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The Conceptualization of 'Primitive Mentality': Reading Lucien Levy-Bruhl and Franz Boas as Methodologists

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This paper argues that anthropological texts are embedded in specific epistemological and methodological assumptions, although this logic is not always articulated by authors. An attention to these foundational premises is consequential in allowing a procedure for gauging the methodological rigour and conceptual coherence of theoretical formulations thus proposed. Using specific writings of Franz Boas and Lucien Levy-Bruhl, I demonstrate that this embedded, implicit logic can be abstracted from a close reading of texts. A comparison of the methodological routes by which Boas and Levy-Bruhl arrive at their respective conceptualizations of 'primitive thought and 'primitive mentality' is used here for the purpose of demonstration. My selection of these two theorists is not inspired by my interest in the content of their writings vis-à-vis the nature of human thought processes — primitive or otherwise. Rather, the corpus for this paper has been constructed and inspired with a view to articulating the conceptual and methodological processes by which ideas are developed into concepts and subsequently integrated to formulate theories.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore


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