Claude Lévi-Strauss

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Claude Lévi-Strauss (b. 28th November 1908, in Brussels, Belgium - d. 30th October 2009, in Paris, France) was a French anthropologist from an established Jewish-French family[1], who applied structuralist linguistics to the study of human culture and society and called this new method structural anthropology[2] This involves study on the relationships between members of a family, rather than those family units themselves, as discussed in Les structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949; revised edition 1967), a book on the elementary forms of kinship and in essays later collected in three volumes of Anthropologie structurale (Vol. 1, 1958; translated into English in 1968).

Lévi-Strauss studied law at the Faculté du droit de Paris and then philosophy at the Sorbonne. He received his agrégation in 1931 and taught at the lycées in Mont-de-Marsan and in Laon. From 1935 to 1938 he was professor of sociology at the University of Sāo Paolo in Brazil. In 1955 he published a popular book, Tristes Tropiques, about his expeditions in Central Brazil at the time. Back in France he was mobilized as a soldier (1939/'40). After French defeat and German victory, he had to move to the South of France. In 1941 Lévy-Strauss was able to leave France for New York, where he taught at the New School for Social Research from 1942 to 1945. In 1946 and 1947 he was the cultural attaché at the French embassy in Washington, DC. He returned to France in 1948 and in 1949 obtained his doctorate in philosophy from the Sorbonne with two theses on kinship, La vie familiale et sociale des Indiens Nambikwara (1948) and Les structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949). He was made sous-directeur at the Musée de l'Homme. From 1950 until 1974 he was at section five of the Ecole Practique des Hautes Etudes, where he eventually succeeded Marcel Mauss as head of Religious Sciences. Lévi-Strauss called his chair Comparative Religion of Non-Literate Peoples. From 1959 to 1982 he also was the chair of social anthropology at the Collège de France. In 1973 he was appointed to the Acádemie française, the official authority on the French language.

Footnotes

  1. His grandfather was a Rabbi, at Versailles, but his father, a portrait painter was ruined, it is said, by photography
  2. See his important essay L'analyse structurale en linguistique et en anthropologie. In: Word; Journal of the Linguistic Circle of New York, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1945.