Speculations upon the Origin of Elementary Structures

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Essay Excerpt

The contrast, of course, is that between "generalized exchange" and "re- stricted exchange." Now Levi-Strauss (1969a:234 et seq.) duly cites Sternberg, as well as Granet, Hodson, and other scholars on ethnographic particulars, but the theoretical plum restricted/generalized, like its tree elementary/complex, is implicitly claimed as his own. It is, by the way, worth appending that the plum (though not the tree) is a verbatim repetition from the "Analytical Study" (Gol- denweiser 1910:57-58), which Levi-Strauss elsewhere (Levi-Strauss 1969c: 72- 73) proffers as providing the wreckage from which he, bricoleur extraordinaire, resurrected Grand Theory on Totemism. In fact, although the wreckage is clearly there, so are the germs of a new Grand Theory (again see Shapiro 1991).

All of which "naturalizes" the Russian-born Goldenweiser: like the Native Americans, he appears to be yet another whose thoughts Levi-Strauss confounds with his own. But, as we have seen, being called a French Indian bothers Levi- Strauss not at all, for the poor aborigines, like Sternberg, Granet, and others, after all, merely wallow in their own structures. By contrast, a higher sort of myth making is possible if one imagines Creative Power ab origine and slights one's own embeddedness in history. (Shapiro, 258)

About the Author

Warren Shapiro is a Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University. His main areas of interest are as follows: Anthropology and social theory (especially primitivist thought), history of anthropology, kinship, anthropology of religion (especially pseudo-procreative thought), the ethnographic study of human nature; Aboriginal Australia, Lowland South America.

"Most of my current research involves a return to kinship studies - not the descent/alliance theory of my younger days but the neo-Whorfianism of the new kinship studies inspired primarily by David Schneider. I believe the Schneiderian position to be demonstrably false. More, embedded in this position is a critique of Western civilization that is largely unwarranted, which lends itself to authoritarian and utopian thinking, and which is therefore fundamentally at odds with a free society. I am particularly concerned with the kind of left-of-center politics with which the new relativism is associated and its hegemonic aspirations in academia, especially in humanities and social science departments.

In this connection I am presently working on a model of the "millennialization" of religious thought. I hope to show that this model bears not only upon the new kinship studies but also upon other areas of anthropological inquiry - the Bushman Debate, so-called "radical" feminism, and the new gender studies, especially the claim of parochialism made against Western bipartite gender classification. My intention is to demonstrate that all these enterprises entail a set of primitivist models that cannot be sustained by existing evidence, and that their critique of Western civilization is therefore largely misplaced. The argument comes to the responsible conservative assertion that, for all their faults, Western capitalism, Western representative democracy, and the traditional Western family and gender understandings are fundamentally good things - i.e. have decided roots in our species nature."

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