restricted access Levi-Straussian Structuralism on the Northwest Coast
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lévi-straussian structuralism on the northwest coast Marjorie Myers Halpin In this chapter I review the milestones in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s application of structuralist methodology to the anthropology of the Northwest Coast and look at the work of others who have participated in the Lévi-Straussian tradition.1 Finally, I consider why there have been so few. A Brief Sketch of Lévi-Straussian Anthropology One of the pleasures of doing this research and now presenting it in France was re-encountering the charming story Lévi-Strauss tells about the social ceremony he witnessed among strangers in cheap restaurants in the south of France. The patrons sit together at a long communal table, where each finds beside his plate a bottle of wine. Before the meal each man pours his wine into his neighbor’s glass. Wine offered calls for wine returned, followed by conversation. Society appears where there was none before. In The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1969a),2 the first major work in structural anthropology and the founding work of alliance theory, LéviStrauss links social reciprocity to the prohibition of incest: Exchange . . . is from the first a total exchange, comprising food, manufactured objects, and that most precious category of goods, women. Doubtless we are a long way from the strangers in the restaurant, and perhaps it will seem startling, to suggest that the reluctance of the southern French peasant to drink from his own flask of wine provides the model by which the prohibition of incest might be explained. Clearly the prohibition does not result from this reluctance. Nevertheless, we believe that both are phenomenon of the same type, that they are elements of the same cultural complex, or more exactly the basic complex of culture. (Henaff 1998:48) Tseng 2004.8.9 07:12 7132 Mauze / COMING TO SHORE / sheet 131 of 548 The exchange of women produces alliances, the cornerstone of culture, and brings with it all mannerof other reciprocities, of gifts and counter-gifts, by which cultures are maintained. In other words, ‘‘the incest prohibition is . . . the basis of human society; in a sense it is the society’’ (Lévi-Strauss 1976:19). Whatever form the incest prohibition takes in a specific culture, it has a unique nature due to two elements that remain the same: ‘‘(1) it is a universal prohibition; and (2) it is defined by a rule of reciprocity’’ (Henaff 1998:46– 47). Lévi-Strauss’s (1969a:123) solution to the problem of cross-cousin marriage —which he calls the ‘‘veritable experimentum crucis in the studyof marriage prohibitions’’—demonstrates how the two are connected. His answer to the question why cross-cousin marriage is favored and parallel-cousin marriage prohibited in a wide range of societies is the demonstration that the former is simply marriage by exchange or reciprocity.3 The basis of all structural analysis is a shift from terms to relationships between them. In alliance theory the simplest structure, the ‘‘atom of kinship ,’’ is the quadripartite system of relationships between brotherand sister, husband and wife, father and son, and maternal uncle and nephew (LéviStrauss 1976:84). This in turn rests upon the incest taboo, which amounts to saying that a man must obtain a woman from another man who gives him a daughter or a sister. At the heart of both matrilineal and patrilineal systems stands the avunculate, the relationship between uncle and nephew. To the system of relationships he adds a system of attitudes that he describes as follows : ‘‘the system of basic attitudes comprises at least four terms: an attitude of affection, tenderness, and spontaneity; an attitude which results from the reciprocal exchange of prestations and counterprestations; and, in addition to these, two unilateral relationships, one which corresponds to the attitude of the creditor, the other to that of the debtor. In other words there are: mutuality (=), reciprocity (±), rights (+), and obligations (−)’’ (1963a:47). He also formulates a predictive structural law: ‘‘the relation between maternal uncle and nephew is to the relation between brotherand sisteras the relation between father and son is to the relation between husband and wife. Thus if we know one pair of relations, it is always possible to infer the other’’ (40). As Ino Rossi (1982:7) summarized this idea, ‘‘since this structural relationship remains always operative, no matter what the principle of descent is, it 92 halpin Tseng 2004.8.9 07:12 7132 Mauze / COMING TO SHORE / sheet 132 of 548...