Category Archives: 08 – Structuralism

Structuralism

For this topic, I’m going to be very “structured”

STEP 1: READ: Sherry Ortner, Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? (1974)

STEP 2: Review these slides (props to Catelynn)

STEP 3: Respond to these:

1. What is binary opposition? Why do humans create these categories? How does this apply to Sherry Ortner’s Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?

2. What gender do you feel is closer to nature and which is closer to culture? Why do you think this? How do you think this applies to the inferior status of women pan-culturally? How does structuralism fit into this cultural devaluation of women?

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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?

Structuralism: Levi-Strauss and Ortner

Structuralism (from Josh Liggett)

http://prezi.com/kw1o_4onrhek/structuralism-levi-strauss-and-ortner/

Claude Levi-Strauss (b. 1908-2009)

Linguistics and Anthropology

A Breakdown of the Reading

In this article, Levi-Strauss discusses at length the multi-tiered nature of the notions of the relationship between language and culture. And it it his premise that if you study the Culture, than you will have an intimate knowledge of the  Language. This is the opposite of what is known as linguistic determinism as defined by the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis. Instead of Language determining the culture, the culture determins the language. I see both as hard to prove empirically, but linguistic determinism seems harder to swallow. That each may influence the other ro a greater or lesser degree would appear more plausible to me.

According to Levi-Strauss, the relationship between language and culture can be broken down into three categories.

1.) The degree to which a language and culture are separable,

2.) The Relationship between Language and Culture as global concepts, rather than singular entities like English, French or Spanish and their respective cultures, and

3.) The Relationship between the studies of Linguistics and Anthropology.

He goes on to state that there are individual cultural ramifications of this relationship, which is particularly notes in cultural attitudes towards silence.

Another concept to note is that Language is the means by which Culture is transmitted, but both are visible manifestations of the same underlying mental processes, therefore Linguistics can be used as a tool to analyse culture.

This notion was particularly seductive to anthropology at the time of this publication, because it was before the widespread use of ethnographic work, and Linguistics had long since been steeped in empirical methods of fields concidered to be “more scientific”.

An example of this is the apparent disparity between the kinship systems of the areas considered Sino-Tibetan and Indo-European. The result is a seemingly dichotomous arrangement of terms for kin, the clan type of Sino-Tibetan cultures having many terms differentiating the maternal and paternal side of ego’s family( Paternal Grandfather: JOO-foo, Maternal Grandfather:wai-JOO-foo); whereas, the extended family type of Indo-European cultures that lack that level of differentiation, and maternal and paternal sides are only differentiated by gender (e.g. Aunt, Uncle, Grandfather, Grandmother).

Four Winnebago Myths: A Structural Sketch

A Breakdown of the Reading

This article is based on myths collected by Radin during his ethnography of the Winnebago. The myths that Levi-Strauss chose are all of the same genre, in that the protagonist must experience death in some form, but they each differ slightly from each other.

The first myth introduces us to the concept of  the the “capital of life” and that all people are entitled to a specific “quota of years” of life and experience. When someone dies before that quota has been fulfilled, the remaining life returns to the tribe. Additionally, Levi-Strauss dichotomizes the heroic and ordinary with regard to lives; the former being renewable, but short lived; whereas, an ordinary full life is non-renewable. A hellenistic example of this concept is found with the story of Achilles, embodies by Brad Pitt in 2004 box office hit Troy, when his mother told him he could live a full life and die known only to his children, who would after many generations forget his name.

Sherry Beth Ortner (b. 1941 –)

Sherry Beth Ortner is currently a distinguished professor of Anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles. Ortner grew up in Newark, New Jersey and was raised in a Jewish family. She was awarded her A.B. from Bryn Mawr College in 1962 and received her Ph. D in Anthropology from the University of Chicago while working with Clifford Geertz in the year 1970. She was awarded her Ph. D for her fieldwork dealing with the Sherpa people of Nepal. Most of her known contributions within the field of Anthropology deal with the feminist theory and feminist Anthropology.

Sherry Beth Ortner’s essay, within the section, is a structural analysis of gender inequality amongst the various cultures around the Earth. Entitled, “Is Female to Male as Nature is To Culture?” Ortner suggests that gender stratification is based on the fundamental opposition between nature and culture. Ortner proposes that women, because of the natural ability to create life through pregnancy and birth, are associated with nature. Thus, the males of the species are associated with the creation of culture due to their inability to create offspring, this would allow males to award themselves higher status compared to females. Within her essay she compared cultures form across the globe and found that amongst the various cultures there is similar gender roles played between males and females awarding males higher status in most cultures. Ortner attempts to expose this underlying logic of cultural thinking that subjects women to inferior status amongst their male counterparts.

Ortner discusses and addresses the problem with three different levels:

  1. The universal fact of culturally attributed second class status of women in nearly every society. What is the evidence that allows for women to contain inferior status against their male counterparts and how does one explain this fact, once having established it?
  2. Specific ideologies, symbolizations, and socio-structural arrangements pertaining to women that varies widely from culture to culture. The problem at this level is to account for any particular cultural complex in terms of factors specific to that group-the standard level of Anthropological analysis.
  3. Observable on the grounds details of women’s activities, contributions, powers, influence, etc., often at variance with cultural ideology (although always constrained within the assumption that women may never be officially preeminent in the total system). This is the level of direct observation, often adopted now by feminist-oriented Anthropologists. (CITATION MISSING)

Joshua Liggett’s Wonderful World of Prezi

Here are some great examples of what you can do to spread the noble word of anthropological theory:

Functionalism – Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, & Gluckman, sans Evans-Pritchard:
http://prezi.com/ty1m09nfn7uh/functionalism-malinowski-radcliffe-brown-gluckman-sans-evans-pritchard/

 Historical Particularism – Eighteen Professions – A.L. Kroeber:
http://prezi.com/68vqsc8woquu/eighteen-professions-al-kroeber/

Structuralism – Levi-Strauss and Ortner
http://prezi.com/kw1o_4onrhek/structuralism-levi-strauss-and-ortner/

Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Ecology – Wilson & Barkow
http://prezi.com/6z8_qfokbhu-/sociobiology-evolutionary-psychology-and-behavioral-ecology-wilson-barkow/

Rousseau’s “Emile” mkII (this last one is only tangentially applicable but good none-the-less)
http://prezi.com/n2frzetwksxb/rousseaus-emile-mkii/

by Joshua Liggett zephramseazephyr@gmail.com

Structuralism – Levi-Strauss, Ortner

Structuralism

http://prezi.com/kw1o_4onrhek/structuralism-levi-strauss-and-ortner/

Claude Levi-Strauss (b. 1908)

Linguistics and Anthropology

A Breakdown of the Reading

 In this article, Levi-Strauss discusses at length the multi-tiered nature of the notions of the relationship between language and culture. And it it his premise that if you study the Culture, than you will have an intimate knowledge of the  Language. This is the opposite of what is known as linguistic determinism as defined by the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis. Instead of Language determining the culture, the culture determins the language. I see both as hard to prove empirically, but linguistic determinism seems harder to swallow. That each may influence the other ro a greater or lesser degree would appear more plausible to me.

According to Levi-Strauss, the relationship between language and culture can be broken down into three categories.

1.) The degree to which a language and culture are separable,

2.) The Relationship between Language and Culture as global concepts, rather than singular entities like English, French or Spanish and their respective cultures, and

3.) The Relationship between the studies of Linguistics and Anthropology.

He goes on to state that there are individual cultural ramifications of this relationship, which is particularly notes in cultural attitudes towards silence.

Another concept to note is that Language is the means by which Culture is transmitted, but both are visible manifestations of the same underlying mental processes, therefore Linguistics can be used as a tool to analyse culture.

This notion was particularly seductive to anthropology at the time of this publication, because it was before the widespread use of ethnographic work, and Linguistics had long since been steeped in empirical methods of fields concidered to be “more scientific”.

An example of this is the apparent disparity between the kinship systems of the areas considered Sino-Tibetan and Indo-European. The result is a seemingly dichotomous arrangement of terms for kin, the clan type of Sino-Tibetan cultures having many terms differentiating the maternal and paternal side of ego’s family( Paternal Grandfather: JOO-foo, Maternal Grandfather:wai-JOO-foo); whereas, the extended family type of Indo-European cultures that lack that level of differentiation, and maternal and paternal sides are only differentiated by gender (e.g. Aunt, Uncle, Grandfather, Grandmother).

Four Winnebago Myths: A Structural Sketch

A Breakdown of the Reading

This article is based on myths collected by Radin during his ethnography of the Winnebago. The myths that Levi-Strauss chose are all of the same genre, in that the protagonist must experience death in some form, but they each differ slightly from each other.

The first myth introduces us to the concept of  the the “capital of life” and that all people are entitled to a specific “quota of years” of life and experience. When someone dies before that quota has been fulfilled, the remaining life returns to the tribe. Additionally, Levi-Strauss dichotomizes the heroic and ordinary with regard to lives; the former being renewable, but short lived; whereas, an ordinary full life is non-renewable. A hellenistic example of this concept is found with the story of Achilles, embodies by Brad Pitt in 2004 box office hit Troy, when his mother told him he could live a full life and die known only to his children, who would after many generations forget his name; or,

Sherry Ortner (b.)

Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture

A Breakdown of the Reading

Structuralism

What is Structuralism?
How is structuralism still present in analysis today?
Is “neo-structuralism” an effective description?
– Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Analysis in Linguistics and Anthropology (1963)
– Claude Lévi-Strauss, “Four Winnebago Myths” (1960)
-Sherry Ortner, Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? (1974)
-Saussure excerpts from Course of Linguistics