He gives a sympathetic summary of Elkin's acute observations of Australian totemic systems, but argues that Elkin goes too far in his cutting up of the data in order to avoid the criticism of previous theories. The functionalist and naturalist theories of Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown are critically (but again sympathetically) discussed, and the intellectualist ideas of Fortes, Firth and Evans-Pritchard and the later work of Radcliffe-Brown are seen as precursors to a structural explanation. Throughout the discussion the ethnographic data on which the theories were based is presented and reanalysed from Lévi-Strauss' own point of view. Finally it is pointed out that a structural explanation of totemism was prefigured in the work of Bergson and Rousseau.
Whether one agrees with all of the details of the structuralist explanation of totemic phenomena presented (and it seems plausible enough, although it does seem to suggest as many questions as it provides answers), Lévi-Strauss is worth reading for a different viewpoint cogently argued. Totemism provides an introduction to many of the different strands of modern anthropology as well as a good explanation of the basic ideas of structuralism.
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