Maciej Czeremski: Totemism in the Scope of Prototype Theory


The article presents the concept of totemism as a prototype (as understood by Eleanor Rosch) of the phenomena characteristic of traditional thinking, i.e., as an idealised scheme structured by attributes of phenomena central to a given category. The first part of the article reviews the history of research on totemism, with emphasis on the reservations arising from the lack of coherence of “totemistic” forms. It covers the period of classic research, Claude Lévi-Strauss’s negation of totemism’s existence, as well as contemporary examples of the application of the concept (cognitive science, “ontological turn”). The second part of the article discusses the foundations of the prototype theory, particularly the issues of a non-Aristotelian way of generating categories and their structuring with the division into centre and periphery, as well as an idealised nature of prototype and prototype effects, and their application to the concept of totemism.

[totemism, traditional thinking, categorisation, family resemblance, prototype theory]