noting that these relations,
in both the anthropologist's mind and that of the subject, are little more than
structures themselves) in the minds of anthropological subjects.  This was
based on a completely mentalist conceptualization of culture, which was
perceived to counter the categorical and materialist bent of the evolutionists.
However, as Johaannes Fabion (1983 - _Time and the Other:  How Anthropology
Makes its Object_) ably confides, structuralism subsumed all of the
time-distancing devices of its alledged antithesis by defining its subject as
'the other', and not-very-cautiously (or reflexively) applying oppositions like
"modern" and "primitive" as if they had meanings outside of political and
oppressive discourse.  The logic and argumentation of social evolutionism _was_
constructed in a way that would be amenable to structuralist methods of
analysis (involving the dialectics and explanation of sets of binary
oppositions - such as: simple - complex, primitive - civilized, etc), and so,
the epistemology underlying evolutionism could be considered structural.
However, the intent of the structuralists was to go beyond evolutionism and
relativism, and to create a 'science of cultural ideas' that essentially
ignored the diachronics of culture.  (This, for some, is the essential failure
of structuralism.  I believe that it fails on many more fronts as well.)

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Matt Tomaso
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin

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