a note on French anthropology

Alex Trotter uburoi at panix.com
Thu Nov 16 16:44:48 MST 1995


The structuralism that reigned for much of the 20th cent. in Francophone
academia had its provenance in two fields in particular--linguistics
(Saussure) and anthropology (Claude Levi-Strauss). Levi-Strauss is still
regarded as a giant figure in French anthropology. In his book *Tristes
Tropiques*, written in 1955, he expressed his admiration (incongruously?)
both for Marx and for the Boasian school of anthropology (he mentions
Alfred Kroeber among them).
	Among more recently active French anthropologists, the only one
with whom I have any familiarity is Pierre Clastres. In his book *The
Archeology of Violence* (originally 1980, trans. 1994) he pays homage to
Levi-Strauss, though not uncritically. He discusses what he sees as the
limitations of structuralism and L-S's social anthropology. But for
marxist anthropologists he shows only contempt. Clastres thinks that
marxism is ill applied to the study of precivilized societies, because
its categories do not apply to such societies. The French marxist
anthropologists (C. mentions Meillasoux and Godelier) try to import
concepts of political economy and exploitation into primitive societies.
He even goes so far as to call them "the Lysenkos of the human
sciences." Clastres, like his American colleague Marshall Sahlins, says
that the precivilized life is the original 'affluent society' in which
productive forces are *not* developed and there is a self-regulating
mechanism to prevent the emergence of the state and consolidation of
permanent privileged castes.
	Clastres and Sahlins are greatly admired by some anarchists and
certain others like Camatte (the former bordighist). There is no
discussion in Clastres's book of Morgan (presumably he would be critical)
or of Marx's work in ethnology. He does, however, make the distinction
between Marx and his followers. From his description of the French
marxist anthropologists, some of whom, he says, try to combine marxism
and structuralism, they sound like PCF members (Althusserian stalinists?).





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