Binary Opposition

Topics: Anthropology, Culture, Claude Lévi-Strauss Pages: 1 (415 words) Published: October 20, 2014

5. Binary Opposition
Definition:
A binary opposition is a pair of related terms or concepts that are opposite in meaning. It is an anthropological term proposed by Claude Levi-Strauss, one of the key figures of structuralism. Levi-Strauss borrowed concept from linguist de Saussure and Roman Jakobson that culture is like the language system, and the language system is about differences, and is composed of pairs of oppositions. Therefore Levi-Strauss held that cultures are structured, and are composed of binary opposites. Moreover, since Levi-Strauss is a structuralist, he believed that for every culture, even though it has completely different cultural practices and rules from the others, there is a fundamental structure underlying it. This universal structure is based on the common properties of human mind. Therefore, Levi-Strauss believed that to study culture we need to look at the hidden binary oppositions that reflect human mind. Levi-Strauss studied hundreds of myths and legends all around the world. In his The Structural Study of Myth, he broke the myth down to mythemes, and found that mythemes consist of nothing but binary oppositions such like rich and poor, slow and fast, etc. Significance:

Link to fieldwork: Binary oppositions exist in every culture, and many of the times hidden under the surface. Levi-Strauss thinks anthropology should be both scientific and empirical. He focused a lot on fieldwork, but he did not like to rely purely on what his informants said. link to Structuralism: There is also one reason why the proposal of binary opposition concept is so significant. The binary opposition theory is in the center of Structuralism, which helps anthropologists view things that would otherwise being invisible. Since most of the time, human minds instruct people to do things according to the underlying structure that people are not even aware of. For example, the behaviors of Lele and his Efe trade partner can been seen as binary...
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