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Darwin-L Message Log 7:26 (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.


<7:26>From fwg1@cornell.edu  Thu Mar 10 15:10:23 1994

Date: Thu, 10 Mar 1994 16:10:15 -0500
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: fwg1@cornell.edu (Frederic W. Gleach)
Subject: French structuralism in anthropology

In a similar vein to Sally Thomason's and Margaret Winters's comments on
synchrony and diachrony in linguistics, I think it must be noted that while
Levi-Strauss's work (and perhaps even more so that of many of his
followers) emphasized synchronic structures, the theory was explicitly
based in an effort to understand historical processes *through* the study
of structure.  L-S's famous essay on "History and Anthropology," written in
1948 although often dated to the early 1960s, when it was included as the
introduction to _Structural Anthropology_ (following its inclusion in the
1958 French edition), makes plain this orientation, as do some of his later
pieces (cf. esp. his published interviews).  It is now quite popular in
anthropology to condemn L-S and structural studies, and there are certainly
some valid grounds on which they can be criticized, but
"post-structuralism" in today's anthropology too often means a pose of
complete rejection rather than a building on those ideas.  As Marshall
Sahlins has suggested, there are a lot of people standing on L-S's
shoulders and shitting on his head.  The structuralism of L-S can be better
seen as a reaction to the ahistorical (even anti-historical) functionalism
of Malinowski than to evolutionary ideas.

*****************************************************************************
                        Frederic W. Gleach   (fwg1@cornell.edu)
                        Anthropology Department, Cornell University
                                        (607) 255-6779

I long ago decided that anything that could be finished in my lifetime was
necessarily too small an affair to engross my full interest.  --Ernest
Dewitt Burton
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