Living Structuralism Symposium

Date(s) - 03/10/2015
9:00 am - 4:30 pm

AA 160, UTSC Council Chambers

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Structuralism symposium posterSaturday, October 3, 2015

Living Structuralism/Le structuralisme vif Symposium

University of Toronto Scarborough
Saturday October 3, 10:00AM-4:30PM
Arts and Administration, Room 160

Keynotes by
Philippe Descola, Chair in the Anthropology of Nature at the Collège de France, speaking on “Transformation transformed.”
Responses: Michael Lambek, Anthropology, University of Toronto
Christopher Ball, Anthropology, University of Notre Dame


Jane Guyer, George Armstrong Kelly Professor of Anthropology at the Johns Hopkins University, speaking on “Shape-shifting and Thinking Within Transitions: Reflections from Classic Sources.”
Responses: Janice Boddy, Anthropology, University of Toronto
Ato Quayson, English Literature and Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Toronto


9:30 – Arrival
10:00 – Michael Silverstein, Introduction
Philippe Descola, “Transformation Transformed”
11:10 – Coffee
11:20 – Responses from Michael Lambek & Chris Ball


2:00  –  Christopher Ball, Introduction
Jane Guyer, “Shape-shifting and Thinking Within Transitions: Reflections from  Classic Sources”
3:10 – Coffee
3:20 – Responses from Janice Boddy & Ato Quayson

Transformation transformed
Philippe Descola, Collège de France

The key concept and methodological tool of lévi-straussian structural anthropology is the group of transformation. A structure, understood as a system of contrastive oppositions, only acquires an analytical dynamism thanks to its capacity to organize the transformations between the models of a same group of phenomena. For a structure to be differentiated from a mere system, then, invariant relations must be brought to light between the elements and the relations of different sets so that each of these is connected to another by the means of a transformation. However, there are different ways to conceive a structural transformation in anthropology. The lecture will explore some of them, particularly those used by Lévi-Strauss, and will build on these results to approach the epistemological consequences of apprehending ontological pluralism as a group of transformation.

Shape-shifting and Thinking Within Transitions: Reflections from Classic
Jane I. Guyer

My discussion of living within processes of teleology and system starts from the West African concept of shape-shifting, where a being can move back and forth from one form to another: for example, the leopard-man, the hyena-man. I focus on the transitional moment itself, relating its ethnographic reality to four theoretical-empirical sources on “being” and “living” within passing coexistences that may be experienced as ambiguities, confusions, imprecisions and/or as signposts along directional pathways. Ernest Gellner focused on metamorphosis in his Thought and Change (1965); Mary Douglas extracted a particular pattern of centrality out of the directionality of Thinking in Circles (2007).
In light of the importance of Saussure in this series of symposia, I devote the last and major section to historical shifts in words and meanings: in this case, with respect to gifts, drawing on Benveniste on the Indo-European vocabulary and then examining Mauss’s own terms in his Essay on the Gift, as a self-consciously transitional work.


Bookings are closed for this event.