Sunday, September 5, 2021

Summary: The Elementary Structures of Kinship / Claude Lévi-Strauss

The Elementary Structures of Kinship (in French Les structures élémentaires de la parenté ) is a work by the anthropologist and philosopher Claude Lévi-Strauss, published for the first time in 1949 . 

In the first chapter of The Elementary Structures of KinshipLévi-Strauss develops the idea that culture is not fair or superimposed on life. "There is some strange behavior of the species that the individual can go back to in the face of these things." There is no pre-cultural character of man . The absence of rules seems to be a good criterion for differentiating nature and culture, however, constancy and regularity exist in both. In this sense, Lévi-Strauss defines that the character of the norm belongs to the other person, while the universal character belongs to nature. There is no articulation mechanism between nature and culture. The prohibition of incest is a rule (the normative character of the institution indicates the field of culture) of universal character (of the field of nature).

For Lévi-Strauss, the prohibition of incest is the culture itself. Distinguished intellectuals have developed explanations for the prohibition of incest, explanations of which can be divided into three types:

The first type seeks to maintain the dual character of the prohibition (separating nature and culture). The prohibition would be a way to protect men from the nefarious character of consanguine marriage . But it is scientific proof that from the standpoint of heredity, "the prohibitions on marriage do not seem justified." This is an instrumental view: culture would be understood as society's solution to nature's problems.

The second type of explanation eliminates the term culture and explains the prohibition by its natural character: man would have an instinctive horror of incest. The criticism of this explanation lies in the fact that if this were really instinctive, there would be no need for the prohibition. But prohibition is a social rule, albeit a universal one.

Third-type explanations also eliminate a term, nature. The prohibition would be a purely social rule, and the physiological character would be just an accidental aspect. Linking incest to totemism, the prohibition would thus be a vestige of the exogamy rule. Levi-Strauss claims that a historical explanation does not exhaust the problem. So the third type of explanation is vague.

The incest problem does not lie in proving what settings historic led to such and such modes of institutions of societies in particular, but that root cause makes all societies in all places and times regulate the relations between the sexes (this is a synchronous look at the problem). The prohibition of incest is the only rule that ensures culture's dominion over nature. It is at the same time "the step taken by nature and culture. The prohibition of incest is the link that unites the two. Without it culture is not yet taken; with it nature ceases to exist as a sovereign kingdom."

In chapter three of The Elementary Structures of Kinship, it is highlighted that the prohibition of incest expresses the passage from the natural fact of consanguinity to the cultural fact of the covenant . Culture bows to the fatality of biological inheritance . But culture becomes aware of its rights in the face of the alliance phenomenon. From then on, nature doesn't go any further. Nature has an indifference in the modality of relations between the sexes . Nature imposes the alliance without determining it. Culture accepts this fact and immediately sets the modality - nature leaves the alliance to chance, culture sets the rules.

Culture intervenes, which is to replace chance with organization. The foundation of the covenant is the necessary balance between giving and receiving. Women would be a scarce asset, whose distribution requires collective intervention. This is based on the idea that polygamy makes the number of women not enough. Even if this is not the modality, the problem is that desirable women are a minority, so the problem of scarcity is inevitable. Demand from women is always virtually or really in a state of tension. Marriage has not only an erotic but also an economic importance in the division of labor between the sexes.