Study Guide

The Elementary Structures of Kinship by Claude Lévi-Strauss in Poststructuralism

The Elementary Structures of Kinship by Claude Lévi-Strauss

When it comes to interpreting texts, poststructuralist theory loves to get its hands on anything and everything. But it especially loves taking on the power players of Western philosophy, politics, and social science. That's why you'll find poststructuralist theorists talking about texts that don't seem very literary at all, like this anthropological study by Claude Lévi-Strauss.

It focuses on—you guessed it—kinship structures in tribes, mostly from Australia, which he described as "elementary" in a way that was kind of insulting, but people didn't pay much attention to that part yet (just wait 'til Homi Bhabha comes along). They did pay attention to how it was a groundbreaking study in family ties, alliance, and signs of connection in ways that were also totally illuminating for Western culture.

Okay, back to poststructuralism. Remember how we said that Derrida's game-changing conference paper "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" took Lévi-Strauss to task for assuming that there's a fundamental difference between nature and culture? Well, he focused his attack on a short chunk from Lévi-Strauss's Elementary Structures, and with his classic mix of close reading and hugely sweeping style, Derrida's interpretation of this text set the bar for all the deconstructionists and poststructuralists who followed. So let's get deconstructing.