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					                             L16 Classification


What is classification?

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Ethnographic examples of different classifications:
There are two main views about where classification „comes from‟. The first
comes from Claude Levi-Strauss who argues that our biological make-up and
cognitive dispositions as humans lead us to classify, therefore making
classification a human universal. The second view is that of the Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis which suggests that our environment and culture affects how we
classify.

Levi-Strauss claims that all human minds have certain common mental structures
that lead people to think similarly. Beneath all the diversity of human culture,
therefore, some of the most basic structures will be shared because they are
features of the human mind. Since culture is created by human minds, all
cultures are based on common general rules such as the need to classify.
According to Levi-Strauss a universal aspect of classification is opposition and
one of the most common means of classification is through opposites (such as
good/evil). Levi-Strauss uses the example of myths and how they are similar
throughout the world and consist of oppositions and mediators of these. As out
of all products of culture myths seem the most fantastic and unpredictable
Levi-Strauss claims that if even mythical thought obeys universal laws then all
human thought must obey universal laws.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is an example of linguistic determinism. It says
that language is not simply a way of voicing ideas it is the very thing which
shapes those ideas. Speakers of different languages will tend to think and
behave differently depending on the language used and one cannot think outside
the confines of their own language. This means speakers of different languages
have different world views. Thought patterns of people are strongly influenced
by the language they speak and perceptions of time, space and matter are
conditioned by the structure of the language we speak. Culture determines our
language which in turn determines the way we categorise our thoughts about the
world and our experiences in it. For instance, important parts of a society will
be highlighted in their language (such as Eskimos‟ many words for snow). The
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis would argue that “people don‟t live in the same world
with different labels attached, they‟re in different worlds”.
Diagram of Levi-Straus‟ ideas…




Diagram of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis…

				
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