Paragraph 35 (3):355-372 (2012)

Lévi-Strauss's concept of bricolage, first formulated in La Pensée sauvage in 1962, was originally presented as an analogy for how mythical thought works, selecting the fragments or left-overs of previous cultural formations and re-deploying them in new combinations. Significantly, from its source in structural anthropology, the concept has travelled in two directions, towards both the sciences and the humanities. The aim of this article is to return to Lévi-Strauss's original formulation of bricolage in order to explore the ways in which this technical metaphor transcends its status as simply a metaphor and becomes something like a universal concept. As the key opposition between the bricoleur and the engineer demonstrates, bricolage is also an ideological construct which carries with it a set of suppositions about the nature of science and technology in the post-war world. Looking at the wider scientific imaginary which informs this vision — in particular, Lévi-Strauss's representation of nuclear science — the article concludes by arguing for a more comprehensive understanding of the concept of bricolage as applicable not simply to traditional or residual forms of human activity, but also to the practice — and indeed the essence — of modern scientific and technological development.
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DOI 10.3366/para.2012.0064
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