This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Mauro William Barbosa de Almeida. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau4.1.014



Mauro William Barbosa DE ALMEIDA, State University of Campinas


I am inspired by Marshall’s reading of Philippe Descola’s quadripartite ontological taxonomy. Actual ontologies are much more complex, as he points out. I wonder if diagrams could make this more explicit, and I attach a few suggestions.

Diagram 1 is just Sahlins’ original diagram. Diagram 2 is a transformation of Sahlins’ original diagram (Diagram 1) suggested by Lévi-Strauss’ “totemic operator” (thanks to Kelly for the reminder).

Diagram 3 introduces multiple combinations, many of them suggested by Sahlins himself. It suggests two possible readings of Sahlins’ point: one more concerned with “superstructures,” and the other more along the lines of an “order of orders” which connects “superstructures” and “infrastructures”.

In Diagram 4 all hell breaks loose. No complete taxonomy of categories is possible.

These diagrams have an interesting history which links two seemingly disparate sources: first, Lévi-Strauss’ totemic operator in La pensée sauvage (1962) and in his diagrams in Histoire de lynx (1991; transformed by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro); second, “Galois lattices” invented by Barbut and Monjardet (1970) and put to use more recently by Parrochia and Neuville (2013).

Diagram 1
Diagram 1: Sahlins’ lattices.
Diagram 2
Diagram 2: Totemic operator format.
Diagram 3
Diagram 3: Sahlins´ lattice in Galois–Lévi-Strauss format.
Diagram 4
Diagram 4: An order-of-orders version. In the line “open to multiple connections,” there could be as many lines as desired.


Barbut, Marc, and Bernard Monjardet. 1970. Ordre et classification. Paris: Hachette.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1962. La pensée sauvage. Paris: Plon.

———. 1991. Histoire de lynx. Paris: Plon.

Parrochia, Daniel, and Pierre Neuville. 2013. Towards a general theory of classifications. Basel: Springer.


Mauro William Barbosa DE ALMEIDA is Professor of Social Anthropology at the State University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil. His areas of research include Amazonia, extractive reserves, social diversity, and anthropological theory. He participated in the planning of Forest University (Universidade Federal do Acre—Forest Campus).

Mauro William Barbosa de Almeida
Professor, Department of Social Anthropology
State University of Campinas
São Paulo, Brazil