SOC483Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Mary Douglas, Book Of Leviticus, The Savage Mind

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9 Nov 2012
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Lecture 5 October 12, 2011
SOC483Y1 Mary Douglas and Claude Levi-Strauss
What is useful about these readings? Today other than Durkheim, it is the first time we
encounter readings talking about classifications, concepts and categorization. These are
important concepts for the course over the year.
- Why is it we have a need to classify? Both Douglas and Strauss want to tackle this
question of why this tendency is there, why the need to classify? this is a
foundational approach.
o Why do we classify
o What leads us to classify things in certain ways?
Both anthropologists foundational figures both structuralist anthropologists
Strauss- first to study cultures in a structuralist way similar to how Saussure understood
language
Levi-Strauss was French born in Belgium (1908-2009?)
- The first to look at cultures in a different way
- The Savage Mind 1962 published in France
- Up till him, anthropologists studied cultures in 2 ways:
o 1. Historical development
o 2. Or like Durkheim in a functionalist way things exist in a society because
they serve a function (Mary Douglas does this)
- L.S took a different view- he took a structuralist view
- Like how Saussure understood language and understood words in relation to other
words- that is how he understood a conceptual system
- A culture is a system of symbolic communication according to L.S resonates
Saussure
- Some examples- one major work traced a myth from Antarctica to south Africa-
same structure would exist. He wrote about food, thought raw and cooked were 2
categories that existed in every food society and was an essential dichotomy and
later turned it into a tripartite structure, not just raw and cooked, but rotten and
cooked. (rotten= natural, cooked= human driven transformation)
o Would go on to argue every society has the same structure
- There was thus an attempt to get find similar structures in different groups
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Mary Douglas (1921 born to British parents in Italy 2007)
- Clear connection to Durkheim!
- Also a preoccupation with order and look at certain structures
- Structures there only in so they serve a function
- If we have notions of taboo, uncleanliness it is because they serve a function of
showing what is clean and not clean
*Primitive Societies- unborn child seen as dangerous
-
Fear
is manifested in different ways today perhaps the topic of abortion may make this
more clear, one side still unclear about whether the child is human etc. there is ambiguity
emotional intensity
- Religions having practices around women’s menstruation = considered a dangerous state
- The
marginalized
or those in transition have power in terms of boundary maintenance
because we need those people to show what the boundaries are which side is good and
which side is bad- marginal people serve function of showing boundaries, what is deviant,
polluted and unclean. Thus the marginal have a very limited potential in allowing us to
keep that boundary maintenance and to keep order. To keep order you must show people if
they disrupt that order bad things will happen.
-
Classification
is the main function that serves keeping symbolic boundary maintenance
are things dangerous beyond the fact they can disrupt order? They are by in large
dangerous for Douglas because they can disrupt order! Ex: witchcraft and magic is
dangerous because it can attack society!
Connection to Simmel’s
Stranger
in order to maintain group boundaries you need a
threat, thus the stranger occupies position which serves to maintain boundaries (source of
functionality for society in terms of boundary maintenance and danger) it is also a
structuralist view in that the person in relation to the structure view- stranger is inside and
outside the stranger can only have that *special perspective- because only he is inside and
outside
- Disrupting order is the dangerous thing
o Example- dirt is dangerous sometimes used metaphorically, sometimes not.
Is there a fear of dirt?
- Maybe we are not so different from primitive people, maybe more similar than led
to believe despite scientific understandings
- US Canada- there is fear of dirt, not in metaphorical sense, government forces us to
put anti-bacterial soap in public buildings valid for societies, things may have
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Document Summary

Today other than durkheim, it is the first time we encounter readings talking about classifications, concepts and categorization. These are important concepts for the course over the year. Both anthropologists foundational figures both structuralist anthropologists. Strauss- first to study cultures in a structuralist way similar to how saussure understood language. The first to look at cultures in a different way. The savage mind 1962 published in france. Up till him, anthropologists studied cultures in 2 ways: 1. Or like durkheim in a functionalist way things exist in a society because they serve a function (mary douglas does this) L. s took a different view- he took a structuralist view. Like how saussure understood language and understood words in relation to other words- that is how he understood a conceptual system. A culture is a system of symbolic communication according to l. s resonates. Some examples- one major work traced a myth from antarctica to south africa- same structure would exist.

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