History of the Human Sciences 10 (3):157-173 (1997)

The programme Lévi-Strauss set for anthropology in the postwar years places his discipline at the centre of the human sciences in France. As a structural anthropology it aspires to the theoretical rigour of science, but it is also regarded by many as a new humanism with a wider con ception of humanity. In marked contrast to the dramatized subject of existentialism, the subject of this science - like the individual Lévi- Strauss - is an effaced and self-effacing one. Despite this general elision of individual voice, there emerges in Tristes tropiques a 'totemic' self constructed on the premise of a 'neolithic' affinity with the traditional societies studied by the ethnologist. The neolithic metaphor not only allows Lévi-Strauss to explain the profound necessity of his vocation, it also forms part of a complex of concepts and values basic to his thought. To this extent the metaphor is an overdetermined one, objec tively unacceptable but subjectively necessary for the construction of a coherent mythology of the ethnographic vocation. It is both a trans lation of the individual voice of Lévi-Strauss and part of a more general paradigm of the prehistoric utopia.
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DOI 10.1177/095269519701000311
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