Functionalism created a number of concerns in the late 1950s that shaped a “climate of receptivity to a rather different form of analysis, known as ‘structuralism’” (Bell, 1997, pg.42). Structuralism aimed to uncover the underlying meanings and patterns of social constructs. These meanings can only to be found by interpreting the ritual participants unconscious understanding of the symbols used and the overall context. Levi-Strauss is the founding father of structuralism, as it is applied to anthropology. Many have refined his thesis such as E.E.Evans-Pritchard and Arnold van Gennep. This essay outlines the main features of the theoretical position, the key proponents of the theory as well it critically examines structuralism as a theory used for ritual interpretation.
Main features of Structuralism
Bronislaw Malinowski among other ritual theorists “began to ask: if such symbols, beliefs, and patterns of ritual activity do not serve simply to maintain the patterns of social relationships, then what do they mean to the people who use them? (Bell, 1997, pg.34). Spawning from functionalism, structuralism is the theory that analyses the function of rituals and how they promote social order and community. Furthermore, structuralism aims to analyse the meaning of ritual activity such as the ideologies and core group values that are conveyed through symbols and the underlying patterns (Bell, 1997). “Structuralism in its widest sense is all about pattern: how things at first glance appear to be unrelated actually form part of a system of interrelating parts” (Barnard, 2000, pg. 127).
Structuralism is a theoretical framework grounded in linguistic analysis. It goes beyond analyzing the functions of social life and looks for hidden rules that the practitioners of rituals know, but are unable to articulate. These underlying patterns are...