Study Guide

Claude Lévi-Strauss - The Tabooists

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The Tabooists

This group loves them some taboos. In fact, its motto was "Nothing is taboo"—which wasn't exactly true, but it sounded clever. In fact the group's whole M.O. was talking about precisely what was taboo and then either laughing or crying about how these taboos were upheld or violated willy-nilly. Nothing was taboo as a subject, but plenty was taboo in practice.

Claude Lévi-Strauss
President Pro Tem

Now, Claude is most closely associated with the incest taboo—a major theory of his— but he was always willing to expand to discuss various taboos that other theorists had in mind.

Sigmund Freud

Freud was also a very active member. He could discuss the incest taboo until he was blue in the face, but he also had a special fondness for the taboo of patricide. He and Claude would get into heated discussions about the extent to which cannibalism was a universal taboo. Claude usually shut down the argument by calling Sigmund an "armchair theorist" and telling him you don't know jack until you've pitched your tent among the titan beetles of the Amazon Basin. Bit of a cheap shot, but there you have it.

Women Anthropologists Unite

This group had a few bones to pick about the kinship system. Look, it's not anthropology's fault that sexism is universal, but that doesn't mean these ladies were going to take it without a fight. Members of WAU had a lot of choice words about women as human traffic, women as currency, women as products—you get the point. Makes it hard to get on the multicultural bandwagon.

Gayle Rubin

Rubin was the group's chief finger-pointer and activist. She was definitely not down with the fact that Lévi-Strauss and Freud completely ignored the sexism of tribal kinship structures, excusing it as universal and yet refusing to critique it from a Western patriarchal angle. Sheesh.

Dina Dreyfus
Manager of Membership

It's tough to get around the fact that Dina was also Claude's wife for a spell. She was able to bring in insights into the ethnographic work they did outside of São Paolo. She felt a little bitterness about their own personal "marriage system," given that when she was injured on the job, Claude continued on his merry way, completing the research and getting all the glory. Her membership got a little personal at times.

Margaret Mead

Mead just had to be a member. She was just such a heavy hitter, what with her off-the-charts book Coming of Age in Samoa. Her work went a long way toward compensating for the sexist anthropology of other people in her field. She brought sex to the forefront in her study the people of the South Pacific. For juicy details (sort of), check out Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies.The group saw it as sort of a manifesto.

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