In recent years Claude Levi-Strauss has become a dominant figure in anthropology. In The Elementary Structure of Kinship Levi –Strauss only hints at the more philosophical view of the world that his analysis of kinship implies. Most of his book examines the varying levels of social solidarity that emerge from direct and indirect bridal exchanges among kin groups. The Elementary Structure of Kinship is a transitional work between his intellectual debt to Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss.However there are also clear departure from Durkheim and Mauss for Durkheim and Mauss had argued in Primitive Classification; human cognitive categories reflect the structure of a society. In contrast Levi-Strauss believes that structure of society is but a surface manifestation of fundamental mental processes. Levi –Strauss also borrows from the early 20th century linguist Roman Jakobson the notion that the mental thought underlying language occurs in terms of binary contrasts such as good-bad, male-female, yes-no, black-white and human-nonhuman. Moreover drawing from Jacobson and others Levi-Strauss views the underlying mental reality of binary opposites as organized or mediated by a series of innate codes or rules that can be used to generate many different social forms:language,art,music,social structure,myths,values,beliefs and so on. Thus Levi-Strauss's structuralism has become concerned with understanding cultural and social patterns in terms of the universal mental processes that are rooted in the biochemistry of the human brain. Levi-Strauss's structuralism is mentalistic and reductionistic. According to Levi-Strauss. The empirically observable must be viewed as a system of relationships among components-whether these components are elements of myths and folktales or positions in a kinship system. It is appropriate to construct statistical methods of these observable systems to summarize the empirically observable relationships among components. Such models however are only a surface manifestation of more fundamental forms of reality. These forms are the result of using various codes or rules to organize different binary opposites. Such forms can be visualised through the construction of mechanical models which articulate the logical results of various rules to organize different binary oppositions. The tendencies of statistical models will reflect imperfectly the properties of the mechanical model. But it is latter that is more real. The mechanical model is built from rules and binary oppositions that are innate to humans and rooted in the biochemistry and neurology of the brain.
In rejecting Frazer's interpretation of cross-cousin marriage Levi-Strauss first questions the substance of Frazer's utilitarian conceptualization. Frazer he notes depicts the poor Australian aborigine wondering how he is going to obtain a wife since he has no material goods to purchase her and discovering exchange as the solution to this apparently insoluble problem men exchange their sisters in marriage because that was the cheapest way of getting a wife. In contrast Levi-Strauss emphasises that is the exchange which counts and not the things exchanged. For him, exchange must be viewed in terms of its functions for integrating the larger social structure. He attacks Frazer's and the utilitarian assumption that the first principles of social behaviour are economics. The social structure is an emergent phenomenon that operated in terms of its own irreducible laws and principles. He emphasizes that humans possess a cultural heritage of norms and values that separates their behaviour and societal organization from that of animal species. Human action is thus qualitatively different from the animal behaviour especially with respect to social exchange. Exchange is more than the result of psychological needs even those that have been acquired through socialization. Exchange cannot be understood solely in terms of individual motives because exchange relations are a reflection of patterns of social organization that exist as an entity sui generis. Levi-Strauss's work represents the culmination of a reaction to economic utilitarianism as it was originally incorporated into anthropology by Frazer.He began to indicate how different types of direct and indirect exchange are linked in different patterns of social organization.