In this chapter I summarise the rise, fall and re-emergence of totemism – at least as far as anthropology is concerned – given that, practically speaking, totemic relationships never ceased. I review some of the key literature about totemism and the ensuing debates it generated.

Early scholars, such as McLennan, Smith, Frazer, Spencer and Gillen, Goldenweiser, van Gennep, Jevons, Tylor and Durkheim, initially questioned totemism’s origins, its relationship with other -isms such as animism and its place in religious and social evolution.

Moving away from an evolutionary trajectory, Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard, Lévi-Strauss and others then examined totemism in terms of functionalism and structuralism. Lévi-Strauss then attempted to deconstruct and invalidate totemism. Despite this – or maybe because of it – scholars continued to examine, debate and employ totemism in their writing and analysis. Ingold and Descola, for example, focused on defining totemism, animism and other -isms as ontological typologies, whilst Viveiros de Castro introduced perspectivism. This, coupled with his ontological stance, culminated in the ontological turn, which further helped revive the study of totemism and human-animal relationships more generally. Analytically, scholars relied heavily – and continue to do so – on semiotics as an underlying principle and thus on what totems represent for the people concerned.