Monday, January 11, 2021

Summary: Totemism by Claude Levi Strauss

Before Claude Levi Strauss, the totemic phenomena was used by Western thinkers to show the primitiveness of native people. In "Totemisn" (literally: "totemism Today") Levi Strauss is trying to uproot this perception. In the past accounts of these peoples were called "the study of uncivilized peoples", he changes the name to "the study of peoples without language" and tries to show us that the totemic thinking, that we decide which animal or object is our totem, it is not because we are irrational. They choose animals because of the binary contrasts - they need to distinguish between them and the natural world, so they put them in front of the beast. The totemic thought is also a logical thought, like Western thought.

Westerners exaggerate the characteristics of the other - but in fact we are the same. But because Westerners want to glorify themselves, they exaggerate the characteristics of the non-Western. But Claude Levi Strauss reminds us that there are all kinds of people who, in order to establish their normalcy, produce the crazy, and produce the chasm between the normal and the insane. The same thing happens with Westerners in relation to non-Westerners.

Levi-Strauss presents research innovation in anthropological methodology - no longer the study of primitive tribes but a systemic inquiry, which examines the structure of myths in terms of the internal relations between their components. This system is common to the whole of human culture, without historical or cultural distinction. The fixed purpose of myths, and of the totemic myth in particular, is to moderate the tension that exists between the opposites in reality. The myth, and the stories derived from it, are a means of dealing with the existential contradictions in human life. Levi-Strauss examines the distinction between nature and culture through the theory of family and community exchanges. The phenomenon of totism, which connects an animal, concept or plant to a communal group through social feelings of worship and identification, is not psychologically or locally explained. Strauss dismisses these explanations as a religious, primitive phenomenon, in favor of the thesis that the role of culture is to replace chance with order in order to preserve the continuum of human society.

Strauss cites quite a few anthropological studies that have grouped different phenomena and tried to answer the question of totemism. He notes that the study of Linton describes making a sign of the rainbow sign is a good sign and symbol of the US military and the ruling belief that art like a rainbow, organizing households depend more than they depend on totemism name, because they do not always accompany it. The problem of totemism for Levi Strauss states that totem laws are the intervention of culture in nature in order to organize the social structure. The motivation of this intervention is economic mutual, which enables the existence of a community and prevents the cessation of social power in the possession of the nuclear family. It is the cult of the totem, whose images vary from society to society, but not so in essence, that allows for communal identification . It does not originate in religious anxiety, it is the one that creates the anxiety, which is the basis for community discipline. Thus for Claude Levi Strauss the totem has not passed and cannot pass from the world . Its structure is the human association. The concept of myth is a category of thought that man uses to explain natural phenomena, which over time become subjective consciousness. Equally totemism is an incompatible artificial unit.

The totemic illusion - The totemic illusion stems from a distortion in the semantic field to which phenomena of the same kind belong. The apparent value of phenomena originates from a poor derivation of reality, which according to Claude Levi Strauss is not inherent.

See also: Claude Levi-Strauss – The Structural Study of Myth

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

Claude Levi-Strauss - introduction and main ideas

Claude Levi-Strauss' innovation in the field of anthropological thought was in the application of linguistic structuralism (see de-Saussure's work) to the social sciences, to culture and, in fact, to reality. The basic idea is that just as language is made up of structures, so are human phenomena. The two most important works of Levi-Strauss dealt with the study of kinship and the study of mythology. Using a large database of data he came to the conclusion that despite what seems like a great mixture of perceptions, the "primitive" world of the natives is an intellectually orderly world, with an almost-scientific order. Therefore, the differences between Western and Indigenous society are only at the surface level, and at the depth level they are secondary. The white person and the black person, red or yellow, process information in the same way, using the same procedures, which are based on several universal binary opposites: nature versus culture, male versus female, life versus death.

Main idea's in Claude Levi-Strauss theory:

"The sad tropics" (


ristes Tropiques

Strauss was interested in fieldwork in Brazil but in his diary he described a difficult journey into the depths of the jungle and his feeling that it is impossible to really understand people who are different from us so he came to the idea that the only way to understand other people's worlds is to see thought patterns The universals that we and they have in common - this is a binary mechanism - thinking through opposites. Was influenced by linguistics and he takes it to the side of culture.

The principle of binary thinking is innate, universal and the differences between cultures stem not from the structure of thinking but from the elements with which they think, from the various materials found in every human group.

The structural analysis - Levi-Strauss focuses on myths that are ostensibly stories of fantasy but there are similar myths all over the world and in his opinion this myth is a basic transfer of knowledge to culture and by myths one can analyze certain, hidden things of culture- i.e. the meaning of the myth is in its structure. For example: the story "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" - Goldilocks symbolizes the enlightened person who came from culture and the three bears symbolize nature - it is a basic pair of opposites and gold, as the bears are hybrid creatures that allow to merge or mediate between the opposites.

The story of Oedipus - in order to tell the myth you have to follow the lines - one thing after another. To understand the myth one has to go by the columns and look at each column as a unit.

Two opposites and an intermediary element - according to Levi-Strauss the myth creates syntheses between the opposites and dulls the severity of the opposites but does not resolve the opposites - thus the myth creates a reality for itself in which man can deal with the binary inherent in human experience.

Survival - Survival is a reciprocal exchange, it is a system that regulates the exchange of women between different groups in marriage and thus defines relationships between groups - therefore, according to Strauss, there is a prohibition on incest because it interferes between groups which is the basis for group interaction.

Levi Strauss' approach  differs from the functional tradition in that he studies culture as an independent phenomenon in society - in the structure of thinking. Strauss does not seek what is visible, but deals with what is hidden and deep, which is universal.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Summary: Social Structure and Anomie – Robert Merton

Robert Merton belongs to the functional paradigm in sociology and in the "Structure of Society and Anomie" goes out to some extent against Parsons and represents a critical current that accepts the functional assumptions about the social system and dynamics and points out shortcomings that the social structure brings with it.


Anatomy according to Merton - This is a situation where there is no fit between the norms and the values, this mismatch will create the social problems he presents in the article. (Unlike Durkheim who led the interest in anomie).

Merton’s explanation is structural, he tries to say how people will react to what is happening in the structure. There are certain norms that limit the ways in which we will reach the goal, there may be a contradiction between the norms and the values, there may be a change in values ​​but there is not enough change in the norms, technical norms may be used - the goal sanctifies the means. In American society there is a growing change, the technical norms are the effective way to reach the goal, for this Merton gives the example of sports scholarships.

American society is moving according to Merton to a state where the goal sanctifies the means, the crooks are valued, they manage to fulfill the values ​​of the company and reach the goals.

Merton gives in "Structure of Society and Anomie" a long example of the sanctification of the values ​​of success in American society, each of us can be a millionaire, but in fact there is an anomie - the means today do not really allow to reach the goal and yet American society tries to convey the message that anyone can succeed.


Different Patterns of Individual Adaptation:

Society according to Merton is made up of a group of individuals, although Merton divides them into socio-economic classes this is his view of society. The emphasis on the individual increases the functional aspect in him. According to the different position of each individual in the social structure there is a greater chance of a certain adaptation. Society puts pressure on everyone, some can reach a high status and some not, according to the social position there is a high probability that the individual will react in a certain way.


Conformity - In order for society to be stable, the majority must be in this group, these are the people who work hard, take advantage of opportunities by conventional means, not necessarily to say that they will succeed in achieving goals.


Innovation - stems from anomie, it's finding new ways because there are no existing ways, Merton claims that people are much more criminal than we think, the question is how much. He is referring here to white-collar crimes - upper and middle class, for the lower class it is an organized crime that brings social prestige. For Merton the people themselves are fine, the problem is in the functional structure, the class structure is not really open and most crime will take place in the lower class. Ceremonies - Bureaucratic people, Merton says most of them will be from the middle class because there is an education for certain values. Since they are middle class they will not reach the goals, they act according to the norms but do not really try to reach the goals


Abandonment - Homeless people, nomads, drug addicts, etc. are a foreign element in society and since they do not take part in the system of norms and values ​​of society they are not really part of it, their adaptation is private and isolated, most of them will be from the lower class.


Rebellion - takes the individuals out of the social structure, they do not accept the norms and offer an alternative, these are immigrant classes, middle / lower class who rise in social hierarchy, they are marked as traitors in society, there is an opening to talk about change, in the future they can organize groups The future in the social structure.


Criticism – Merton’s critique of functionalism is great but it does not offer an alternative, it is in the structure of Parsons but leaves an opening for future discussion.

see also: Mass Communication, Popular Taste and Organized Social Action / Lazarsfeld and Merton 


Purity and Danger by Mary Douglas – extended summary

Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo is a classic book by British anthropologist Mary Douglas, and is considered one of the most important works in anthropological literature in the 20th century.

For a short version see Purity and Danger - short summary

"Purity and Danger" deals with impurity and dirt from an anthropological point of view and includes an analysis of rituals, religiosity and lifestyles that challenge, according to Douglas, Western perceptions of pollution, while trying to show how these perceptions are understood from a cultural and historical context. At the heart of the book is Douglas' question: Why do cultures attach certain importance to certain things, while other things are considered so polluted that they are taboo? In an attempt to answer this question, Douglas traces the laws of impurity and purity of Zaire tribes while comparing them to Jewish laws of kashrut in the Book of Leviticus. Douglas' main argument in the book is that what counts as dirt in a given society is everything that is considered out of place (food is not dirty by nature, but food stains on clothes are considered dirt; dirt is not dirty unless it enters the house and so on.

One of the main ideas of “Purity and Danger” is " Secular Defilement", according to which modern hygiene practices are not structurally different from the "primitive" ones. In "Purity and Danger" Mary Douglas first proposed the idea that the kosher laws of the Jews were not primitive health regulations as is commonly thought or arbitrary rules expressing the Jews' commitment to God. Instead, Douglas argued that kosher rules reinforce symbolic boundaries of Jewish culture. Kashruth laws are in fact part of the system of diagnoses and symbols that Jewish society has created to distinguish between the underlying categories, such as purity-impurity, good-evil; The exceptions are the unclean. Prohibited foods according to Halacha (Jewish law) were those that did not fit into any defined category. For example, the place of pigs in the natural order is not unequivocal because they are hoofed but not live, so they "break" the sorting criterion. Douglas therefore concludes that impurity is an expression of anomaly and disorder, and one of the ways to deal with unusual phenomena that cause a person noticeable discomfort is through the removal of the anomalous object and its definition as unclean.


Douglas tries to clarify the differences between holy, unclean and defiled in different cultures and times in the world. To understand impurity she takes a structuralist approach, following in the footsteps of Emil Durkheim and Claude Levy-Strauss who have explored culture as a system that reflects the universal nature of human thinking. Douglas states that impurity is the result of transgressing the boundaries of order, going beyond the boundaries of sociocultural organization. Another distinction found in “Purity and Danger” is the connection between the personal dimension and the public-political dimension. According to her, rituals that express anxiety about the body's perforations - blood, pus, semen, etc. - stem from the desire to protect the political and social unity of a minority group. According to her, the Jews' concern for the integrity of the physical body reflects the threat they felt to their bodies.


According to Douglas, modern perception is not pollution-oriented (at most pollution is perceived as a matter of aesthetics, hygiene or ethics and the only problem it can create is discomfort). In contrast to tribal perceptions among tribes where there is no “differentiation” and everything is one percent in another, the infection is perceived as a sin.

Here you can find summaries of the first two chapters of Mary Douglas's "Purity and Danger:
Chapter 1: Ritual Uncleanness

"Purity and Danger" was inspired by the work of Emile Durkheim such as Elementary Forms of Religious Lifethe Sacred and the Profane or "The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana" and was itself inspiration for works such as "Powers of Horror" by psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva. 

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Short Summary: Conjectures and Refutations by Karl Popper

In his major work “Conjectures and Refutations” philosopher Karl Popper seeks to distinguish between science and virtual science - between an empirical method and a method that uses observations and experiments, but does not meet scientific criteria. For Popper theories such as Marxism, individual psychology, and psychoanalysis impersonate the sciences, but have more in common with primitive myths than with science. These theories are descriptive and their believers have easily found corroborations for them. According to Popper, any case can be interpreted according to these theories and hence their weakness. He compares them to Einstein's theory of relativity. Every form of human behavior, so every behavior validates them. Einstein's predictions involved risk - if the observation proves that the phenomenon does not exist, then the theory is unfounded. This is in contrast to the previous three theories, which are consistent with every form of human behavior, so that every behavior validates them.

Popper arrives at a number of conclusions:

  • ·       Confirmations can be obtained for almost any theory, if only one seeks such.
  • ·       Valid confirmation is only confirmation of a forecast that involves risk.
  • ·       A good scientific theory is one that forbids the occurrence of certain things.
  • ·       A theory that no event can refute is not scientific.
  • ·       A real test of a theory is an attempt to disprove or contradict it.
  • ·       Confirmatory evidence is only that obtained in an unsuccessful attempt to disprove the theory.
  • ·       Adding an ad-hoc reinterpretation to a theory in order to succeed in confirming it destroys its scientific status.

For Popper the criterion for determining the scientific status of a theory is the possibility of contradicting or refuting or examining it. This criterion comes to separate the claims of the empirical sciences from the other claims = the "delimitation problem" - whose solution is the key to solving most of the fundamental problems of philosophy as a science.

The "Induction Problem": According to Hume There is no possibility of inferring theories or providing them with a rational justification from observations. This is because observations give an idea only of what is actually observed. Based on what appears to us to be imagination, is allowed to affect us.


Recurrence cannot be absolute, but cases with similarities to each other. Hence - cold recurrence from a certain point of view. Hence - there must always be a point of view first and only after a recurrence. That is - not similar events but similar interpretations.

Popper argues that scientific theories are not the essence of observations but inventions - hypotheses that must be put to the test and rejected if they do not fit the observations.

Observation is a selective matter, task-dependent, interest-based, point of view. Objects can be classified and they become similar or different as needed.

Every living thing has innate expectations but they may be misguided. One of them is the tendency to look for regularity. The tendency to look for regularity leads to dogmatic thinking and behavior, to search for regularities even when they are not. Experience and maturity may produce a careful and critical and not necessarily dogmatic approach. The dogmatic approach is related to the attempt to verify laws and patterns by attempting to blame them, even to the point of ignoring rebuttals.The critical approach is willing to examine them and even contradict them. Hence - critical approach = scientific approach. Dogmatic approach = imaginary scientific approach. The critical approach is directed against dogmatic beliefs.

Hence, science must begin with a critique of myths. Theories are applied not as examples, but with the challenge of discussing and improving them. It is an approach of insight, rational. The most rational procedure for explaining phenomena is trial and error - hypothesis and refutation. The most competent theory is arrived at by refuting less qualified theories.


From Popper's conclusions in Conjectures and Refutations:

  • ·       Induction - Inference based on many observations, is a myth.
  • ·       Science works through hypotheses and rushes to draw conclusions.
  • ·       Observations and repeated attempts are used as a test for hypotheses, attempts to refute them.
  • ·       The need for a delimitation criterion, which only the inductive method can provide, reinforces the erroneous belief in induction.
  • ·       The perception of such an inductive method, as the principle of possibility of verification, means poor delimitation.
  • ·       Induction gives theories only a degree of reasonableness and uncertainty.


The logical problem of induction stems from (a) The discovery of a day that a law cannot be justified by ignition or experiment, (b) From the fact that science proposes and uses rules. (C) The principle of empiricism according to which only observation or experiment can confirm or reject claims.

According to Popper, there is no conflict between these principles - science accepts a law or theory as a temporary acceptance only, for experience. They can be rejected on the basis of new evidence without necessarily abandoning the previous evidence that motivated us to accept the theory or law in the first place. According to Hume - it is not possible to prove a theory from observation arguments, but it can be refuted.

Why is it likely that undisguised claims are preferable to hidden claims? - because un-refuted theories can still be true.


Three problems:

  • ·       The demarcation problem — how to distinguish between science and magic.
  • ·       The problem of the rationality of the scientific process and the place of observation in this process.
  • ·       The problem of rationality arises when we accept theories for scientific and practical purposes.


Scientists, Popper concludes “Conjectures and Refutations, are looking for theories that are costly and unreasonable. But the only thing they can do is to seek to confirm and not to verify.

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Sunday, January 3, 2021

Barthes on readerly and writerly texts – summary and explanation

Readerly and writerly (or lisibile and scriptable.) texts are two opposite terms identified with cultural scholar Roland Barthes and his post-structuralist theory. Barthes’ theory of  readerly and writerly texts is presented and illustrated in detail in his book S / Z (analysis of Balzac's story "Sarrasine"). The proposed distinction is between a "readable" text - a bourgeois text that meets the reader's expectations, and a "writable" text - an innovative and provocative text that does not meet conventions and problematizes the relation to the world described.

The readerly text presents itself as reflecting reality as it is, and invites the reader to a passive, receptive and devoted reading to the author's voice. It is the realistic, classic text that describes existing things and creates communication with the reader. This text addresses cultural codes and conventions shared by the author and the reader. It can be read easily and with pleasure, because it matches the classic narrative structure with which the reader identifies

The writerly text, on the other hand, highlights the gap and seam between the text and the world, thereby activating the reader to active reading, to the creative activity of writing the text through reading. The writerly text creates resistance to passive and automatic reading of its meaning. This happens because the writerly text does not allow the reader to connect to the position of the subject to which he is accustomed. This text creates in the reader a crisis of representation in relation to the world described. As a result, the world is perceived as insecure - a world that does not provide the protection and quiet of the bourgeois taste offered by the "readerly text".


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Barth's communication model: sign, signifier and signified explained

Barth's Model: Roland Barth's model belongs to the semiotic models. Barth wanted to explore the image - meaning and culture. According to Barth, the whole world is a system of signs. The sign is anything that carries meaning. The sign can be divided into two components: the signifier which is what is seen, heard or written. The thing that can be felt in the senses, the thing that we see with the (visual) eye, and the signified that is the conceptual concept that comes to mind, the concept behind the signifier, the meaning that the signifier carries. The signified also consists of two components and they are the denotation and the connotation.

Denotation: A term used by Barth in his semiotic model. According to Barth, denotation is one part of the two marked elements. The direct, literal dictionary meaning of the sign, and the first that comes to mind.

Connotation: A term used by Barth in his semiotic model. According to Barth, the connotation is one part of the two marked elements. The connotation is the socio-cultural association of the sign, this is the meaning that accompanies the signifier.

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