The definition of concepts of structure and function is important for explaining various anthropological phenomena. The anthropologist’s choice between the structuralist and functionalist methods has a significant impact on further development of his/her theories. Besides the concept of ‘structure’ used by Levi-Strauss, the concept of ‘function’ was implemented by Radcliffe-Brown, Durkheim, and Malinowski.
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Raising a question of similarity of myths throughout the world, Levi-Strauss offered a method of structural analysis for establishing the relation between this cultural phenomena and peculiarities of human thinking.
Using Saussure’s distinction between langue and parole for drawing a line between the structural and statistical aspects of the language, Levi-Strauss emphasized the importance of specific structural patterns used in the majority of myths. He describes how relationships are built and sustained within communities where people have different behaviors.
The anthropologist further sought to show how cultural transformations lead to impact on an individual, concluding that people have always been thinking equally well, these are only new spheres for implementation of knowledge that became the reason for the progress. “The kind of logic in mythical thought is as rigorous as that of modern science, and the difference lies, not in the quality of the intellectual process, but in the nature of the things to which it is applied” (Levi-Strauss 231).
Emile Malinowski’s research of the local traditions and myths of the population of Kula may become a brilliant example for supporting Levi-Strauss’s statement that the processes of human thinking remain the same disregarding the time and space parameters.
Social involvement includes different stages where individuals participate in the different stages of life. Malinowsky describes the structure of a society to have interactions, spread of new knowledge, movements and participation of those within a society. He argued human interaction was kept more alive by face to face interactions therefore need to find social functions that bring people together.
“Owing to their [Kula] magical knowledge they were able to escape dangers, to conquer their enemies, to surmount obstacles, and by their feats they established many a precedent which is now closely followed by tribal custom” (Malinowski 102). Malinowski’s research has proven that notwithstanding the level of development of the community, it implements the existing knowledge, using the traditional structure in the frames of the laws of logical thinking, functioning as an effective mean for meeting the demands of the social organism.
Durkheim, the father of anthropology, defined structuralism as that which bring and keeps a society together such as having similar cultures, from fragmenting away. Drawing the parallels between social and organic life, Durkheim defined the concept of ‘function’ as “the correspondence between it [a social institution] and the needs of the social organism” (Radcliff-Brown 394).
The anthropologist put emphasis on the concept of function, defining the social act as “any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over the individual an external constraint, which is general over the whole of a given society whilst having an existence of its own, independent of its individual manifestations” (Durkheim 59). Durkheim and Radcliff-Brown considered the concept of ‘function’ to be significant for explaining the anthropological processes and phenomena.
As opposed to Levy-Strauss’s theory concerning the significance of the laws of human thinking and structure, Radcliffe-Brown, Durkheim, and Malinowski used the concept of function in their works, emphasizing its importance.
Durkheim, Émile. The Rules of Sociological Method. Trans. Sarah Solovay and John H. Mueller, and ed. George E. G. Catlin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1895. Print.
Levi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology. Trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Schoepf. New York: Basic Books Publishers, 1963. Print.
Malinowski, Bronislav. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. New York: Routledge. 1932. Print.
Radcliffe-Brown, Alfred. “On the Concept of Function in Social Science.” American Anthropologist. 1935. vol. 37, (1935): 394-402. Print.