structural anthropology


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structural anthropology

the perspective that stresses the priority of cognitive structures in ordering experience. It is primarily associated with LÉVI-STRAUSS who took his lead from the linguist F. de SAUSSURE. Lévi-Strauss's studies of KINSHIP and SYMBOLISM were attempts to demonstrate that a simple set of logical principles underlay sociocultural systems. Myths, for example, could be understood as linguistic transformations of essentially binary oppositions, such as male – female, raw-cooked, and so on, which are constitutive of human thought. Structural anthropology treats cultural phenomena as if they were a language and then attempts to discover the grammar, or what the US linguist CHOMSKY has called the ‘deep structure’. Whilst ‘high structuralism’ has been much criticized for its formalism, its methods have found general application in many areas of anthropology (E. Leach), sociology (ALTHUSSER, FOUCAULT) and literary criticism and SEMIOLOGY.
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