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EPISTEMOLOGICAL ISSUES IN ANTHROPOLOGICAL INQUIRY: Social Structuralism, Cognitive Structuralism, Synethetic Structuralism and Opportunism
Part 1 reprinted from Canberra Anthropology Volume 3, No. 2:1-27, 1980.
Part 2 reprinted from Canberra Anthropology Volume 4, No. 1:1-22, 1981.
G. N. Appell


A cloud of claims and counter-claims, a smoke-screen of charges and counter-charges, has descended over anthropological inquiry in the past two decades. And the discipline has spawned a proliferation of theoretical models, a morass of new methodology, until one's vision of the goals of anthropological inquiry and the major issues involved in our study of socio-cultural phenomena can become quite obscured. Suddenly the spoils of the game go not to the ethnographer who after years of toil under difficult circumstances provides a description of a socio-cultural system in greater or lesser detail. It is the age of the theoretician, and one wonders at times what he is really theorizing about. Consequently, I thought it might be useful to discuss here what I conceive to be some of the major epistemological issues in the fields of social structuralism, opportunism, cognitive structuralism, and synthetic structuralism. I am not going to attempt an analysis of all the major issues, but instead, what I shall consider are those issues that separate these fields. Even so, to attempt such a coverage in a limited paper such as this would either be conceived of as an act of anthropological arrogance or naivety. As for the sins which I will commit here, I would like to excuse them by claiming epistemological naivety. For I am not going to try to present here a reconstructed logic of these methods of inquiry as a proper epistemologist would do. I am not interested in reconstructing a normative model, but, instead, I am interested in the cognitive style (Kaplan 1964:3-33) of the social structuralist, the opportunist, the cognitive structuralist and the synthetic structuralist, or what Kaplan calls their Alogic-in-use@.

In addition to briefly analysing the issues that separate these approaches to ethnographic reality, I shall also be concerned with the nature of the models built and the explanations offered for the data produced by the models. I will of necessity have to be brief here, but before I go on I should like to make explicit my own interest in these issues. I conceive of myself as a British social structuralist inasmuch as I am primarily concerned with social action. But I believe that there are certain deficiencies in the theoretical model of social structuralism, and I am attempting to deal with these deficiencies in my own research, as I shall enlarge on later in this essay. Therefore, the attacks on the question-set of social structuralism by other approaches to ethnographic reality and their epistemological claims have been of concern to me in my attempts at developing a more appropriate theoretical model. My approach to this problem has thus been to make an ethnographic study of the various theorists, and as social anthropologists will do, I found that what people said ought to be done, what they said they did do, and what they actually did, frequently were at variance with one another. But more about this later.


In discussing structural theories and methodologies certain difficulties arise because of the polysemic nature of the term 'structuralism'. Structuralism in Piaget's (1970) and Boudon's (1971) terminology certainly encompasses all the various methods of inquiry that we will be discussing here. Therefore, it is necessary to make certain distinctions so that our argument will not be confused over the meanings of the term 'structuralism'. First of all, I am not going to deal with the metatheory of structuralism, for Piaget and Boudon have produced excellent analyses of this, and there are in addition a number of other works available. Piaget's version of structuralism might be termed 'operational structuralism', as he has himself indicated (1970:8), and I will use this terminology if necessary to distinguish the distinctive features of his approach. Piaget has also referred to Lévi-Strauss's version as 'analytical structuralism' and states that it is based on a deductive approach. But in my opinion this fails to distinguish the major thrust of this theoretical position, which is to answer the question as to what are the innate structures and processes of the mind through which we can provide an explanation for the surface structure of observable cultural phenomena. Therefore, because so much of the work in this field deals with symbols and concepts, I at first believed that it would be more appropriate to refer to this version of structuralism as 'symbolic structuralism' to distinguish it from other mentalistic approaches, such as 'cognitive structuralism'.

But some of the participants in the SUNY symposium at which I gave an earlier version of this paper took the position that they also dealt with symbols, but not in terms of French structuralism. I then considered the term 'ideational structuralism', since one of the features of this form of structuralism has been to focus on archetypes in a Platonic sense. Yet this also did not seem to identify the major features of this approach in contrast to other forms of structuralism, and seemed to imply as well conscious mental activity, while Lévi-Strauss has argued that his structures are unconscious. Consequently, I have now decided, for lack of a better term, to refer to the form of structuralism represented in the work of Lévi-Strauss as 'synthetic structuralism' in that it shares two features with the concept of 'synthesis': (1) the reasoning is frequently deductive with an emphasis on the dialectic combination of thesis and antithesis into a higher stage of synthesis; and (2) attempts are made to synthesize various structures into one common mother structure.

Finally, as the term 'structuralism' is also sometimes used in the frame of reference of British social anthropology (for example, van Velson 1967; Mitchell 1969), I shall distinguish this form from others by using the commonly accepted term 'social structuralism'.

Approaches to Ethnographic Reality

In the various approaches to ethnographic reality it seems to me there are three basic issues in controversy: (1) the issue as to whether social behaviour or mental behaviour constitutes the basic datum of research; (2) the controversy over whether ethnographic data are to be interpreted primarily in terms of their meaning to a particular cultural system, that is, cultural-specific or system-specific meaning, or whether they should be interpreted in terms of a theory of behaviour held by the investigator, that is, in terms of theory-meaning; (3) the controversy over whether the individual or the collectivity is the locus of ethnographic reality. This last issue is connected to the controversy over mental behaviour versus social behaviour, but it is not isomorphic with it, as I shall attempt to demonstrate. Also this distinction shares many features with the controversy over methodological individualism versus methodological collectivism, but again it is not completely isomorphic with it.
These issues may be plotted in a matrix as follows, with the various fields of inquiry in anthropology entered in the resulting boxes along the dimensions that most closely represent their approach to a resolution of these issues (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Issues in Anthropological Theory

System-Specific Meaning

Theory Meaning

Social Behavior

Mental Behavior Social Behavior Mental Behavior



   Opportunity Structure
   Situational Analysis
   Transactional Analysis


Unfortunately, in using such matrix displays, one has to force the evidence into boxes where it may not in fact entirely belong. Any inquiry is an ongoing, developing growth, so that there may be appearing on the peripheries developments that differ from the central tendencies of the inquiry. It would be impossible to cover all these peripheral growths within the limits of this essay, and so I shall confine myself to defining the ideal types, realizing fully the difficulties in using these. Thus many may disagree with my conclusions. But the evidence for my conclusions will be drawn primarily from what the practitioners of these approaches say they are doing in published materials, not what we may believe them to be doing, and certainly not what they say they are doing in private conversations. And at times I will contrast this with what they in fact do do.

However, this method tends to over-emphasize boundary features rather than the continuum along which the various approaches fall. Therefore, I have attempted to display these distinctions in a three dimensional model along the axes of which the various approaches can be plotted. This will not only allow a greater latitude for describing central tendencies, but it also permits you to shift the fields of inquiry along any of the dimensions to represent more precisely your view of where they lie in terms of these basic issues (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Issues in Anthropological Inquiry

This distinction between focusing on boundary features rather than on continua, in phrasing relations in digital rather than in analogue terms, is an important one in our analysis of the various approaches to anthropological inquiry and will appear again later on in our discussion of Lévi-Strauss’s method of analysis and his use of linguistic models.

Social structuralism

Various terms have been used to identify this field of inquiry. The Oxford anthropologists (Ardener 1971; Needham 1971; Rivière 1971), as many others, tend to prefer the term ‘functionalism’. The term ‘structural-functionalism’ has also been used, as well as ‘structuralism’ (van Velson 1967; Mitchell 1969). I prefer to refer to this field of inquiry as social structuralism to distinguish it from the various forms of mentalistic structuralism, and this also permits any reference to functionalism to be deleted, which I believe is useful since functionalism is not a necessary feature of social structuralism. While functionalism was originally part of the social structural approach, it is entirely possible and desirable to provide a structural description of a social system without reference to functional explanations (see Appell 1965). Furthermore, by referring to this field as functionalism we identify it by one variant of its method of explanation, although we do not refer to other fields of inquiry by the types of explanation they advance.1

In indicating that social structuralism deals with social behaviour, we do not mean to imply that social structuralists have not dealt with cognitive aspects of social systems such as religion and belief systems, and made important contributions. But, more frequently than not, social structuralism has considered belief systems and religions in final reference to the problem of social control or how they articulate to social structure (see, for example, Firth 1967 and Nadel 1954).

But this does not dispel the difficulties in identifying social structuralism with behaviour. We have here the problem of what the natives say versus what they do. For example, social anthropologists say they deal with behaviour. Mair (1965:9) refers to “the structural order by means of which the behaviour of people is interpreted...” But in fact, most realize that the social structuralists are dealing with social action; that is, not simply with behaviour but also with the aim, intention, and goals of behaviour, and these are part of the cognitive organization of the actor (see Nadel 1953:30).

Thus while the cognitive style of social structuralism is ‘behavioural’, the strength of social structuralism is that it incorporates both social and cognitive behaviour. But this is also its weakness, for social structuralism has not explicitly come to grips with cognitive models and therefore they have not systematically dealt with the problem of eliciting indigenous distinctions, particularly with regard to social units. This is why I have entered this approach along the theory-meaning dimension.

For example, Firth (1963) defines the kindred, cognatic stock, and other concepts so that it is not clear whether the social units he is concerned with are the entification of the anthropologist or the members of the society being described. Radcliffe-Brown’s approach to corporate descent groups is similarly confused (1950:41). And Gulliver (1971:9) writes, contra Appell (1967), that “It seems to be more efficacious to ...[include affines in the kindred] in analysis, even where a people themselves for some purposes culturally distinguish between the two kinds of kin.” (For other examples see Appell 1973, 1974a, 1974b, n.d.).

Thus, social structuralism has never dealt systematically with system-specific meaning, which eventually led to the position articulated by Goodenough that in focusing on behaviour in the analysis of kin groupings and in ignoring the cultural principles organizing this behaviour, anthropologists failed to identify non-unilineal descent groupings and instead forced some of the empirical evidence for these into a unilineal mould (Goodenough 1955, 1961). Thus he concludes (1964a:11-12) that an observer can perceive this kind of statistical patterning, that is, the phenomenal order of observed events, in a community without any knowledge whatever of the ideas, beliefs, values, and principles of action of the community’s members, that is, their ideational order. This position, while undoubtedly based on some reality, does overstate the situation, since many philosophers of science would argue that it is impossible to classify human behaviour without some inference as to its intention, even if it means, though, an imperfect knowledge of the actors’ actual intentions.

Cognitive structuralism and methodological individualism

The controversy over methodological individualism and methodological collectivism or socialism has had a long history (see, for example, O’Neill 1973), and consequently I cannot discuss here the various skirmishes in this debate. What I am essentially trying to discriminate by this contrast might perhaps be better phrased under the concept of social locus of ethnographic reality. Thus I am asking here whether the fields of inquiry which we are considering concern themselves with the individual as the real locus for ethnographic investigation or whether the inquiry focuses on the collectivity, the social grouping, the institution, or the social system.

Goodenough, for example, has taken the position that social anthropology has focused on observed events, which are the property of the community as a material system of the people, their surroundings, and their behaviour. These are, furthermore, artefacts of the ideational order, which is not a property of the community but of its members, existing in their minds (Goodenouqh 1964a:11-12).

Thus, in cognitive structuralism the individual is conceived of as being the locus of ethnographic reality. This stems from the view that culture is a code and therefore amenable to analysis by the same procedures used in structural linguistics with a Bloomfieldian pedigree (see Goodenough 1951, 1957; Frake 1964). However, this linguistic model in the beginning led the cognitive structuralists astray. For, as Aberle has pointed out (1960:13), in structural linguistics the assumption is made that “the idiolect is, loosely speaking, isomorphic with the language”.

As a result, componential analysis as a tool of the cognitive structuralists was claimed to represent the ‘real’ cognitive world of the members of a society, until Burling (1964a) pointed out that there were a number of logical possibilities for ordering componential data. Thus, for the analyst to claim the cognitive saliency of his particular method required that he introduce additional methods to establish that his results were in fact psychologically real.

However, as Wallace (1965) and Goodenough (1965) consequently pointed out, the fact that more than one model of a semantic system can be constructed raised profound implications for a cultural theory that presumed that a society’s culture was shared by its members. Aberle, as I have noted, had earlier detailed the implications of this with regard to the use of linguistic models in culture and personality theory. And he distinguished between sharing and participating, such as in a communication system and in a social system (1960:14-15). The degree of sharing of cognitive maps is an important empirical question, originally raised by Wallace (1961, 1962), but one which is difficult to deal with because our analytical concepts have generally included the assumption of some degree of sharing. That is, with the exception of Wallace’s concept of mazeways. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that social structuralism did not fall into this trap as social structuralists early on realized that a social system was heterogeneous and that its members did not have identical knowledge of its cultural domains.

But to return to the issue of behaviour - in my previous critique of cognitive structuralism (1973) I was misled by Goodenough’s attack on social structuralism, by his statement that behaviour was only an artefact of the ideational order, and by the attack on statistical summaries of behaviour by cognitive anthropologists (see Appell 1969 for a discussion of this issue). This supposed view that the locus of ethnographic reality lay in the minds of informants also apparently led Burling astray (1964b). He pointed out the difficulties of dealing with mental phenomena, of getting into the cognitive organization of informants, and spoke for the primacy of behaviour as the focus of ethnographic investigation.

But the important point, overlooked by many, is that even in early programmatic statements the cognitive structuralists did not ignore behaviour. Thus, Frake (1962:85) wrote:

Consequently, a strategy of ethnographic description that gives a central place to the cognitive processes of the actors involved...will give us productive descriptions of cultural behavior, descriptions which, like the linguists’ grammar, succinctly state what one must know in order to generate culturally acceptable acts and utterances appropriate to a given socio-ecological context (Goodenough 1957) [emphasis added].2

However, the use of behaviour, that is, acts, decisions, and so forth, as a method of establishing the validity of statements of cultural rules began to grow in importance as cognitive structuralism moved on from an exclusive concern over folk classifications to decision models. Kay discussed this aspect of cognitive structuralist theory:

There are at least two ways of checking empirically that one’s construction of the native actors’ decision making process is correct. First, one can assess native actors’ reactions to actions on the part of their fellows. The cognitive model predicts which actions will be judged appropriate under which circumstances...

However, this is not the only kind of test one can make of a cognitive model. The stronger test requires that one predict not only the natives’ judgments of appropriateness after the behavioral facts but that one predict actual behaviors before the fact. To do so one obviously has to have information outside of the cognitive model, namely, the inputs to that model. For example, suppose a cultural rule states in part “reside post-maritally with the husband’s matri-sib if that sib (a) is localized (ie, is in possession of territory) and (b) owns uncultivated land.” If we wish to predict where a given individual X will reside after marriage, we will have to know, in addition to the fragment of a cultural rule just given, the sex of X, which matri-sib X (or X’s husband) belongs to, whether that matri-sib is localized, if so where, and whether or not that matri-sib controls unused land, among other things,

To predict distributions of actual residence patterns on an aggregate scale, we have to furnish as input to the postulated cognitive model the joint distributions of matri-sib membership, matri-sib localization, wealth in land and so on, for the entire population. This approach has been successfully employed to predict several sorts of statistical distributions of economic and demographic data reflecting the outcomes of individual applications of cultural rules (1970:28).

Thus, in sum, Kay says:

cognitive models alone do not predict overt behavior. But when the cognitive model is supplied with information it specifies as necessary for reaching a decision, it can predict overt behaviour accurately (1970:29-30).

What we have here seems to be a partial return to the study of social action and social structures, albeit an occluded image of such. It first of all is a reflection of social structuralism in that behaviour is generated by cultural rules. This is reminiscent of the concern of the social structuralists over the nature of constraints on human behaviour.3 But on the other hand it has focused on what I have called the opportunity structure, as, for example, decision models. But as I have pointed out elsewhere (1974b) and will discuss here, many theoreticians of opportunism take the position that social forms and the social order are generated by the multiple decisions and transactions of individuals operating in their own self-interest, not by cognitive constraints.

Unresolved problems of cognitive structuralism

Cognitive structuralism focuses on the statics of labeling behaviour or on the statics of cultural rules and their relationships to other behaviours. Thus, it has not yet dealt with process, something for which it should not be criticized since this claim was also made against social structuralism and relates to its particular stage of development. There seems to be a history in structuralist analyses whereby the statics must first be isolated and defined before attention can be devoted to process.

Furthermore, the assumption that labelling behaviour somehow reflects social behaviour is an interesting assumption but it needs to be contextualized. In what circumstances is this so and when is it not? For instance, Moerman (1966) points out that the relationship between two cognitive categories, “things that have price” and “kinsmen” has remained the same among the Lue, although there have been major social and cultural changes in the society. This has resulted in different inventories of behaviours now found under these two terms as well as a shift in the function of these two terms in justificatory discourse for action. Diebold, in what is without a doubt an important article on kinship terminology (1966), uses empirical field data to test various hypotheses as to the relationship of labelling behaviour to kin behaviour. He concludes that behaviours may first change, producing then a change in labels. Thus, lineal family structures among the Mareño use collateral merging terminology while the terminology used in stem family structures differentiates between lineal and collateral kinsmen. But the important evidence is that while all lineal families use merging terminology, a few stem families do as well. This thus indicates that in the shifts to new behaviours, that is, the stem family, labelling practices have lagged behind.

In sum, I would argue, with Bateson (1972, 1979), that a cybernetic model of cognition and behaviour would be more productive. While cultural rules and social sanctions do direct behaviour, nevertheless the actors in the social system also constantly scan the behaviour of others to determine whether their application of the cultural rules, whether their activation of the opportunity structure, is as successful as that of others. Thus, behaviour also generates modification of cognitive structures in the process of being produced by them. For example, at some point the accumulation of new types of decisions in the opportunity structure may become recognized as different from previous behaviours. The next step may involve their legitimization by an act of a jural institution in the social system. This legitimization of behaviour in the opportunity system then transforms it out of the opportunity structure into the social structure, that is, into the structure of cultural rules (Appell 1974b).


Growing opposition to the ‘structural-functional’ paradigm in social anthropology resulted in a developing interest in synthetic structuralism on one hand and opportunism on the other. I have collected under this rubric ‘opportunism’ all those fields of inquiry that are concerned with how the individual can manipulate, control, and create his own social world. Thus, opportunism focuses on the question of how the individual attempts to resolve conflicting principles of organization and cope with discrepant values (see Garbett 1970:219); how social forms are generated by transactions and multiple decisions (but cf. Appell 1974b for a critique of this and a different approach to the problems raised by this); and how norms and values are manipulated by the individual in furthering his own self-interest. Such approaches are found under labels such as ‘exchange theory’, ‘transactionalism’, ‘situational analysis’, ‘network theory’, and so forth. And they attempt to “incorporate conflict as a normal’ rather than ‘abnormal’ part of social process” (van Velson 1967:129).

In terms of the matrix of issues that we are constructing here, opportunism is actor-centred, rather than institution-centred, it deals with social behaviour rather than cognitive behaviour; but it has not explicitly dealt with the problem of how the analyst isolates system-specific behaviour (see, for example, Barth 1966; van Velson 1967; Mitchell 1969). Thus, although one would assume that the goal of opportunism must indeed be that of describing system-specific behaviour, I have entered it along the dimension of theory meaning.

To illustrate my point, while Barth claims for his version of transactionalism that values, which form a crucial part of his theoretical model, are not the analyst’s construct but are views held by the actors themselves (1966:23), he does not provide the observational procedures by which they may be isolated. Nor does he ever systematically deal with the problem of isolating culture-specific entities. Thus, in his theory of the generation of social form, Barth argues that transactions and/or the results of multiple decisions create the social forms. But such social forms must be system-specific and isomorphic with the naturally occurring social entities. Yet it is far from clear that they are in fact so. Consequently, the question arises as to whether the actual act of generation lies in the mind of the anthropologist rather than being located in the target society. For example, I would argue that the ‘unilineal descent groups’ generated by Barth from multiple decision makings are social forms whose precise system-specific status is questionable since this is not delineated by his method. For his method does not specifically detail whether these are jural entities holding rights as a unit; whether they are jural aggregates whose members hold rights in severalty; or whether they are jural collectivities. Such social isolates are permitted in the jural system of which they are a part to have a representative sue on their behalf even though the rights are not held by the group but by the individual members (see Appell 1974b).

Thus I find it interesting that there has been no extended discussion in opportunism as to how one gets at system-specific meaning, although one would assume from their concerns that the opportunists would in fact be particularly interested in system-specific meaning. This is certainly the central problem of decision models, for decisions can only be made within the terms of system-specific valuations. Therefore it should be an integral aspect of the theory. This is why I have temporarily entered decision models along the system-specific dimension, though in parentheses.

One might conclude from this that there is something in the nature of social action, as opposed to mental behaviour, which leads the empiricist to the conclusion that what he sees the actor also sees.

Finally, those who work with the approach of transactionalism claim that social structure does not determine behaviour but that it emerges from the ongoing transactions and exchanges in the society. Likewise those dealing with negotiated social orders (see Strauss et al. 1964) argue that social structure rather than determining behaviour is in fact being continually renegotiated in the ongoing social processes of individuals attempting to achieve their own interests. On the other hand, those who deal with network theory or situational analysis claim that social structure alone does not fully delineate the social order but needs to be supplemented (see van Velson 1967); or that while it complements network analysis it nevertheless orders ethnographic reality at too high a level of abstraction. Thus while it is useful for some things, it does distort actual social processes (Mitchell 1969:49).
I would like to reiterate that those who claim that social structure is emergent are in opposition to the cognitive structuralists who claim that cultural rules generate behaviour. This crucial epistemological distinction, which puts cognitive structuralists in the same field as social structuralists in opposition to opportunists, is not isolated in the matrix and box displays.

Synthetic structuralism

Synthetic structuralism, like cognitive structuralism, bases its approach on the view that culture is a code. While the cognitive structuralists argue that behaviour is a product of the code, the cultural rules, the synthetic structuralists take the position that “all manifestations of social activity, whether it be the clothes that are worn, the books that are written or the systems of kinship and marriage that are practised in any society, constitute languages...” (Lane 1970:13-14). 4

However, the synthetic structuralists, using a Chomskian analogy, argue that they are concerned with symbolism at the level of deep structure, at the unconscious level, while the cognitive structuralists tend to focus on the surface manifestations. System-specific meaning therefore is at the surface level of cultural phenomena, while the synthetic structuralists are concerned with identifying the unconscious structures that produce the surface phenomena and which are lodged in the innate organization of the mind.

Thus, the synthetic structuralists are dealing with mental behaviour but only in terms of a theory of the investigator. They do not state that they are explicitly attempting to delineate culture-specific meaning, the rational meaning of behaviour to the members of society. Nor have they attempted to develop methods for testing their reconstructions against newly generated materials, that is, against behaviour, as the cognitive structuralists have done in order to test for error. The test of a synthetic structural analysis can only lie in its internal logic, consistency, and fit with received data. But more about this later.
The point of my argument here is that synthetic structuralism would thus lie, in the terms that I have delineated here, in the theory-meaning dimension.

Finally, synthetic structuralism does not explicitly deal with the problem of the social locus of its phenomena. One might argue that, since the synthetic structuralists are dealing with mental behaviour the locus of ethnographic reality must lie in the minds of individuals, yet they have shown little concern with the nature of individual’s articulation with his socio-cultural system. They instead use a myth or a ritual, or a segment of other cultural behaviour, as a collective representation of a society.

Question-sets and goals of anthropological inquiry

I use the term ‘question-set’ to refer to the direction a field of inquiry is taking. The term ‘paradigm’ was never supposed to be used at this level of specificity, and it has, furthermore, been semantically eviscerated by its widespread and contradictory usages.

In summary, the basic goal of social structuralism is to answer the question of how a social system operates. The basic goal of cognitive structuralism is to answer the question-set of what must someone know, and how does he achieve this knowledge, to be able to interpret correctly verbal and non-verbal messages and thereby act appropriately or anticipate appropriate behaviour. The goal of synthetic structuralism is to answer the question of what are the universal mental forms and processes, and, according to Leach, to ask the question: “How does man perceive himself to be in relation to the world and to society?” (1970a:195).The basic goal of opportunism is to answer the question of how does the individual actor manipulate, control, and create his social universe (Garbett 1970).

Features of the Theoretical Models

At this point it is important to make a distinction between the use of theoretical models and descriptive integration to order empirical data. In writing an ethnography, the anthropologist has the problem of how he is going to present his data. If he does not have a precise theoretical model to order his data (and in fact collect his data), he can select a theme, or a salient value, or a form of social action that is repeated in different cultural domains, and use this as a basis on which to present his data. Such an approach is not replicable; it is instead highly personal. And I have called this method ‘descriptive integration’.

Recently another approach has arisen that appears in scientific guise, but which in fact I believe to be a variant of descriptive integration. I refer here to the presentation of ethnographic materials in terms of the contrast between culture and social structure. Culture here is referred to as an ideational system that is integrated in logico-meaningful terms, while structure is phrased as behaviour that has a causal-functional method of integration. But since this approach posits no basic units, since it does not distinguish ritual behaviour from culture (Wyllie 1968), since ideational phenomena can be viewed in causal terms while behaviour has both logical aspects and meaningful aspects in fact — it cannot be otherwise or it would not be human behaviour — I find that this is not so much a theory of socio-cultural behaviour as a technique of organizing ethnographic materials for presentation. I should also add that I find that transactionalism also has certain aspects that suggest that it is only a technique for descriptive integration rather than a theory of action, but I shall return to this later.

In any event, any theory that lays claim to scientific responsibility must establish its basic units, must provide observational procedures to move from its theoretical constructs to observables, and must attempt some explanation of the relationship that exists between its basic units. Furthermore, for theories to be productive, as I have pointed out elsewhere (1973), such as those of structural linguistics and social structuralism, they should view the ethnographic phenomena that they are investigating in terms of a system. And finally, because the phenomenal world and man’s relation to it is segmented, defined, and organized differently within each cultural system, there is in addition the problem of determining that one’s basic units are phrased in terms of abstract, analytical concepts, which carry no cultural loading from the observer’s own socio-cultural system or from the system where they were first isolated. As such they will not distort the system-specific reality of the target society and will permit the delineation of the system-specific boundaries between the cultural domains.

Features of the theoretical model of social structuralism

Radcliffe-Brown’s use of the organism analogy for the social system indicates that social structuralists deal with phenomena in terms of a system, although this is not always made explicit (see Appell 1973). The boundaries to the system are implicitly there from this same analogy, but again this problem is not often explicitly dealt with. I have also pointed out elsewhere (1973) that the social structuralists frequently fail to delineate their concepts so that they would be devoid of cultural contamination from the observer’s own society or that society where they were first used, and therefore the social structuralists have not adequately dealt with the problem of developing abstract analytical concepts.

The basic unit of social structuralism is the person as an occupant of various roles (Nadel 1953:91-8; Radcliffe-Brown 1952:193-4). The interesting aspect of this basic unit is that operations have been developed in social structuralism whereby the basic unit may be expanded into groups, networks, quasi-groups, and institutions at other levels of analysis. Thus, for example, Nadel (1953:107-44), in his expansion of the person to an institution comprising any number of persons, includes purposes or aims, sanctions, rules, and action patterns as standardized modes of co-activity. The expansion rules for a grouping include the principles whereby individuals are recruited; context of institutionalized activities in which groups operate and are visible; factors making for cohesion and endurance of the grouping, the internal order of social relations; and the external order or relations with other social entities (Nadel 1953:145-90).

One of the major controversies in social anthropology today is whether this expansion is culturally determined or under the control of the actor himself, as I have mentioned before.

I have also pointed out elsewhere (1973) that social structuralism has generally failed to provide observational procedures whereby their theoretical constructs can be systematically linked to observables, although with regard to persons, and some aspects of networks and groupings, some standardization of these procedures has been attempted.

The method of articulation of persons to one another is via the concept of social relations, more specifically normative social relations. With respect to the explanations advanced to account for these articulations, social structuralism has frequently been accused of focusing primarily on functional explanations. However, this is only partially so, for one of the characteristics of social structuralism is that explanation is pansophic. In some instances associational or statistical explanations are advanced, which are of course on a different level from the functional; in other instances teleological explanations are used. Other explanations involve causal relationships, and in still others the focus is primarily on meaning to the actors, although, as I have noted, the social structuralists have not systematically developed theoretical constructs or observational procedures to isolate the naturally occurring units of a social system.

Features of the theoretical model of network analysis

Whether network is by definition a system or not I find difficult to ascertain. Certainly it includes basic units, persons (in some instances actors) and their interrelationships, which suggests at a very minimum a non-adaptive type of system, that is, a system without feedback. Network analysts have not yet made any definitive statements along these lines.

The boundary problem of networks has produced a certain conflict of views. Barnes discusses the various aspects of this problem, and concludes that boundaries can be drawn by the observer for the convenience of his analysis (1969:69). Mitchell also concludes that boundaries are fixed in relation to the social situation being recognized (1969:40).5 Thus, it should be noted here that emphasis has not been put on identifying the naturally occurring boundaries or break points in a network or between networks.6

There has been little discussion of the concepts used in network analysis in terms of whether they are abstract analytical ones. In part they are, particularly in those analyses in which the basic unit used is the person. In these the network theorist normally focuses on the gross morphological features of the network. For other theorists who focus on the instrumental and transactional aspects of networks (for example, Garbett 1970:220-21), the basic unit tends to be more specifically the actor operating in a frame of individualized action.

The nature of the necessary observational procedures is still being discussed and there is some difficulty in finding techniques by which the observer can in fact plot an ongoing network. The method of articulation of the basic unit, the person, is in terms of social relations and, as Mitchell writes:

The interest in these studies focuses not on the attributes of the people in the network but rather on the characteristics of the linkages in their relationship to one another, as a means of explaining the behaviour of the people involved in them (1969:4).

The explanation of social relationships and behaviour in network analysis may follow the full range of explanation found in social structural analysis. First, explanation is advanced in terms of system specific meaning:

the most important interactional aspect of the links in a person’s network is that which concerns the meanings which the persons in the network attribute to their relationships... (Mitchell 1969:20).

Functional explanations are also attempted, and causal explanations are always in the background:

A high frequency of contact, however, does not necessarily imply high intensity in social relationships (Mitchell 1969:29).

And associational explanations are frequent, as, for instance, when it is hypothesized that a greater variation of norms is found in a loose knit network (Mitchell 1969:37). But primarily it is teleological explanations that are advanced:

At times these recognized relationships may be utilized for a specific purpose - to achieve some object, to acquire or pass on some information, to influence some other person in a desired direction (Mitchell 1969:26).

Features of the theoretical approach of social situationalists

In the approach to ethnographic reality of the social situationalists, there is little emphasis on treating the data in terms of a system. This is related to their method of dealing with the boundaries of the social situation, which also illustrates their failure to come to grips systematically with the problem of system-specific meaning. Garbett writes:

The situation as a unit of analysis, therefore, is defined by the observer...This is different from the treatment of situations by, for example, the symbolic interactionists... where it is the actor’s definition of the situation which is significant (1970:215-6).7

Thus there has been no emphasis on devising abstract, analytical concepts. On the contrary, there seems to be a positive search for the empirically salient. In other words, the facts are delineated in terms of the folk concepts of the social situationalists themselves. This is also illustrated by their approach to their basic units. The basic unit of the social situationalist is the actor, not the person. Van Velson writes:

it [situational analysis] requires a greater emphasis in fieldwork on the recording of the actions of individuals as individuals, as personalities, and not just as occupants of particular statuses (1967:143).

However, one wonders whether it is possible to observe and record behaviour as distinct from roles, for observation here may be similar to linguistic inquiry in which it is indeed very difficult to provide a completely phonetic recording of a language without having immediately begun phonemicization of it.

The nature of the observational procedures for the collection of data under the approach of social situational analysis is not entirely clear or spelled out. However, van Velson states that the focus of social situational analysis is to learn how individuals cope with conflicting norms and how they deal with social conflict. As a result,

in collecting and presenting data on the actual behaviour of individuals reference must always be made to the norms which govern or are said to govern that behaviour. Thus one will be able to assess whether deviation from certain norms is general or exceptional, why such deviation occurs, and how it is justified... [Furthermore, as] the norms of society do not constitute a consistent and coherent whole ...[this] allows for their manipulation by members of a society in furthering their own aims, without necessarily impairing its apparently enduring structure of social relationships. Situational analysis therefore lays stress on the study of norms in conflict (van Velson 1967:145-6).

The method of articulation of the basic units is apparently social relationships but specifically actual social relationships, and the explanations of these are made primarily in terms of purpose, meaning to the actors, and choice.

Features of the theoretical model of transactionalism

The transactionalists do not to my knowledge define their theoretical models explicitly in terms of a system. That it is a system they are dealing with, sometimes a non-adaptive system, sometimes a system with feedback (Barth 1966), is clear, but its features are not specifically delineated. The problem of boundaries also does not feature in their discussions of their theoretical models. And while their analytical constructs might appear to be abstract, that is, devoid of cultural debris and therefore applicable to all socio-cultural systems, this aspect in the construction of productive theoretical models is not raised in their discussions.

The basic unit of the analysis appears to be the actor or person (Paine 1973). However, in Barth’s statement one at times begins to feel that it is the transactional act itself which forms the basic unit. In any event, in his discussion of the structure of a fishing vessel crew the basic unit is a person constrained by statuses. Then in his discussion of the processes of integration in culture, it is the evaluating actor. But few observational procedures are detailed to enable the observer to move from his theoretical concepts to the observables.

The basic units are linked by transactions, sometimes of material goods and services (Barth 1966), in other instances by messages (Paine 1973). And it is these transactions that generate role behaviour (Barth 1966:9), or social forms; or, in the instance of the evaluating actor, the transactions generate consistency between values.

The observed phenomena are explained in terms of choice and purpose, that is, maximizing value, and sometimes in terms of a cybernetic model of the transactional processes.

In conclusion, I find Barth’s argument that social forms are generated by choice and transactions unconvincing, and not only because the forms are not isolated in system-specific terms. His approach is a simple behaviouralist’s one rather than being based on social action, which would include the participants’ cognitive organization of events as well. Thus, in dealing with a social system which has for the observer no beginning, only changes, how can we factor out the prime mover, behaviour or the cognitive organization? They are instead intertwined. Thus, if there exists in the cognitive organization of the participants a hamlet as the place of residence, can we really say the social form of the hamlet was produced by the choices of multiple individuals or that the social form of the hamlet channelled the choices of individuals from a disordered array to an ordered array? There is no question that in certain instances of change there may be a shift in choices in some sectors of the opportunity structure so that they pile up in a different manner than previously realized. But this does not create a new social form until it is scanned by the participants, brought into their cognitive organization at one level, and then finally legitimized by an act of an accepted social forum as a new social isolate (see Appell 1974b).

Thus all that Barth in his theory of social forms offers is a new type of descriptive integration. For example, his analysis of the role behaviour of the netboss cannot be founded on the set of transactions he maintains that it is, for one could predict the joking role of the netboss from experimental evidence on the structure of small groups that have the same distribution of power but which operate in completely different cultural and ecological settings. The formal relationships remain unaffected by the substance of the transactions or the nature of the tasks.

Features of the theoretical model of cognitive structuralism

Cognitive structuralism can be broken up into various subfields, and I have suggested three such subfields which might be productive to consider here. These are all closely articulated, however, through their similar emphasis on the lexeme as the basic unit.

Kinship semantics. It is assumed, but nevertheless unspecified or unexamined in detail, that the field of their inquiry forms a system. Boundaries become an important issue in kinship semantics, as well as in folk classification, for there is concern to ensure that system-specific boundaries be delineated and not imposed by the outside observer’s own presuppositions (Conklin 1964:467). The concepts are generally framed in terms of abstract, analytical features on the basis of a linguistic analogy, but again this aspect does not receive the attention that it might (see Appell 1973), even though the concern is to discover system-specific meaning. In any event, the basic unit of the lexeme is a postulated universal. But as we shall see in dealing with the subfield of event analysis, the lexeme has a limited field. Here it is restricted to a terminologically distinguished array of objects (in contrast with events), referred to as a ‘segregate’ (Frake 1962; Conklin 1967).

Observational procedures have been detailed not only on how to embody this concept with the substantive materials from any cultural system but also on how to determine system-specific boundaries. The cognitive structuralists have been extremely conscious of the problem of observational procedures which are culture-free and have been very explicit in detailing them. However, the nature of unlabelled categories has presented certain difficulties, since these may in fact be only behaviourally defined (Dentan 1970), and this problem I don’t think has yet been satisfactorily resolved (cf. however, Berlin et al. 1973).

Furthermore, one of the paradoxes in this field, and one of the major problems for its methodology, arises from the analysis of the ethnographic materials gathered by others not sharing the goals or concerns of the cognitive structuralists. Cognitive structuralism arose partially in response to the problem of collecting field materials uncontaminated by the observer’s own culture and presuppositions. Various techniques were devised to insure that the materials did represent the cognitive reality of the target community, and then this material was subjected to analysis by various methods, including componential and extensional analysis. But the paradox arises when these same techniques, which are claimed to reach some level of cognitive reality of the members of the target community, are used on materials gathered by methods that have been charged as being contaminated. Thus, there is every reason to suspect such bodies of ethnographic materials for distorting system-specific reality, particularly along the boundaries of the domains being studied, for here is where contamination and distortion is most likely to occur.

The method of articulation of basic units was originally in terms of contrast and inclusion, but the ordering of these digital relationships has provided considerable ground for discussion (Colby 1966; Werner and Fenton 1970). In addition, Bright and Bright (1965) and Dentan (1970) have also challenged this digital view of native categories and suggested that many folk classifications are in terms of more or less, therefore analogue in nature, rather than in terms of contrast or opposition, the presence or absence of a feature.

Thus Dentan (1970), in dealing with taxonomies among the Semai of Malaya, finds that labelled categories sometimes fade away at their boundaries so that instead of being defined by the presence or absence of a particular characteristic they are defined by the degree to which a characteristic is present. Dentan concludes that there are two major processes of learning, discrimination and stimulus generalization; and he suggests that componential analysis is an appropriate tool for dealing with those areas in which the learning has been by discrimination. For domains involving polysemic categories for which there appears to be an ideal type, Dentan suggests that the process by which they are learned may be based on stimulus generalization. Therefore, in the analysis of such categories an extensionist model might be more appropriate.

The explanation of the nature of articulation of the basic units in kinship semantics, as well as in folk classifications, has been first in terms of the meanings these have to the participants. But at another level of explanation, Tyler (1969) has claimed that explanation in cognitive structuralism is in logico-mathematical terms while explanation in social anthropology is in causal-functional terms. As I have pointed out earlier, this view raises serious questions, for social behaviour can also be viewed in terms of its meaning to the participants, in terms of its mathematical relations (Kaplan 1965), and in terms of its logical relations to other aspects of culture viewed in either system-specific terms or theory-meaning terms. Furthermore, one can see that certain fields dealing with cognitive behaviour, such as that of cognitive dissonance, deal with causal explanations; and the functions that beliefs perform have always been a central concern of all the social sciences, including social anthropology.

Folk classifications. I believe that I have covered most of the features of this subfield under my discussion of kinship semantics, and I will not go into it further here.

Percipient events. I use the term ‘percipient events’ to distinguish analyses of events in terms of the perceived or cognitive aspect of the event from analyses that focus on behaviour or the social action of the event.

The question as to whether the ethnographic materials in percipient events are perceived in terms of a system can be answered in the same manner as with the previous two subfields of cognitive structuralism: it is assumed to be so but it is not specified in these terms. Boundaries are to be explicitly determined in terms of system-specific criteria, although in Frake’s study of law (1969) it is presumably in terms of boundaries specified by Conklin for the lexical set:

a lexical set consists of all semantically contrastive lexemes which in a given, culturally relevant context share exclusively at least one defining feature...(1967:124).

In Agar the boundaries are presumably identified by breaks in ‘prerequisite links’, that is,

Two events may be cognitively related in that the outcome of one provides a prerequisite for the next (1973:20).

As with ethnosemantics, abstract analytical concepts are used, but their formal nature is not explicitly discussed.

The basic unit of percipient events raises some problems. Agar first states that the basic unit is the lexeme (1973:12), but he then states that he uses the concept of an ‘event’ as a primitive term (1973:15). Thus, the basic unit does not consist of all possible lexemes but only those dealing with events, which Agar states will expectedly be verbs encoding events or, more specifically, action-process verbs that encode an actor engaging in some act which is also a process acting on some ‘patient’ (1973:15).
Frake includes as constituent units of events the following: setting, provisions, paraphernalia, roles of participants, and routines (1964:472). In a later article (1969) the constituent units are: focus, purpose, roles, and integrity, that is, the extent to which an activity is construed as an integral unit as opposed to being part of other activities. Agar suggests that it is too early yet to isolate such constituent units (1973:14-16).

Frake states that the lexemes of events are articulated by contrast and inclusion (1969:149). Agar (1973) suggests that event concepts are linked by a logical sequence of necessary prerequisites, which are not necessarily temporally ordered.
These articulations are explained in meaningful terms as well as logico-mathematical. But lurking in the background is an ordering and thereby an explanation in terms of paradigmatic and syntagmatic structure.

(To be concluded next part.)


This is a revised version of a paper delivered at the SUNY Symposium, Conversations in the disciplines: the mutual relevance of structural anthropology and cognitive anthropology, Geneseo, New York, 13 April 1974. I want to thank the organizers of the Symposium, Russell A. Judkins and Gerald M. Erchak, for a well-organized and most productive Symposium. I also want to thank Barbara Henry and Eric G. Schwimmer for their useful comments. And I want to express my appreciation to Paul Garvin for his good criticisms and particularly for his very useful suggestions on how my discussion of linguistic models might be more profitably revised. I am solely responsible, however, for any errors of omission and commission. The final editing of this paper and its submission for publication was done while I was a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University in 1980. This visit was supported by NSF Grant No.BNS-7915343.

1 Ardener expresses (personal communication) his dissatisfaction with referring to structural-functionalism as ‘social structuralism’ and structuralism as ‘symbolic structuralism’ with some reason, preferring the terminology of ‘structural-functionalism’ and ‘structuralism’.

2 “A society’s culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe to operate in a manner acceptable to its members and to do so in any role they accept for any of themselves” (Goodenough 1957:167).

3 “...a growing awareness that ‘culture’ is best seen as a set of control mechanisms - plans, recipes, rules, instructions - which are the principal basis for the specificity of behavior and an essential condition for governing it...” (Durbin 1973:470).

4 “Therefore totemic ideas appear to provide a code enabling man to express isomorphic properties between nature and culture. Obviously, there exists here some kind of similarity with linguistics, since language is also a code which, through oppositions between differences, permits us to convey meanings and since in the case of language as well as in that of ‘totemism’, the complete series of empirical media provided in one case by vocal articulation, and in the other by the entire wealth of the biological world, cannot be called upon, but rather (and this is true in both cases) only a few elements which each language or each culture selects in order that they can be organized in strongly and unequivocally contrastinq pairs” (Lévi-Strauss 1963c:2).

5 “How far the links of a network need be traced depends entirely upon the field-worker’s judgement of what links are significant in explaining the behaviour of the people with whom he is concerned” (Mitchell 1969:13).

6 This lack of system-specific perspective is reflected in Mitchell’s view of the analyst’s approach to the data: “It could be argued that from an actor’s point of view no relationship has only one content. This is true. The observer, however, for his purpose may be justified in treating a set of actions as being so dominated by one set of identifiable norms that for all intents and purposes the relationship is single-stranded...The perceptions of the strands in relationship, however, depend upon the analytic purpose of the observer” (Mitchell 1969: 22-3).

7 Yet Garbett later on writes (1970:217): “From this perspective, a situation is viewed as occurring within a field setting whose circumstance expands and contracts according to the changing interests and values of the actors in the situation. The field is defined in terms of the interest and involvements of the participants in the process being studied and its contents include ‘the values, meaning, resources and relationships employed by the participants in that process’ (Swartz 1968:9).” In any event, the locus of the boundaries of the social situation have not become a major concern of the social situationalists.

Social Structuralism, Cognitive Structuralism, Synthetic Structuralism and Opportunism


[This is the concluding part of an essay published in two parts. In the first part (Vol. 3 No. 2) the author introduced the problem occasioned by a discipline which has “spawned a proliferation of theoretical models, a morass of new methodology” such as to obscure one’s vision of the goals of anthropological inquiry. He suggests a solution to this problem through the establishment of a comparative framework in which several extant models and methodologies may be compared, one with another, according to their (borrowing from Kaplan 1965) “logic-in-use”. Part 2 opens with his concluding remarks on comparative features of the theoretical models established. These remarks are then followed by the author’s Conclusion, his propositions regarding discrepancies between what various theorists and methodologists say they do and in fact do, and his proposals for directions out of the “morass”.]

Features of the theoretical model of synthetic structuralism8

The discussion of the features of theoretical models up to this point may have been a bit tedious, but it is in dealing with synthetic structuralism that I find this technique to be the most productive.

First, the synthetic structuralists explicitly state that they are considering ethnographic materials in terms of a system, one modelled after the linguistic system (Lévi-Strauss 1963a:33). But it should be noted that the characteristics of the linguistic system and its applicability to sociocultural phenomena, as in cognitive structuralism, has not been sufficiently explored (see Appell 1973). And here is where much of the criticism against synthetic structuralism is directed.

Where the boundaries to the system are to be drawn also raises certain questions. Leach writes (1971:23): “In contrast [to functional interpretations], in a structuralist interpretation, the analyst considers each myth, or ritual sequence as a whole.”9 This would seem a reasonable locus of boundaries, yet Lévi-Strauss frequently carries his mythic analysis across cultural and temporal boundaries (see his analysis of the Oedipus myth in Lévi-Strauss 1963a:206-31). Thus, the boundary problem seems to be unresolved in synthetic structuralism, or perhaps I should say rather fluid and reactive to the analyst’s interests rather than to naturally occurring boundaries.10

The problem of devising abstract analytical concepts seems to be little considered by the synthetic structuralists, although this can only be satisfactorily dealt with in the discussion of the basic units.

The basic unit of synthetic analysis defies the epistemological sleuth. Barnes argues with respect to kinship studies that “whereas many modern descriptions of a language begin with a list of its phonemes, Lévi-Strauss never enumerates exhaustively the fundamental elements used in structural models. He merely describes duality, alternation, opposition, and symmetry as ‘basic and immediate data of mental and social reality’...” (1971:116).

However, Barnes also writes that “models of kinship systems...are built up out of a single type of ‘elementary structure’ consisting of a woman, her brother, her husband, and their son. This constitutes the unit or atom of kinship...” (1971:116-7).
In other writings Lévi-Strauss refers to his basic units as mythemes or gustemes, depending on the context of the analysis. Let us look for a moment at mythemes. Lévi-Strauss argues that myth falls in the domain of language, and like the rest of language is made up of constituent units. These units belong to a higher and more complex order than do the constituent units of language, phonemes, morphemes, and so forth. They are to be found at the level of sentences (Lévi-Strauss 1963a:210-11).
These gross constituent units consist of a relation. And it may in fact be that the ‘relation’ is the basic unit of synthetic structuralism. Thus, Leach writes: “the elements of symbolism are not things in themselves but ‘relations’ organized in pairs and sets... The crucial point is that the ‘element of structure’ is not a unit thing but a relation X “ (1973:48-9). And there have been various attempts to phrase this in abstract, analytical terms as illustrated in the use of signs such as those for minus (-) and equals (=) (see Lévi-Strauss 1963a).

Whether the basic unit is an X-eme or a relation X, the point is that if culture in all its aspects can be viewed as communication there must be fundamental units for its analysis at each level, as in linguistic analysis. Gustemes and mythemes in this view are contradictory to the premises of the argument since they are not reducible to the same basic unit. To argue that clothing, food, and other domains of culture form different languages (Leach 1970b:46) misses the point, for it confuses content with structure. And the synthetic structuralists are concerned here with the structure of the code carrying the message. The contradictions in the approach of synthetic anthropology thus stem from this failure to develop and apply systematically abstract analytical concepts that have relevance for the analysis of all cultural systems. One gets the impression that, while insight grows, there is no cumulative development of theory and method, for, without explicit basic units that are formulated in abstract analytical terms so that they apply to all social systems and all aspects of social systems, and without detailed observational procedures by which the basic units can be related to empirical materials, many find it difficult to replicate the work of Lévi-Strauss.

With respect to the observational procedures that Lévi-Strauss does provide, they are only partially mapped out for isolating the X-emes and the relations. Lévi-Strauss writes, for example:

The method we adopt, in this case as in others, consists in the following operations:

(1) define the phenomenon under study as a relation between two or more terms, real or supposed;

(2) construct a table of possible permutations between these terms:

(3) take this table as the general object of analysis which, at this level only, can yield necessary connexions, the empirical phenomenon considered at the beginning being only one possible combination among others, the complete system of which must be reconstructed beforehand (1963b:16).

The basic technique involves the search for opposition and the mediation of this opposition at a higher level. Thus, Lévi-Strauss writes that mythical thought always progresses from the awareness of oppositions towards their resolutions:

...two opposite terms with no intermediary always tend to be replaced by two equivalent terms which admit of a third one as a mediator; then one of the polar terms and the mediator become replaced by a new triad, and so on (1963a:224).

The position 1 take here that the observational procedures are only partially mapped out is based on the fact that we have no means to select without personal bias what X-emes or relations are the salient functioning discriminations at whatever level, the cognitive or the unconscious, for the society under study. But I shall discuss this further shortly.

In the analysis of kinship systems the method of articulation of social units is by means of communications of women, messages, and goods. At a higher remove this puts units into opposition, and thus at a higher level the method of articulation of units in his structural models is by opposition and transformation. However, Leach has argued that some relations are best viewed in terms of a continuum rather than in binary opposition (1964, 1970a, 1971), but I shall return to this shortly.

Finally the explanation of the articulation of units is posited in teleological terms in kinship analysis at one level, but at another level in terms of logico-mathematical relations (see Leach 1971:23), particularly paradigmatic and syntagmatic structures (Leach 1973:45). But surely one can see gross causal explanations creeping in as well as associational ones.

Unresolved Issues in Synthetic Structuralism

I shall not attempt to touch on all the issues that critics have raised in their analysis of synthetic structuralism; instead I shall only deal with those that arise from the contrast of the theory and methodology of cognitive structuralism, social structuralism, and opportunism with synthetic structuralism.

Locus of ethnographic reality and linguistic models

As I have previously noted, the synthetic structuralists have yet to deal with the problem of the locus of ethnographic reality. They state that they deal with mentalistic phenomena, which would lead one to assume that the locus of ethnographic reality lies in the mind. And to a certain extent this is true, but not entirely so. For the basic data used in the analysis of synthetic structuralism is the product of collective minds, that is, sociocultural phenomena. And so they deal not with individual mental processes but shared mental processes, or, perhaps better, shared mental processes inferred from social, cultural, and linguistic behavioural evidence. This position is justified, as well as explicated, by their reference to linguistic models, which implies that the models constructed by the synthetic structuralists are shared by all members of the referent society. Thus, using a linguistic model for their research, but of a Jakobson rather than a Bloomfield variety, they nevertheless have become trapped in the same errors as were the cognitive structuralists. They do not investigate the social distribution of their data. Or, to put it in another way, they do not test their assumption that all members of the society share the same structure of codification, the same sets of meanings, the same knowledge. Yet we know that the cognitive organizations of the individual members of any society, and from this presumably the organizations of their unconscious, are not isomorphic but instead only overlap. This lack of isomorphy is one of the major findings of cognitive structuralism. However, the degree to which cognitive structures do not overlap is an unresolved problem of cognitive inquiry. Thus, the synthetic structuralists, as the cognitive structuralists, have yet to come to terms with this problem and detail the social distribution of their structural models (see Appell 1973).

One additional but tentative conclusion might be drawn at this point. If the synthetic structuralists are dealing with sociocultural phenomena, which by definition are shared, perhaps Lévi-Strauss’s goal of delineating universal mental structures is unrealistic. What, instead, he might be doing in some of his analyses is detailing the social processes by which individual members of a society reconcile their conflicting views of the sociocultural field in which they must act. We would thus be dealing with the products of innumerable efforts at strategic interaction and manoeuvring rather than with mental processes directly. The locus of ethnographic reality, if this is true, would lie not in the minds of individuals but in the processes that occur between individuals as they manoeuvre and the products of this manoeuvering. Thus, the mental processes of the participants may be in fact structured on entirely different grounds from those proposed by the synthetic structuralists.

The premise of cultural relativity

To the question of where the locus of ethnographic reality is, the synthetic structuralist would answer, I suspect, by saying that he is first of all not concerned with system-specific meaning. He is concerned instead with the unconscious, universal structures of the human mind, and these are phrased in terms of the universal relations between the gross constituent units.

The social structuralist or cognitive structuralist might reply by asking: Why therefore bother with ethnographic evidence? Why not use the evidence occurring in one’s own society? As soon as one considers ethnographic materials one must deal with sociocultural systems, and there are certain accepted methods of handling these. That is, there is an assumption that each system is unique, to a greater or lesser degree, and one of the tasks of the ethnographer is to determine this uniqueness. Certainly, since the synthetic structuralist uses a linguistic model, he is also forced to this conclusion, as linguistic analysis is similarly based on the assumption that each system is unique and the substantive, meaningful categories of one system cannot be transferred ungeneralized for the analysis of another. Thus, while the linguist is also searching for potential relations, this is always done in terms of a specific system and in terms of a context, a specified environment in that system. Furthermore, the linguist’s relations are not phrased in terms of meaning, while the synthetic structuralist’s relations are. They both assume and have sufficient evidence to conclude that meaning must indeed be system specific, that is - and I leave here my postulated discussion between synthetic and other structuralists - unless there are certain universal symbols. And the arguments presented here are not to deny the validity of searching for such universals. But the point is that the assumptions and methods of one question-set must not be confused with another.

I would like to present now two brief examples to illustrate how the synthetic structuralists apparently violate the premises of the question sets of social and cognitive structuralism without adequate explanation. Maranda defines myth in the following terms:

Myths display the structured, predominantly culture-specific, and shared, semantic systems which enable the members of a culture area to understand each other and to cope with the unknown (1972:12-13).

If the term ‘culture-specific’ refers to the “members of a culture area” my mind boggles. Take Kroeber’s Southwestern Culture Area (1947). This is composed of Navajo, Apache, and the various Pueblos. On what grounds are we to establish that this range of cultural systems share semantic domains, and then how are we to explain this similarity of meaning systems? Either an explanation is in order or we must assume that synthetic structuralism is a retrograde development in anthropological inquiry.
But as the proposition now stands, the cognitive structuralist might reply that it is pure nonsense, and for reasons already given. The opportunist would argue that a myth is also one of the cultural items that are constantly being brought into the arena of negotiation and manipulation, so that its ‘meaning’ can only be perceived in terms of the system of transactions and negotiations that are going on in a specific social situation. And the social structuralist would try to ascertain whether there are any social relations extant between the members of the culture area sharing the myth, if in fact they do share it, and then attempt to ascertain how the myth modulates these social relations.

In sum, the assumption of uniqueness made by the other structuralists may have to be modified by the research done by the synthetic structuralists, but this must be demonstrated by reference to evidence and not by assertion.

Leach’s analysis of the Garo and Kachin social systems provides another illustration of the problem. The Kachin of north Burma are patrilineal, and the Garo of Assam are matrilineal and are located about 100 miles to the west of the Kachin. Leach writes:

But a structuralist way of looking at things shows that these two marriage rules are versions of the same principle...and modern fieldwork has shown that the two cultural systems are in fact remarkably similar right across the board. The contrast patrilineal descent/matrilineal descent being the only major difference between them. A structuralist therefore regards the two systems as transformations of a single structure (1973:50)

This position immediately raises more questions, and crucial questions, than it in fact answers. Where is the locus of this ‘single structure’? Is it in the mind of the analyst? Is it an aspect of his metatheory? Or does it lie in the minds of the members of these two societies? Thus, is it a feature of the ethnographic model of Garo and Kachin societies?
The concept of transformation also implies that there is some kind of continuity between the mother structure and its daughters. But what is it? Does the mother structure lie back in history at some point when Garo and Kachin were the same society? Or is it an unconscious and unfulfilled opposition in the minds of the Garo and Kachin today? Both these questions imply that there must be certain mechanisms that determine change from one structure to another. And is this possible without first going through a cognatic phase?

Or are the Garo and Kachin articulated together in some way even though geographically separated so that the operation of one system is seen as a means of establishing social identity in opposition to the other system?

Observer bias

Although it seems hardly credible, Lévi-Strauss turns out at one level to be a naive empiricist.11 I refer here to his attitude towards ethnographic evidence. He assumes that the ethnographic facts as presented represent the ethnographic reality of the societies under study — except where the facts do not fit his models. But he overlooks the point that a fact is only a fact in terms of some ideological system. Thus, he ignores not only the implications of his own theory but his arguments at other levels. Thus, since Lévi-Strauss does not challenge the veracity of the ‘facts’, except as noted, even though the fully cognizant cognitive structuralists would argue that they have come to him screened through the bias of the original observer, he does not appear to appreciate the problem of the validity of the texts he works with and the possibility of cultural contamination.

Leach, however, argues that synthetic structuralism is “intuition free”. And he concludes that

the distinctive characteristic of structuralist procedure is that the analyst tries to avoid making symbolic substitutions which are not already quite overtly specified in the evidence (1972:240).

In the ethnographic example he gives, he states that there is a contrast in the two versions of the myth between the overemphasis of kinship bonds and the underemphasis of kinship bonds. But we know that contrast can only occur within a specific environment, a specific context. And the synthetic structuralists have not produced any observational procedures by which the semantic domain in which the contrast occurs, in which the opposition is found, can be isolated and described. Therefore, we are always a bit uncomfortable with the structuralist’s claims, since one begins to suspect that the fields of contrast are not culture-specific but observer-specific. Thus Bott writes:

so many equivalences can be established that one can arrive at a considerable range of possible interpretations and the choice of one rather than another depends on ‘feel’ as well as logic (1972:280).

In a sense, if Wilden is right that Western culture is overdigitalized (1972), one might suspect that the native texts which have gone through the collection and processing by the Western mind might have already distorted the cultural-specific organization, might have already digitalized the native’s analogic relations, so that by the time Lévi-Strauss studies them they are in fact the myth of myths.

Let me discuss one final example. Lévi-Strauss depends on the opposition between nature and culture as a basis for much of his work. But as we have noted, he does not provide procedures by which these culture-specific domains may be isolated for each society. Therefore, one wonders whether he might not in fact be imposing his own view of what constitutes nature and culture on the indigenous sociocultural systems. For example, one wonders how he would have dealt with the observations made by Hallowell among the Ojibwa. Hallowell writes, with regard to Ojibwa ontology and world view:

Since their cognitive orientation is culturally constituted and thus given a psychological ‘set’, we cannot assume that objects, like the sun, are perceived as natural objects in our sense (1960:29).

The sun is, instead, a ‘person’ in the other-than-human class. Or take stones. They are linguistically included in the same linguistic category of animate along with persons. Hallowell writes:

Since stones are grammatically animate, I once asked an old man: Are all the stones we see about us here alive? He reflected a long while and then replied, ‘No! But some are. (1960:24).

Before we conclude this section, let us look at the problem of observer bias from a different angle, which raises the question of cultural relativity again but from another perspective. It has been the experience of anthropological inquiry that its concepts are usually contaminated by the presuppositions from the culture of its practitioners (see Appell n.d.). As a result, anthropological inquiry has continually tested them against a variety of ethnographic evidence in order to refine them and make them more universally valid. For example, take the problem of definition of marriage (see Leach 1961; Rivière 1971). Yet such attempts at falsification, at correcting for error, do not seem to be part of the synthetic structuralist endeavour. This charge is, of course, not new but I have attempted to put it into a more anthropological perspective. Whether the fault lies primarily in the phrasing of the theoretical model of synthetic structuralism or in the practice of synthetic structuralists themselves I will not attempt to delineate here.

In any event, one of the fundamental contrasts between cognitive and synthetic structuralism is that cognitive structuralism questions the reliability of the ethnographic evidence gathered by methods other than those stipulated by the cognitive structuralists.12 They cogently argue that the possibility of cultural contamination of ethnographic data from the investigator’s own culture has been demonstrated in comparative studies, and they thus take the position that it must be avoided at all costs. The synthetic structuralists on the other hand seldom question the validity of the ethnographic evidence that they use, nor have they developed field methods, as have the cognitive structuralists, to prevent any cultural contamination.

In sum, the point I want to make here is that had the symbolic structuralists provided a more precise definition of their basic units, had they developed these in terms of abstract analytical concepts, had they detailed the observational procedures by which one could move from the theoretical concept to the observables and isolate them in terms of system-specific discriminations, then the cognitive structuralists and the social structuralists might be more convinced by their arguments.

These same problems arise in dealing with the claim that structuralism deals with unconscious structures.

The nature of unconscious structures

Lyons (n.d.) argues that Lévi-Strauss uses the concept of the unconscious in two senses: (1) in the linguistic sense meaning out of awareness; and (2) in the Freudian sense of something hidden. Rossi, however, in his extensive review of the concept of the unconscious, argues that Lévi-Strauss shares with Freud the conviction that a genuine meaning lies behind an apparent one but concludes that the only contribution that Freud has made to Lévi-Strauss’s view of the unconscious is the postulate that what is unconscious is more important than what is conscious. Thus, Rossi argues, the linguistic concept of the unconscious as a structuring activity and the related emphasis on form over content distinguishes the structuralist approach from the psychoanalytic (Rossi 1973:29-30).

Yet there is a paradox in Lévi-Strauss’s use of the linguistic analogy. While he maintains that he is dealing with unconscious phenomena in his structural analyses in a method similar to that used by the linguist to detail the unconscious infrastructure of language, the linguist does not deal with meaning at this level as the structuralist does. For the linguist, meaning at the level of the unconscious is not the product of the analysis but is only used as a means of discovery. Thus, it can be argued that if any degree of cultural relativity is assumed, synthetic structuralism must only be concerned with abstract, formal relationships and not relationships that involve content and meaning, for if the analysis does impute meaning, it destroys the validity of the linguistic analogy. Furthermore, the emphasis on meaning and symbolism, the stress on myth mediating contradictions on the surface level, leads one to conclude that Lévi-Strauss does indeed lean more on Freudian processes, depends more on Freudian concepts, than he or others give him credit for.

Thus, at one level, if the structuralists are going to deal with unconscious meanings they are going to have to develop a theory of the unconscious, which would include the process through which meaning originates and is then repressed, the nature of defence mechanisms which prevent the meanings from rising to the conscious, how the repressed is returned, as well as procedures for interpreting the meaning of these and their emotive saliency.

On the other hand, if the synthetic structuralists choose the linguistic route to deal with meaning, they are then going to have to develop a theory of contrastive environments, as I have noted previously. This would include how boundaries of contrastive sets are identified in the texts or in sociocultural phenomena, how one determines for any specific sociocultural system which element contrasts with what other element or elements, and how one determines the level of contrast operating. For it is not only likely but highly probable, from our experience with the cultural contamination of data, that the analyst may choose as contrastive elements items which in the social system under study are in fact not in contrast. For example, while the actual system is represented in Diagram 1, the analyst without proper controls and testing for error in his analysis might conclude that the structure of systems is as in Diagram 2 because of the distortion of his own cultural presuppositions.

Diagram 1

w x y z

Diagram 2

w x y z

Furthermore, in any specific analysis the unconscious nature of the results can only be postulated, not established. For the symbolic relationships uncovered by the analyst may appear explicitly and consciously in other cultural statements not covered by the analyst; or the relationships may appear to native speakers, if capable of being tested, as quite straightforward. But they are not tested, and one also runs up against the same problem as in Freudian analysis when the conclusions reached by the analyst are denied by informants. Thus, as it now stands, the concept of the unconscious covertly provides a nice excuse for observer bias and a justification for the failure to apply rigorous methods. For without a theory of the return of unconscious materials by which they can be identified (using a Freudian analogy, if indeed it is appropriate), or without a method to test one’s analysis with native speakers (using a linguistic analogy), it is impossible, due to the way the concept of the unconscious is presently framed, to test for error and verify one’s conclusions.

Now the points I raise here cannot be dismissed, as some have done with similar criticism, as graffiti of the empirical mind. A contribution to knowledge is not a contribution until it is shared, and until we have the methods by which it can be shared, doubt troubles the mind. Piaget in his discussion of structuralism raises a related point:

logico-mathematical deduction of a set of laws is not sufficient for their explanation, at least not so long as deduction remains formal; explanation requires, besides, that something be supposed to underlie phenomena and that these hypothetical objects really act upon one another. Now the striking fact is that frequently the action of such inferred entities resembles our own operations, and it is precisely to the extent that there is such a correspondence between inner and outer that we feel we “understand”. Thus, understanding or explaining is not just a matter of applying our operations to the real and finding that “it can be done”. Such “application” does not break through to causes; it keeps us within the realm of laws. Causal explanation requires that the operations that “fit” the real “belong” to it, that reality itself be constituted of operators...Then and only then does it make sense to speak of “causal structures”, for what this means is the objective system of operators in their effective interaction (1970:39-40).

I would of course not restrict Piaget’s conclusions just to causal explanations.

Culture as Communication and the Problem of Linguistic Models

Over the past several decades anthropologists have been envious of the theoretical models of the linguists and have attempted to adapt them for the analysis of their own cultural and behavioural data. However, there has not been any substantive effort to analyse the nature of linguistic behaviour, or the models built for describing this, in order to assess the fit of such to the sociocultural domain. As a result, although it may at first seem paradoxical, two markedly divergent fields, both cognitive and synthetic structuralism, have arisen claiming theoretical paternity from linguistics. While one is derived from Bloomfieldian and the other from Jakobsonian linguistics, these both nevertheless share a sufficient number of common features, such as the belief in the relative uniqueness of each language, to raise questions as to the validity of the linguistic analogy. Thus, when one hears claims for linguistic modelling one begins to get the impression that we are dealing with justificatory and not scientific discourse. Consequently, I would like to consider here briefly some of the criticisms of the applicability of linguistic models for the analysis of sociocultural domains.

Aberle makes the important point that language is characterized by the fact it selects a small number of actualizations from a large number of possibilities. And while selection is also necessary in culture, he points out that it is not simply a reduction in random behaviour as is linguistics. On the contrary it has other important adaptive functions in addition to making face-to-face relationships intelligible (1960:5-7).

I have also attempted to point out (Appell 1973:19-20) that the linguistic model differs from cultural behaviour in that the linguistic model includes the assumption of automatic behaviour at certain speech levels, that is, behaviour carried on without conscious knowledge on the part of the subject, and there is in addition in linguistic behaviour the lack of organized community-wide sanctions. Thus, there are many aspects of social organization that do not occur with sufficient frequency to form a corpus of social behaviour large enough for the type of analysis that the linguist uses in speech behaviour. And finally, as opposed to linguistic behaviour, members of a society frequently have very clear-cut ‘theories’ as to how their society works and use these ‘theories’ to guide behaviour. These are outlined most frequently and explicitly at times of jural disputes and therefore the features of the system-specific isolates of a target society can often be determined in such an environment.

Keesing points out usefully that the organization of knowledge in nonlinguistic domains may not be similar to the organization of grammatical knowledge and furthermore that cultural rules are

basically concerned with specifying appropriate messages and social context; and ‘linguistic rules’ are basically concerned with the conversion of messages into verbal form (1972:315) Bateson argues that “coding devices characteristic of verbal communication differ profoundly from those of kinesics and paralanguage” (1972:417).

Furthermore, he writes that

the kinesics of men have become richer and more complex, and the paralanguage has blossomed side by side with the evolution of verbal language. Both kinesics and paralanguage have been elaborated into complex forms of art, music, ballet, poetry, and the like, and, even in everyday life, the intricacies of human kinesics communication, facial expression, and vocal intonation far exceed anything that any other animal is known to produce (1972:418).

He continues, in discussing the inappropriateness of the linguistic model to the analysis of non-verbal behaviour,

our iconic communication serves functions totally different from those of language and, indeed, performs functions which verbal language is unsuited to perform (1972:418).

He argues that the discourse of non-verbal communication is precisely concerned with matters of relationships such as love, hate, respect, fear, dependency, and he concludes:

If this general view of the matter be correct, it must follow that to translate kinesics or paralinguistic messages into words is likely to introduce gross falsification due not merely to the human propensity for trying to falsify statements about ‘feelings’ and relationships and to the distortions which arise whenever the products of one system of coding are dissected onto the premises of another, but especially to the fact that all such translation must give to the more or less unconscious and involuntary iconic message the appearance of conscious intent (1972:419).

He thus distinguishes the “arbitrary” and digital coding characteristics of verbal behaviour from the iconic and analogic coding of depiction (1972:133). This position thus casts doubt on the argument that social behaviour may be viewed as a code amenable to the same type of analysis that verbal behaviour is.

Wilden also criticizes the structuralists for their mistake of treating a context-free system of oppositions between the acoustic characteristics of “bits” of information (distinctive features) as if it were isomorphic with myth, which is a system with context. And he states that this error arises as the result of their confusion of communication with language (1972:8). Lévi-Strauss thus mistakenly uses a digital system of analysis, a linguistic model, for describing continuous or analogue relations and as a result introduces bias and distortions.

Leach (1964, 1970a, 1971) has also pointed out that synthetic structuralist arguments are often unsatisfactory precisely because they tend to reduce all discriminations to the binary ones and leave no room for discriminations of the quantative “more/less” type. Thus he writes: “binary analysis is a possible rather than a necessary procedure” (1970a:197). And this brings us back again to the problem faced by the cognitive structuralists of separately establishing whether or not the logic of the analysis replicates the logic in use of the members of the referent society.

The fact that communication is frequently confused with language, Keesing’s argument (1972) that the unproductivity of cognitive structuralism is accounted for by its dependency on a passé model of linguistic analysis, and Burling’s argument (1969) that ethnographic materials can be ordered and analysed like linguistic materials, all point to one fundamental conclusion that to my knowledge has not yet been explicitly discussed. Those using a linguistic model tend to act as if there were some sort of ultimate reality involved rather than a relative reality defined by our own interests and constrained by the culturally programmed panhuman wiring of the brain. For example, if we base our analysis and justify it on the basis of a transformational linguistic model, as suggested by Keesing, can we be sure that it will not be superseded by another model, which is again claimed to represent the truth?

Thus, I believe that our position should be to view all models, structural linguistic models, transformational models, teleological models, causal models, etc., only as useful tools rather than reflecting specific ontological reality. This is particularly true, it seems to me, since it has been the experience of anthropological inquiry that most if not all models that man creates to process information always carry a load of cultural detritus from the domain for which they were first established, as for example with linguistic models. As a result, and to improve the tools of our analysis, I believe that in transferring any model from one domain to another our position should be to determine first the formal characteristics of it, removing its cultural detritus, and then to use it wherever it may seem appropriate for the analysis of our empirical data. In this view, the formal aspects of the structural linguistic model are never passe but, as one method of ordering data, they retain a potential for the analysis of empirical materials where relevant. The fact that linguistic materials can be more fully illuminated by a newer model does not destroy the usefulness of the structural linguistic model in its formal mode, unless we are incapable of generalizing it by removing its contamination by specific linguistic materials.

It is this position that I believe enlightens Burling’s claim that ethnographic analysis is similar to linguistic analysis (1969). Sociocultural materials are not equivalent to linguistic materials, I would argue. They may appear to be so only because the models used in the analysis of each of their domains share certain formal characteristics. In other words, while I differ with Burling on many points, these two procedures may nevertheless be similar in some respects, and these are not the results of the applicability of a linguistic model. The similarities arise at those points where the formal characteristics of each model are dominant over the substantive materials it is ordering. Thus, the claim of productivity for a specific model should not get confused with the nature of its contents from the domain where it was first developed, as this promotes illegitimate passions and questionable claims of similarities with the content of other domains (see Shankman 1969 for a refutation of Levi-Strauss’s linguistic model when applied to the domain of cooking).

In sum, I take the position that all methods of analysis should be formalized and considered to be relative, or nominal, rather than representing specific ontological reality. And finally they should be then linked, if possible, with the operations used by the members of the referent society we are attempting to analyse, as Piaget has argued (1970).


If claims to knowledge were in fact contributions to knowledge, synthetic structuralism would far out-produce the various other approaches to anthropological knowledge, closely followed of course by cognitive structuralism. So we must not be misled by claims to knowledge into assuming that they do generate knowledge; nor must we be misled into assuming that just because a particular question-set has greater cognitive interest at a particular time within the discipline of anthropology that it also generates greater contributions to knowledge.

Furthermore, in attempting to assay these various claims to knowledge, it seems to me that we as anthropologists must not dwell too deeply and devote too much time to epistemological detective work. We may just end up chasing our own tails, for there are many epistemological questions that are just not resolvable at the present time, and we have more important work to do!
The strength of anthropological inquiry has always been in the dialectical relation between ethnographic investigation and theoretical formulation. And what I have implied here is that this relation has become unbalanced. The major contribution to Western knowledge of anthropological inquiry, in my opinion, has been not its theoretical formulations but its vast body of ethnographic data. But where are the students today who are willing to devote two and three years of their lives to the ethnography of a remote people? Where have all our Malinowskis gone? The present time is indeed critical, for all over the world, more rapidly than previously envisioned or experienced, the indigenous societies are disappearing. In Borneo alone since World War II we have averaged only 1.5 social-anthropological expeditions per year. And we list urgent anthropological project after urgent anthropological project and have not yet had one response! At this crucial time I find it paradoxical that we are theorizing more and more in our armchairs and doing less and less fieldwork of the quality and extent that has been in the past the diacritical mark of the anthropologist.

Thus, it seems to me that we must somehow shift the centre of concern in anthropological inquiry back to the field. This does not mean that our conceptual tools are perfect. Indeed they are not. But we cannot wait any longer to perfect them. In fact I would argue that we can only perfect them by the close interplay between new ethnographical data and theory, whereby better and more refined theory is developed.

In other words, I am saying let us get on with the task of writing ethnographies rather than critiques of critiques, with the thought in mind that it is not the best theory that makes the best ethnographer. Instead it takes a lot of time, a lot of practice, a lot of patience, and a certain amount of mildew and dirt to develop a good ethnographer and the good ethnographies. And perhaps by turning back to the field we can also bring back to anthropology the joy and exuberance that has been lost. We no longer sit up to all hours in enthusiastic discussions of new discoveries and new experiences, but have settled for a darkened image of the larger society and have become harried cultural accountants, ridden with suburban anxieties.


8 Ardener is developing a more comprehensive theory of ‘structuralism’ in which the processing of social and ecological features into ‘p-structures’ (paradigmatic) and ‘s-structures’ (syntagmatic) is involved. However, I have been unable to consult his most recent paper in time for this conference.

9 However, Leach later on wrote “in this field the essential innovation in Lévi-Strauss’s approach is the recognition that mythological stories always exist as sets rather than isolates. The individual members of the set constitute permutations of the same theme” (1973:51).

10 Thus, in his interpretation of the Oedipus myth, Lévi-Strauss brings in information for his interpretation from the mythology of the American Indians: “This immediately helps us to understand the meaning of the fourth column. In mythology it is a universal characteristic of men born from the Earth that at the moment they emerge from the depth they either cannot walk or they walk clumsily. This is the case of the chthonian beings in the mythology of the Pueblo...” (1963a:215).

11 At still another level he is a confused idealist. If mind structures reality, then arguments on the basis of the theoretical results of other sciences, such as genetics, to prove the ontological basis of binary oppositionism is pure nonsense. For if mind does structure reality, then the study of the results of other scientific endeavours is really only mind perceiving itself operating in another realm. And thus the advocate commits the prime fallacy of disappearing up his anus along with his argument.

12 This is so with respect to some cognitive structuralists, but others, ignoring the implications of their own theory and the logic of their own arguments, have made formal analyses of data gathered by ethnographers who did not use the methods of cognitive structuralism (see Appell 1973 for a discussion of this).


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