Claude Lévi-Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called the “father of modern anthropology.” He is well-known for his development of structural anthropology. He was born in Brussels, Belgium on November 28, 1908. And died in Paris, France on October 30, 2009. He was 100 years old at the time of death. His main interests were Anthropology, Society, Kinship and Linguistics. He wrote a famous book entitled Tristes Tropiques, which positioned him as one of the central figures in the structuralist school of thought, where his ideas reached into fields including the humanities, sociology and philosophy.

His three areas of study in life were said to be Marxism, psychoanalysis and geology, but anthropology gave him the opportunity to observe lives of men in different cultures and not just Western cultures. He grew up to study law and philosophy, but he did not pursue his study of law. Instead he dabbled in philosophy between the years of 1931-1935. He and his wife, Dina, did their anthropology work in Brazil for four years. He returned to France in 1939 to take part in the war effort, and was assigned as a liaison agent to the Maginot Line. After the French capitulation in 1940, he was employed at a lycée (school) in Montpellier, but then was dismissed under the racial laws. His family was of Jewish decent which wasn’t allowed back then. In 1941, he was offered a position in New York and granted admission to the United States. A series of voyages brought him, via South America, to Puerto Rico where he was investigated by the FBI after German letters in his luggage aroused the suspicions of customs agents. Lévi-Strauss spent most of the war in New York City.

Kinship is a relationship between any entities that share a genealogical origin, through biological, cultural, or historical descent. When The Elementary Structures of Kinship was published, it quickly came to be regarded as one of the most important anthropological works on kinship. While Lévi-Strauss was well known in academic circles, in 1955 he became one of France’s best known intellectuals by publishing Tristes Tropiques. This book was a memoir detailing his time as a French expatriate throughout the 1930s. He was a world renowned Anthropologist and had respect all around the world.

In 1962, Lévi-Strauss published what is for many people his most important work, La Pensée Sauvage. The title is a pun untranslatable in English—in English the book is known as The Savage Mind. Some of the reasons for his popularity are in his rejection of history and humanism, in his refusal to see Western civilizations as privileged and unique, in his emphasis on form over content and in his insistence that the savage mind is equal to the civilized mind.

When his death was announced in 2009 the world was shocked. He was a man of great stature and intelligence. His death was broadcasted worldwide and even made headlines in the New York Times. The loss of such a great anthropologist and man was a huge blow to the field of anthropology. He opened doors for many people in that field today and shed light on ideas that are still being studied to this day. Lévi-Strauss has 100 years of experience on why he is considered a great figure in France and around the world.

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About mlleminor

Instructor in MCL French Division at the University of Kentucky
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