Study Guide

Major Arguments

Major Arguments

I'm the first to give props to my fellow Structuralists, Ethnologists, Anthropologists, Structural Anthropologists, and Linguistic Anthropologists, as I consider them all my peeps. But I would nonetheless like to humbly submit that I am one of the—if not the—most important anthropologist of the twentieth century. I have the chops to back that claim up.

My fieldwork alone broke the mold of all those "us vs. them," "Western Civilization vs. All the Rest," "Sorbonne Graduate vs. Savages and Barbarians" kinds of binaries. Speaking of binaries: I loved them. So great was my affection that I built the entire field of Structural Anthropology around binaries, arguing that cultures as wide-ranging as Upper East Side Manhattan and Greenwich Village actually have structures in common—marriage, death rites, food preparation.

Arguably, my pièce de résistance as an anthropologist came from my study of social interactions and my theory of hot vs. cold. According to yours truly, I called cultures that underwent significant change all the time "hot" and those that changed slowly and more conservatively as "cold." So, as warm and steamy as it was in the jungles of Brazil, those Amazon cultures were cold—that is, slow to change. But even hot and cold cultures share many of the same social structures and human characteristics.

One of the binaries closest to my heart was the "nature vs. culture" binary. My heart would go aflutter at the deep intellectual consideration of how people passed from a natural state of being into a socialized state of being. One of my life's greatest disappointments is that I arrived too late on the scene in Brazil to see the Indian people living strictly according to their own culture, with no toxic outside (European) influence.

Not everyone saw me as an intellectual hero, and some even questioned the quality and clarity of my prose. Oh, yeah? I challenge anyone to say this sentence is incomprehensible: "In the great majority of cases there is marriage with the father's sister's daughter who is at the same time the mother's brother's daughter (where the father's sister has married the mother's brother" (source).

OK, so that may not be my finest writerly moment—but among my greatest hits (The Elementary Structures of Kinship, Tristes Tropiques, Structural Anthropology, The Savage Mind, and The Raw and the Cooked), there are some real gems.