There are three important anthropological thoughts- Functionalism, Structural- Functionalism and Structuralism. Here we are going to discuss Structuralism.

Structuralism is an approach to understanding life through structures. Here structures refer to social structure.

Social Structure

According to the book “Notes and Queries on Anthropology”- Social structure is the web of social network in which people of a definite community lives in a definite time.

According to Edmund Leach– Social structure is the arrangement of persons or groups of persons.

According to Radcliffe Brown– Social structure is an abstract phenomenon. Social structure is continuing arrangement of persons defined or controlled by institutions.

According to the book “Encyclopedia of Anthropology”– The elements of social structure include arrangement or patterns of kinship, descent and affiliation of the techno-economic and the political-legal system.

Image source- Ricardo Vargas

The Structuralism of Levi Strauss

He was a French Anthropologist born in 1908, Belgium.

According to him-

  • Social structure is a concrete reality. It cannot be seen and what we see is the model of social structure.
  • We can understand the structure without considering its function.
  • He emphasized the study of language for understanding the structure. That is why he was known as Structure Linguist.

According to him, we can study the entirety of a society without understanding its function, but only by understanding its structure.

Social structure as a model

Levi Strauss opposed R. Brown that social structure is actually found. He said-

Social structure has nothing to do with the empirical reality but with the models which are built after it. Social relations are the thing that empirically exists and it acts as the raw material out of which model making is done.

Social structure is not actually found but what we see is a model. What is actually found is a social relation, model image is formed after those same social relations.

Types of model

He gave two sets of models-

  • Set A

A1 Conscious or House-made model

A2 Unconscious or scientific model

  • Set B

B1 Mechanical model

B2 Statistical model

When members of a society make some model about their society, then such model is called a house-made model. For example, the people of the Jaunsari tribe make a model for their village. Such a model is not good as it is likely to have biasness.

When a scientific researcher or an outsider does the work of making a model about society, then it is called a scientific model. It has the least biasness. The task of making this type of model is very difficult because it is difficult to find the internal element and external elements but such models give good conclusions.

If the unit to be studied and the model formed in conclusion is of or equal to a scale, then such a model is called a mechanical model. On the other hand, if the size is not equal, but it is in ratio or proportion, then it is called a statistical model.

Unit of study equal to Model  (Mechanical model)

Unit of Study not equal to Model  (Statistical model)

If we study the marriage institution of any state of India and make such a model which tells the marriage system of the whole of India, then this model will be a statistical model. And if we study the Indian marriage system and the model is also about India, then it will be a mechanical model.

Linguistic Structuralism

After the Second World War, great emphasis was placed on the study of Anthropology language. Various scholars started studying the structure of language but the most important one was Levi Strauss.

Image source- Research Features

According to him, language is a special element of human culture. Whenever a person utters a word, he uses the brain. The use of language makes a biological man a cultural man. He believed that if we study the language of a person, then we can understand the culture of that person and then by studying the culture, we can understand the social structure of that society.

Thus the concept of understanding the structure of society by the study of language is called Linguistic Structuralism.

He mainly studies three areas- Kinship and marriage, Totem and myth.

Study of Myth

In his book- “Mythologiques”, he has done a structural analysis of myth. According to him, myth originates from the unconscious mind of a man and to study the complete structure of myth one should study its fragments. Such fragments are called Mythemes like that of phonemes.

Levi Strauss further says that whenever a man speaks, he uses the brain. Especially he uses his unconscious mind. Thus if we understand someone’s language, we will understand his mind because from his same mind other cultural things have been created such as family, marriage, tools etc. Therefore, once we understand the brain, we can understand its entire cultural activities.

Study of language ———-> Study of brain ———-> Study of all other parts of culture

Thus we see that although he did work to link Myth’s study with structural linguistics But this theory of his is quite complex and delusional. Still, he is given credit for the fact that he did the study of myth for the first time.

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