Levi Strauss och totemismen

Totemism – quick summary

May 27, 2009 emamber 

Just a few observations on relevant ideas from my study on structuralism from a previous anth lecture.

Totemism is a theoretical concept of structuralism that aims to observe the belief of kinship between a certain group of people, or an individual in that group, and a natural object like a plant or animal (Bardnard 2000). Levi-Strauss believed there were four terms in totemism including; groups, categories, individuals and particular animals or plants that could all be inter-related. Totemism is a useful theory as the Levi-Strauss model does link a vast spread of societies and cultures for logical and scientific comparison. Radcliffe-Brown’s functional explanation of totemism only uses the terms of group and animal and can be seen as a weakness of the discipline for not having a means of wide comparison across a range of societies. Levi-Strauss’ Totemism model makes the assumption that everything is connected. For example; the relationship between Category A and Category B is analagous to the relationship between Group A and Group B (Descola, 2005). This doesn’t leave much room for discrepencies and outliers in the relationships. This theory suggests questions about the identity of particular groups, their spirituality, customs, history and religious beliefs. By studying a societies attatchment to animals and plants, a lot can be learnt about ritual and tradition as well as collective and individual spiritual ideas and beliefs. The ideas of totemism are focused on particularly amongst tribal and hunter/gather societies where kinship between people and nature is most prevalent. The Aboriginal Australians are a great example of a group of people having spiritual relationships with their environment that serve in ritual, tradition and their cosmology (Bodley, 2005).


Barnard, A. 2000. History and Theory in Anthropology. Cambridge: CUP. 

Bodley, John. 2005 Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System. The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Descola, P. 2005. ‘On Anthropological Knowledge’, Social Anthropology, 13 (1): 65-73. ISSN 0-282-0400084-9