Structuralism

In Sherry B Ortner’s article, Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture? , the main topic presented is the universal fact of culturally attributed second-class status of women. To help support her claim of universal female subordination Ortner uses techniques of Structuralism to develop arguments. She starts by defining the data types that would suffice in proving her claim which include: 1) cultural elements that devalue women 2) symbolic devices making women appear inferior 3) social structural arrangements that exclude women. At the begging of her paper Ortner takes the universal secondary status of women as a fact and leaves the opposition to disprove her claim. Through the paper the use of structural relations between man and woman compared to nature and culture are used to support the idea of her universal constant. Ortner views culture as being universally of greater importance than nature in the human mind. She then relates women being connected to some level closer to nature than man. This in turn leads to her claim that if man is closer connected to culture, which is dominant over nature then women will be universally at a lower status than man.

Quote:

We must attempt to interpret female subordination in light of other universals, factors built into the structure of the most generalized situation in which all human beings, in whatever culture, find themselves. For example, every human being has a physical body and a sense of nonphysical mind, is part of a society of other individuals and an inheritor of a cultural tradition, and must engage in some relationship, however mediated, with “nature,” or the nonhuman realm, in order to survive. Every human being is born (to a mother) and ultimately dies, all are assumed to have an interest in personal survival, and society/culture has its own interest in (or at least momentum toward) continuity and survival, which transcends the lives and deaths of particular individuals. And so forth. It is in the realm of such universals of the human condition that we must seek an explanation for the universal fact of female devaluation. Pg 349

Returning now to the issue of women, their pan-cultural second-class status could be accounted for, quite simply, by postulating that women are being identified or symbolically associated with nature, as opposed to men, who are identified with culture. Since it is always culture’s project to subsume and transcend nature, if women were considered part of nature, then culture would find it “natural” to subordinate, not to say oppress, them. Pg 351

Questions:

One can easily imagine political action designed to improve the conditions of women in a society, but how can one ever change a culturally universal pattern of thought?

If the categories of “nature” and “culture” are conceptual categories in which no boundary in the actual world can be drawn, should they be used in a Structuralism view to define an argument?

Structuralists believe that cultural phenomena are the products of universal logical processes that organize human thought. According to structuralists, a fundamental characteristic of human thought is to sort data into binary oppositions. What are some examples in which this methodology succeeds and fails?

In the article, Four Winnebago Myths: A Structural Sketch created by Claude Levi-Strauss, Levi-Strauss structural analyzes myths. He tries to understand the unconscious structure of the human mind and thought process. Levi-Strauss examines the logical relationships between the elements of the myths trying to find the unconscious message the myth conveys. Levi-Strauss takes the myths presented by Radin and finds what he believes to be the underlying theme in all four of the myths. He concludes that there are ordinary people that live their full life and die a full death. There are those that are “positive extraordinary” people that die early but live more through reincarnation. Lastly, there are “negative extraordinary” people that can neither live nor die.

Quote:

“To uncover the unconscious meaning of myth, the structuralist must break myth into its constituent elements and examine the rules that govern their relationships. This hidden structural core will reveal the essential patterns and processes of human thought” (321).

“Language is not a function of the speaker, it is a product that is passively assimilated by the individual. It never requires premeditation, and reflects enters in only for the purpose of classification. Speaking, on the contrary, is an individual act. It is willful and intellectual” (Ferdinand de Saussure).

Questions:

What exactly is structuralism?

Can structuralism be utilize in the analysis of modern day cultural problems?

Is there any evidence of Marxism or Darwinism or any other previous theories?

Advertisements
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Comments

  • jenise  On March 18, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Can structuralism be utilize in the analysis of modern day cultural problems?
    If you look at things with a structuralist perspective then yes of course they can, structuralism isn’t necessarily that appealing to me, however, I can see that it could be used with modern day cultures as well as with more ancient cultures. One can look at one aspect of a culture and see that it is tied to another and then another and another so that nothing can really be looked and seen correctly if it’s out of the context of the structure.

  • jumpinhare  On March 18, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Strauss proposed structuralism in that the focus of anthropological reserach should be on the underlying patterns of human thought that produce the cultural categories/ structures. He proposed that culture, like language, is composed of hidden rules that govern the behavior of its users.

    Another website expalins that the structuralist model in anthropology suggests that the structure of human thought processes is the same in all cultures, and that these mental processes exist in the form of binary oppositions. Some of these oppositions include hot-cold, male-female, culture-nature, and raw-cooked. Structuralists argue that binary oppositions are reflected in various cultural institutions. These can often be discovered in kinship, and language.

    If this is a bit scewed it is still a bit cloudy in my head.

  • K  On March 20, 2014 at 11:40 am

    “To uncover the unconscious meaning of myth, the structuralist must break myth into its constituent elements and examine the rules that govern their relationships. This hidden structural core will reveal the essential patterns and processes of human thought” (321).

    In the separation and explanation of the Four Winnebago Myth’s this quote describes the drive of structural anthropologists to make reason out of stories. Strauss created a table to show the final meaning behind these stories and the difference in lives from these stories.

    “Levi-Strauss takes the myths presented by Radin and finds what he believes to be the underlying theme in all four of the myths. He concludes that there are ordinary people that live their full life and die a full death. There are those that are “positive extraordinary” people that die early but live more through reincarnation. Lastly, there are “negative extraordinary” people that can neither live nor die.”

    I personally struggle with the logic behind structuralism. It seems as if structuralists are trying to find a reason and pattern to some cultural practices and stories that is just not there. If someone wants to find or see something bad enough, they will. Just because Strauss made a map that shows the links and connections does not mean that these links exist in the actual meaning behind the stories. We are trying to force our way of thinking into another culture’s significance and see it from our eyes, but we are unable to completely do this because we are not in their culture. I believe that these stories presented to Radin were just stories with a moral meaning behind them which is special to the original culture. As an anthropologist Strauss attempts to find a deeper unconscious thought linked in these stories that doesn’t necessarily exist, but because he has his structuralist belief, he attempts to make logic out of stories that don’t need any logic.

  • Kaleb Greer  On March 21, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Structuralism is looks at culture as a system of symbolic communication. Levi-Strauss believed that meaning was produced and reproduced within a culture through various different practices. Structuralism goal is to find the hidden meaning that culture is producing and reproducing, through organizing the culture by the use of structure. How things relate to one another and the different branches that connect them to each other. If event A happens then B or C can occur. If B happens D or E or F can occur while if C occurs G or H or I can occur. Structuralism formats the cultures meaning into a set of limited options that occurs from the meaning.

  • Peter  On March 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    My interpretation of ‘Structuralism” is in-depth understanding/analysis of how human do things in a stratify steps from starting point to ending point. Meaning, there is a underlying reasoning to why and how we approach, accept, think and act at a given point. Is it conscious for us at the starting point or is it embedded in us from evolution to perceived things and act on in steps or unconditionally act without the thinking of the steps? I believe it is both, ’cause we have to analyze the situation and with steps can innate instinct to apply what steps to the solution.

    On another note, ‘Structuralism’ is derived from Darwinism due adaptation and steps from starting point to ending results, but we have not reached the ending result as we haven’t reached the capacity of human evolution. We are still evolving, but at the most nano cellular point. Each steps is a evolution trait to adaptation, and that, we have to understand the reasoning for it to begin and thus improve and so fort.

  • Simara Vongthongdy  On March 24, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    Question: One can easily imagine political action designed to improve the conditions of women in a society, but how can one ever change a culturally universal pattern of thought?

    That being said, things are always easier said than done. In most cultures, women are considered less because of their position in society. They are considered the house maker, and not the one who provides for the family. I believe change starts by an individual believing it. We cannot change everyone’s mind but we can start by believing it ourselves first. When one’s person voice is heard, many will follow.

  • jannet1313  On March 25, 2014 at 2:06 am

    Structuralists believe that cultural phenomena are the products of universal logical processes that organize human thought. According to structuralists, a fundamental characteristic of human thought is to sort data into binary oppositions. What are some examples in which this methodology succeeds and fails?

    This method of analyzing situations seems to work when two opposites are being compared for example a male and a female. Though I don’t think it would be appropriate to use this method when looking at different cultures. I feel that Structuralism will narrow a persons understanding of a culture.

  • mec  On May 16, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    The structuralist thought of how humans sort data into binary oppositions can be a failure when we consider gender. Gender as seen by most people is seen as just men and women. Gender is seen as a man being X, Y, and Z and then opposites of these factors are attributed to what we consider a woman to be. These classifications could also be part of what makes humans so closed minded when it comes to people voicing their feelings about what their identity is to them. A cis gendered individual who has always thought about gender within binary constraints would have trouble understanding another man or woman who are in the process of have already gone through transitioning into the identity they have always felt they were. Basically, what I am trying to say is that these thoughts of black and white can easily be noticed when we discuss ideas of gender within the united states.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: