Lévi-Strauss and Exchange

Daniel Sosna, Jitka Kotalová

DOI: https://doi.org/10.46938/tv.2009.21


This review article focuses on two aspects of Lévi-Strauss’ ex change theory: temporal dimension and gender. First, we examine its diachronic dimension to argue that Lévi-Strauss’ exchange theory is far from being static. Its primary interest is evolutionary, regardless of how much Lévi-Strauss distances himself from evolutionism of the 19th century as a paradigm. His analyses of kinship that attempt to identify elementary structures are meant to shed light on the origins of human culture. Although Lévi-Strauss uses different methodology than other scholars interested in socio-cultural evolution, his treatment of the term homology, discussions of primatology and origins of culture suggest his deep interest in long-term process. Second, we examine the critiques of Lévi-Strauss’ analytical treatment of women as passive objects of exchange among men. Through the discussion of feminine agency, personhood, sexuality, and other forms of exchange of human beings, we argue that Lévi-Strauss’ exchange of women has to be understood in its historical context. He grants only limited agency to women but his approach is definitely not based on commodification of women. In contrast, the relational nature of persons as signs refutes such logic. We conclude that Lévi- Strauss is still a source of inspiration for anthropology regardless of the decades of post-structuralist criticism.


evolution; gender; history; kinship; structuralism

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TEORIE VĚDY / THEORY OF SCIENCE – journal for interdisciplinary studies of science is published twice a year by the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences (Centre for Science, Technology, and Society Studies). ISSN 1210-0250 (Print) ISSN 1804-6347 (Online) MK ČR E 18677 web: http://teorievedy.flu.cas.cz /// email: teorievedy@flu.cas.cz