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Andrew Milner

Subject Sociology » Sociological and Social Theory

Key-Topics postmodernism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Bricolage is a French word, with no direct equivalent in British, North American, or Australasian English. In everyday usage, it describes the work done by a bricoleur – very roughly, but not quite, a cross between an odd job man and a handyman. In the 1950s and 1960s, though less so today, its meaning carried the sense of proceeding in an apparently disorganized and non-rational fashion, but nonetheless producing effective results. It connoted the process of finding out how to make things work, not from first principles but from messing around with whatever materials were to hand. The term was introduced into the social sciences by the distinguished French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss to explain the “science of the concrete” developed in neolithic times and still present in some tribal cultures. It was taken up by the philosopher Jacques Derrida, who argued that all discourse is bricolage, and by the sociologist Michel de Certeau, who saw everyday reading as a form of bricolage. In each case, it actually functions as an analogy rather than a concept. More recently, postmodern cultural studies has tended toward the view that there is something distinctively contemporary and distinctively valuable about bricolage as method. Lévi-Strauss's La Pensée sauvage , first published in 1962 and later translated into English as The Savage Mind , is one of the classic works of structuralist ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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