French Structural Anthropology evolved throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and was shaped by many well known theorists, sociologist and anthropologists. Their influence lead to the theories of Structural Marxism and the thought processes involved continue to influence anthropological study in modern times.
Classic cultural anthropology never really took hold in France, thanks to Emile Durkheim. The identity of French anthropology was not an innate departure from its nineteenth century legacy, but instead a continuation of previous theory. Structural anthropology concerns itself with the elements of society and though that are unseen in the social structures, but are in observed social phenomena. Emil Durkhiem was born in 1858 and died in 1917. He was a front runner in the field of sociology, considered by many to be the father of the field. Durkheim did not believe in conflict but rather in a harmonic defined society. Durkheim studied social phenomena in the collective mind, the whole of society, and how society shaped the individual. His theories lead to shape structural anthropology and anthropologists that followed.
Marcel Mauss was Durkheim student, as well as, nephew. He was born 1872, and was a French sociologist. He had a fruitful career, which included collaboration with him uncle, Durkheim. Mauss authority in anthropology did not come from field work or his ethnographic monographs, but rather from his conscientious attention to theoretical issues that lay in the center of many published works. Mauss’ strived to understand structured nature of social coherence, which constructed “total social facts”, which are implications in society in legal, religious, political and economic circles. This theory was represented in his essay “The Gift”, which showed the act of gift giving was a regulated act, rule by mental rules, particularly in “primitive” societies. These gifts, services or objects, were seen as charged with power; structures that were seen as a logic that held social groups together, and was a basic principle of social life. Mauss saw gifting as reciprocity, according to Mauss, the elementary principle of gift exchange; according to Levi-Strauss, the elementary principle of exchanging women (Erickson & Murphy, 2008:112).
Claude Levi-Strauss was acclaimed, sometimes a little misunderstood, French structural anthropologist. He published two books, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949) and Structural Anthropology (1958) that showed analysis of kin groups based in an aspect of reciprocity. Levi –Strauss believed that reciprocity was an exchange of women which he called “gifts”. In these exchanges alliances were created, bonds where strengthened, as well as relationship formed. The structure of this gifting is inherited in the human mind, which operates in logic of dualities, called binary oppositions; he learned this from through Prague School. Binary opposition: in French anthropology, the...