Levi-Strauss for the masses?

I’ve been enjoying Logicomix, a graphic novel about the quest of Bertrand Russell for the logical foundations of mathematics. So it was with delight that I stumbled upon a Claude Levi-Strauss comic in the Financial Times, produced by the same team of writers and artists – Apostolos Doxiadis, Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna.

I’m also looking forward to reading Prof Marco Verweij’s paper on the links between Levi-Strauss and Cultural Theory, which he’s presenting at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in April. [He’s the co-editor of an excellent book of what I’ll call ‘applied cultural theory‘.]

Hat tip to Culture Matters.

Switching strategies: if baboons can do it, can’t we?

Robert Sapolsky and friendThe work of Robert M. Sapolsky and others on the social life of baboons is interesting in many ways but here it’s significant for two reasons in particular.

First, I think it sheds light on what we mean when we talk about culture.

Secondly, it seems to indicate something about the ability of some primates to abandon, defect from, or otherwise change their ways of operating when faced with changed material circumstances and/or changed social circumstances.

If baboons can do it, why can’t we?

See also:



#approvalmatrix – fourfold typologies make it to Twitter

Here’s an older post from the Savage Minds anthropology blog about Mary Douglas’s grid-group typology (the basis of the four cultures explored on this site). It’s basically a mashup of that typology and an alternative scheme deriving from Pierre Bourdieu (if he wrote for the New York Magazine, that is): highbrow/lowbrow; brilliant/despicable.

I like it because I’ve been very interested in the proliferation of fourfold schemes in the social sciences – and here’s another one. In particular I’m interested in whether these schemes are each as radically new as the author or creator always seems to think, or whether there’s some kind of underlying structure that makes superficially different formulations somehow connect.

This particular juxtaposition reminds me of Arthur Koestler’s understanding of creativity, which comes about where

‘a single situation or idea is perceived in two self-consistent but mutually incompatible frames of reference’.

If you’re interested, the approval matrix has been re-purposed and applied to Twitter posts at O’Reilly Radar.

Koestler, Arthur (1964) The Act of Creation. London: Pan. Quoted in William Byers (2007) How Mathematicians Think. Using Ambiguity, Contradiction and Paradox to Create Mathematics. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 28.

Magic needs rules

Magic requires rules. Here is what anthropologist Marcel Mauss has to say:

‘Far from being the simple expression of individual emotions, magic takes every opportunity to coerce actions and locutions. Everything is fixed and becomes precisely determined. Rules and patterns are imposed. Magical formulas are muttered or sung on one note to special rhythms …Gestures are regulated with an equally fine precision. The magician does everything in a rhythmical fashion as in dancing: and ritual rules tell him which hand or finger he should use, which foot he should step forward with. When he sits, stands up, lies down, jumps, shouts, walks in any direction, it is because it is all prescribed. Even when he is alone he is not freer than the priest at his altar… Moreover, words are pronounced or actions are performed facing a certain direction, the most common rule being that the magician should face the direction of the person at whom the rite is aimed.’

Marcel Mauss, General Theory of Magic [1950] tr. Robert Brain, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972, p.58. Quoted in Ian Hunt 2002, ‘Escape Routine’ accessed at http://www.simonpattersonart.com/essays/essays_escape.html