Synopses & Reviews
Philippe Descola has become one of the most important anthropologists working today, and Beyond Nature and Culture
has been a major influence in European intellectual life since its French publication in 2005. Here, finally, it is brought to English-language readers. At its heart is a question central to both anthropology and philosophy: what is the relationship between nature and culture?
Cultureandmdash;as a collective human making, of art, language, and so forthandmdash;is often seen as essentially different from nature, which is portrayed as a collective of the nonhuman world, of plants, animals, geology, and natural forces. Descola shows this essential difference to be, however, not only a specifically Western notion, but also a very recent one. Drawing on ethnographic examples from around the world and theoretical understandings from cognitive science, structural analysis, and phenomenology, he formulates a sophisticated new framework, the andldquo;four ontologiesandrdquo;andmdash; animism, totemism, naturalism, and analogismandmdash;to account for all the ways we relate ourselves to nature. By thinking beyond nature and culture as a simple dichotomy, Descola offers nothing short of a fundamental reformulation by which anthropologists and philosophers can see the world afresh.
and#8220;At the heart of the book is a compelling and original account of where the nature-culture binary has come from, where it might goand#8212;and what we might imagine in its place.and#8221;
and#8220;This is without doubt the most important book coming from French anthropology since Claude Land#233;vi-Straussand#8217;s Anthropologie Structurale. This time, however, the contested notion of structure is put to use to deeply modify the limits of anthropology itself, since it is the very notion of nature that is being shifted from an indisputable resource to a highly local and historical topic of inquiry. Philippe Descolaand#8217;s ample and classic proseand#8212;remarkably captured by the translator Janet Lloydand#8212;manages to revisit simultaneously all the major concepts of the discipline while reinterpreting a bewildering amount of ethnographic knowledge. At the time of the Anthropocene, it is crucial that this masterpiece be read by all those who are looking for a successor to nature and to culture.and#8221;
and#8220;Few books have the merit to counter the established way of thinking by reformulating great questions on a new basis. . . . it is nevertheless what Descolaand#8217;s book achieves. . . . an important book which will be received passionately.and#8221;
and#8220;Descolaand#8217;s challenging new worldview should be of special interest to a wide range of scientific and academic disciplines from anthropology to zoology. . . . Highly recommended.and#8221;
and#8220;Thanks to its richness and its broad scope, this book gives to anthropological reflection a new starting point and will become the compulsory reference for all our debates in the years to come.and#8221;
Professor Levi-Strauss s first major work, Les Structures elementaires de la Parente, has acquired a classic reputation since its original publication in 1949; and it has become the constant focus of academic debate about central theoretical concerns in social anthropology. It is, however, a long and difficult book for many students to read in French, and its arguments have consequently become known, even among professional anthropologists, largely through critical analysis. It was republished in a revised French edition in 1967 with a new foreword by the author, and it is this text with his further emendations that has been used in this translation.
Levi-Strauss applies his intellectual powers to the perennial problem of incest, which he elucidates by means of the concept of exchange as formulated by Marcel Mauss in his famous analysis of the gift (Essai sur le don, 1925). He distinguishes two elementary modes of exchange which govern not only the conventional variety of goods and services but also the transfer of women in marriage: these are restricted and generalized exchange. With a mass of ethnographic evidence he demonstrates how the formidable intricacy of marriage customs, comprising moral and jural ideas and institutions (which appear to be essentially arbitrary), can be seen as local and historical rules of exchange.
Charles Levi-Strauss traces these rules throughout a vast range of simple societies, chiefly in Australia and mainland Southeast Asia but also in the Americas, in Oceania, and in other parts of the world. To this survey he adds two extended sections on the great civilizations of China and India. He continues with a briefer consideration of the passage from elementary to complex structures, with particular reference to African societies, and concludes with a stimulating chapter on the principles of kinship, exchange as the universal basis for marriage prohibitions, and the formal relations between the sexes as part of a universe of communication.
Although much of the work is technical, consisting of detailed analyses of types of social organization with which social anthropologists will be most familiar, it also contains much that will be of interest to psychologists, linguists, and philosophers, and to all who are interested in the possibility and the technique of the structural analysis of human activity. After the successes, moreover, of Levi-Strauss s subsequent books notably Structural Anthropology, Tristes Tropiques, Totemism, and The Savage Mind this new edition of the work which founded his present outstanding reputation will have additional value as a further means of contact with one of the original minds of this century.
The translation has been made by James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer, of the University of New England, Australia, and by Rodney Needham, of the University of Oxford. Dr. Needham also acted as general editor and supplied the work with a new general index. He is the translator of Levi-Strauss s Le Totemisme aujourd hui and author of Structure and Sentiment (1962) and numerous papers which have contributed to the recognition of Professor Levi-Strauss s work in the English-speaking world."
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