Claude Lévi-Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss

Overview
Claude Lévi-Strauss
Claude Lévi-Strauss (klod levi stʁos; (28 November 1908 – 30 October 2009) was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called, along with James George Frazer, the "father of modern anthropology".

He argued that the "savage" mind had the same structures as the "civilized" mind and that human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

 characteristics are the same everywhere.
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Quotations

While I complain of being able to glimpse no more than the shadow of the past, I may be insensitive to reality as it is taking shape at this very moment, since I have not reached the stage of development at which I would be capable of perceiving it. A few hundred years hence, in this same place, another traveller, as despairing as myself, will mourn the disappearance of what I might have seen, but failed to see.

Chapter 4: The Quest for Power, p.43

Teaching and research are not to be confused with training for a profession. Their greatness and their misfortune is that they are a refuge or a mission.

Chapter 6: The Making of an Anthropologist, p.55

Not only does a journey transport us over enormous distances, it also causes us to move a few degrees up or down in the social scale. It displaces us physically and also — for better or for worse — takes us out of our class context, so that the colour and flavour of certain places cannot be dissociated from the always unexpected social level on which we find ourselves in experiencing them.

Chapter 9: Guanabara, p.86

In the case of European towns, the passing of centuries provides an enhancement; in the case of American towns, the passing of years brings degeneration. It is not simply that they have been newly built; they were built so as to be renewable as quickly as they were put up, that is, badly.

Chapter 11: São Paulo, p.95

Freedom is neither a legal invention nor a philosophical conquest, the cherished possession of civilizations more valid than others because they alone have been able to create or preserve it. It is the outcome of an objective relationship between the individual and the space he occupies, between the consumer and the resources at his disposal.

Chapter 16: Markets, p.148

One must be very naïve or dishonest to imagine that men choose their beliefs independently of their situation.

Chapter 16: Markets, p.148

The image a society evolves of the relationship between the living and the dead is, in the final analysis, an attempt, on the level of religious thought, to conceal, embellish or justify the actual relationships which prevail among the living.

Chapter 23: The Living and the Dead, p.246
Encyclopedia
Claude Lévi-Strauss
Claude Lévi-Strauss (klod levi stʁos; (28 November 1908 – 30 October 2009) was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called, along with James George Frazer, the "father of modern anthropology".

He argued that the "savage" mind had the same structures as the "civilized" mind and that human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

 characteristics are the same everywhere. These observations culminated in his famous book Tristes Tropiques
Tristes Tropiques
Tristes Tropiques is a memoir, first published in France in 1955, by the anthropologist and structuralist Claude Lévi-Strauss. It documents his travels and anthropological work, focusing principally on Brazil, though it refers to many other places, such as the Caribbean and India...

, which positioned him as one of the central figures in the structuralist
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

 school of thought, where his ideas reached into fields including the humanities
Humanities
The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences....

, sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 and philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

. Structuralism has been defined as "the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity."

He was honored by universities throughout the world and held the chair of Social Anthropology at the Collège de France
Collège de France
The Collège de France is a higher education and research establishment located in Paris, France, in the 5th arrondissement, or Latin Quarter, across the street from the historical campus of La Sorbonne at the intersection of Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue des Écoles...

 (1959–1982); he was elected a member of the Académie Française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

 in 1973.

Early life, education, and career


Claude Lévi-Strauss was born to French parents who were living in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 at the time, where his father was working as a painter. He grew up in Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, living on a street of the 16th arrondissement
XVIe arrondissement
The 16th arrondissement of Paris is one of the 20 arrondissements of Paris, the capital city of France...

 named after the artist Claude Lorrain
Claude Lorrain
Claude Lorrain, , traditionally just Claude in English Claude Lorrain, , traditionally just Claude in English (also Claude Gellée, his real name, or in French Claude Gellée, , dit le Lorrain) Claude Lorrain, , traditionally just Claude in English (also Claude Gellée, his real name, or in French...

, whose work he admired and later wrote about. During the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, he lived with his maternal grandfather, who was the rabbi of the synagogue of Versailles. He attended the Lycée Janson de Sailly
Lycée Janson de Sailly
Lycée Janson de Sailly is a lycée located in the XVIe arrondissement of Paris, France. It is generally considered as one of the most prestigious lycées in Paris...

 and the Lycée Condorcet
Lycée Condorcet
The Lycée Condorcet is a school founded in 1803 in Paris, France, located at 8, rue du Havre, in the city's IXe arrondissement. Since its inception, various political eras have seen it given a number of different names, but its identity today honors the memory of the Marquis de Condorcet. The...

.

At the Sorbonne
University of Paris
The University of Paris was a university located in Paris, France and one of the earliest to be established in Europe. It was founded in the mid 12th century, and officially recognized as a university probably between 1160 and 1250...

 in Paris, Lévi-Strauss studied law
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 and philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

. He did not pursue his study of law, but agrégated
Agrégation
In France, the agrégation is a civil service competitive examination for some positions in the public education system. The laureates are known as agrégés...

 in philosophy in 1931. In 1935, after a few years of secondary-school teaching, he took up a last-minute offer to be part of a French cultural mission to Brazil
Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 in which he would serve as a visiting professor of sociology at the University of São Paulo
University of São Paulo
Universidade de São Paulo is a public university in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. It is the largest Brazilian university and one of the country's most prestigious...

 while his wife, Dina
Dina Lévi-Strauss
Dina Lévi-Strauss, née Dreyfus , was a French ethnologist and anthropologist, who conducted cultural research in South America, taught at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, and founded the first ethnological society in the country....

, served as a visiting professor of ethnology.

The couple lived and did their anthropological work in Brazil from 1935 to 1939. During this time, while he was a visiting professor of sociology, Claude undertook his only ethnographic
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

 fieldwork. He accompanied Dina, a trained ethnographer in her own right who was also a visiting professor at the University of São Paulo, where they conducted research forays into the Mato Grosso
Mato Grosso
Mato Grosso is one of the states of Brazil, the third largest in area, located in the western part of the country.Neighboring states are Rondônia, Amazonas, Pará, Tocantins, Goiás and Mato Grosso do Sul. It also borders Bolivia to the southwest...

 and the Amazon Rainforest
Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest , also known in English as Amazonia or the Amazon Jungle, is a moist broadleaf forest that covers most of the Amazon Basin of South America...

. They first studied the Guaycuru and Bororo
Bororo people
The Bororo or Bororo-Boe people live in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil; they also extended into Bolivia and the Brazilian state of Goiás. The Western Bororo, now extinct, lived around the Jauru and Cabaçal rivers...

 Indian tribes, staying among them for a couple of days. In 1938 they returned for a second, more than half-year-long expedition to study the Nambikwara
Nambikwara
The Nambikwara is an indigenous people of the Brazilan Amazon. Currently ca. 1,200 Nambikwara live in federal reservations in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso along the Guaporé and Juruena rivers...

 and Tupi-Kawahib societies. At this time his wife suffered an injury that prevented her from completing the study, which he concluded. This experience cemented Lévi-Strauss's professional identity as an anthropologist. Edmund Leach
Edmund Leach
Sir Edmund Ronald Leach was a British social anthropologist of whom it has been said:"It is no exaggeration to say that in sheer versatility, originality, and range of writing he was and still is difficult to match among the anthropologists of the English speaking world".-Personal and academic...

 suggests, from Lévi-Strauss's own accounts in Tristes Tropiques
Tristes Tropiques
Tristes Tropiques is a memoir, first published in France in 1955, by the anthropologist and structuralist Claude Lévi-Strauss. It documents his travels and anthropological work, focusing principally on Brazil, though it refers to many other places, such as the Caribbean and India...

, that he could not have spent more than a few weeks in any one place and was never able to converse easily with any of his native informants in their native language, which is uncharacteristic of anthropological research methods of participatory interaction with subjects to gain a full understanding of a culture.

Dépaysement


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 in Montpellier, but then was dismissed under the Vichy
Vichy France
Vichy France, Vichy Regime, or Vichy Government, are common terms used to describe the government of France that collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944. This government succeeded the Third Republic and preceded the Provisional Government of the French Republic...

 racial laws. (Lévi-Strauss's family, originally from Alsace, was of Jewish ancestry.) By the same laws, he was denaturalized (stripped of French citizenship). He managed to escape Vichy France
Vichy France
Vichy France, Vichy Regime, or Vichy Government, are common terms used to describe the government of France that collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944. This government succeeded the Third Republic and preceded the Provisional Government of the French Republic...

 by boat to Martinique
Martinique
Martinique is an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea, with a land area of . Like Guadeloupe, it is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. To the northwest lies Dominica, to the south St Lucia, and to the southeast Barbados...

, from where he was finally able to travel on. In 1941, he was offered a position at the New School for Social Research in New York, and granted admission to the United States. A series of voyages brought him, via South America, to Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

 where he was investigated by the FBI
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency . The FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crime...

 after German letters in his luggage aroused the suspicions of customs agents. Lévi-Strauss spent most of the war in New York City. Together with other intellectual emigré
Émigré
Émigré is a French term that literally refers to a person who has "migrated out", but often carries a connotation of politico-social self-exile....

s, he taught at the New School for Social Research. Along with Jacques Maritain
Jacques Maritain
Jacques Maritain was a French Catholic philosopher. Raised as a Protestant, he converted to Catholicism in 1906. An author of more than 60 books, he helped to revive St. Thomas Aquinas for modern times and is a prominent drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...

, Henri Focillon
Henri Focillon
Henri Focillon was a French art historian.Director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. Professor of Art History at the University of Lyon, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, at the Sorbonne, at the Collège de France and then in the United States, where he went into exile and taught at Yale...

, and Roman Jakobson
Roman Jakobson
Roman Osipovich Jakobson was a Russian linguist and literary theorist.As a pioneer of the structural analysis of language, which became the dominant trend of twentieth-century linguistics, Jakobson was among the most influential linguists of the century...

, he was a founding member of the École Libre des Hautes Études
École libre des hautes études
The École Libre des Hautes Études was a sort of university-in-exile for French academics in New York during the Second World War. It was chartered by the French and Belgian governments-in-exile and located at the New School for Social Research...

, a sort of university-in-exile for French academics.

The war years in New York were formative for Lévi-Strauss in several ways. His relationship with Jakobson helped shape his theoretical outlook (Jakobson and Lévi-Strauss are considered to be two of the central figures on which structuralist
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

 thought is based). In addition, Lévi-Strauss was also exposed to the American anthropology
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 espoused by Franz Boas
Franz Boas
Franz Boas was a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the "Father of American Anthropology" and "the Father of Modern Anthropology." Like many such pioneers, he trained in other disciplines; he received his doctorate in physics, and did...

, who taught at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

. In 1942, while having dinner at the Faculty House at Columbia
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, Boas died of a heart attack in Lévi-Strauss's arms. This intimate association with Boas gave his early work a distinctive American inclination that helped facilitate its acceptance in the U.S. After a brief stint from 1946 to 1947 as a cultural attaché
Cultural attaché
A cultural attaché is a diplomat with special responsibility for promoting the culture of his or her homeland. The position has been used as an official cover for intelligence agents. Historically, the post has often been filled by writers and artists, giving them a steady income, allowing them to...

 to the French embassy in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, Lévi-Strauss returned to Paris in 1948. At this time he received his doctorate
Doctorate
A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder to teach in a specific field, A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder...

 from the Sorbonne
Collège de Sorbonne
The Collège de Sorbonne was a theological college of the University of Paris, founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon, after whom it is named. With the rest of the Paris colleges, it was suppressed during the French Revolution. It was restored in 1808 but finally closed in 1882. The name Sorbonne...

 by submitting, in the French tradition, both a "major" and a "minor" thesis. These were The Family and Social Life of the Nambikwara Indians and The Elementary Structures of Kinship.

Structural Anthropology


The Elementary Structures of Kinship was published the next year and quickly came to be regarded as one of the most important anthropological works on kinship
Kinship
Kinship is a relationship between any entities that share a genealogical origin, through either biological, cultural, or historical descent. And descent groups, lineages, etc. are treated in their own subsections....

. It was even reviewed favorably by Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir
Simone-Ernestine-Lucie-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir, often shortened to Simone de Beauvoir , was a French existentialist philosopher, public intellectual, and social theorist. She wrote novels, essays, biographies, an autobiography in several volumes, and monographs on philosophy, politics, and...

, who viewed it as an important statement of the position of women in non-western cultures. A play on the title of Durkheim's
Émile Durkheim
David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.Much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain...

 famous Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Elementary Structures re-examined how people organized their families by examining the logical structures that underlay relationships rather than their contents. While British anthropologists such as Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown argued that kinship was based on descent from a common ancestor, Lévi-Strauss argued that kinship was based on the alliance between two families that formed when women from one group married men from another.

Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, Lévi-Strauss continued to publish and experienced considerable professional success. On his return to France, he became involved with the administration of the CNRS and the Musée de l'Homme
Musée de l'Homme
The Musée de l'Homme was created in 1937 by Paul Rivet for the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne. It is the descendant of the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro, founded in 1878...

 before finally becoming chair of the fifth section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études
École pratique des hautes études
The École pratique des hautes études is a Grand Établissement in Paris, France. It is counted among France's most prestigious research and higher education institutions....

, the 'Religious Sciences' section previously chaired by Marcel Mauss
Marcel Mauss
Marcel Mauss was a French sociologist. The nephew of Émile Durkheim, Mauss' academic work traversed the boundaries between sociology and anthropology...

, which he renamed "Comparative Religion of Non-Literate Peoples".

While Lévi-Strauss was well known in academic circles, in 1955 he became one of France's best known intellectuals by publishing Tristes Tropiques
Tristes Tropiques
Tristes Tropiques is a memoir, first published in France in 1955, by the anthropologist and structuralist Claude Lévi-Strauss. It documents his travels and anthropological work, focusing principally on Brazil, though it refers to many other places, such as the Caribbean and India...

, published in Paris that year by Plon (and translated into English in 1973, published by Penguin). Essentially, this book was a memoir detailing his time as a French expatriate throughout the 1930s, and his travels. Lévi-Strauss combined exquisitely beautiful prose, dazzling philosophical meditation, and ethnographic
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

 analysis of the Amazonian peoples to produce a masterpiece. The organizers of the Prix Goncourt
Prix Goncourt
The Prix Goncourt is a prize in French literature, given by the académie Goncourt to the author of "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year"...

, for instance, lamented that they were not able to award Lévi-Strauss the prize because Tristes Tropiques was non-fiction.

Lévi-Strauss was named to a chair in Social Anthropology at the Collège de France
Collège de France
The Collège de France is a higher education and research establishment located in Paris, France, in the 5th arrondissement, or Latin Quarter, across the street from the historical campus of La Sorbonne at the intersection of Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue des Écoles...

 in 1959. At roughly the same time he published Structural Anthropology, a collection of his essays which provided both examples and programmatic statements about structuralism. At the same time as he was laying the groundwork for an intellectual program, he began a series of institutions to establish anthropology as a discipline in France, including the Laboratory for Social Anthropology where new students could be trained, and a new journal, l'Homme, for publishing the results of their research.

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, but this title fails to capture the other possible French meaning of 'Wild Pansies
Pansy
The Pansy is a large group of hybrid plants cultivated as garden flowers. Pansies are derived from Viola species Viola tricolor hybridized with other viola species, these hybrids are referred to as Viola × wittrockiana or less commonly Viola tricolor hortensis...

'. In French pensée means both 'thought' and 'pansy,' the flower, while sauvage means 'wild' as well as 'savage' or 'primitive'. The book concerns primitive thought, forms of thought all humans use. (Lévi-Strauss suggested the English title be Pansies for Thought, riffing off a speech by Ophelia in Hamlet
Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

.) The French edition to this day retains a flower on the cover.

The first half of the book lays out Lévi-Strauss's theory of culture
Culture theory
Culture theory is the branch of anthropology and semiotics that seeks to define the heuristic concept of culture in operational and/or scientific terms....

 and mind, while the second half expands this account into a theory of history and social change. This latter part of the book engaged Lévi-Strauss in a heated debate with Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy, particularly Marxism, and was one of the key figures in literary...

 over the nature of human freedom. On the one hand, Sartre's existentialist
Existentialism
Existentialism is a term applied to a school of 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual...

 philosophy committed him to a position that human beings fundamentally were free to act as they pleased. On the other hand, Sartre also was a leftist
Left-wing politics
In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a more egalitarian society...

 who was committed to ideas such as that individuals were constrained by the ideologies imposed on them by the powerful. Lévi-Strauss presented his structuralist notion of agency in opposition to Sartre. Echoes of this debate between structuralism and existentialism
Existentialism
Existentialism is a term applied to a school of 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual...

 would eventually inspire the work of younger authors such as Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher.Starting from the role of economic capital for social positioning, Bourdieu pioneered investigative frameworks and terminologies such as cultural, social, and symbolic capital, and the concepts of habitus, field or location,...

.

Now a worldwide celebrity, Lévi-Strauss spent the second half of the 1960s working on his master project, a four-volume study called Mythologiques
Mythologiques
Mythologiques is a four-volume work of cultural anthropology by Claude Lévi-Strauss. Originally written in French, the works were translated into English by John Weightman and Doreen Weightman.The four volumes of Mythologiques are:...

. In it, he followed a single myth from the tip of South America and all of its variations from group to group up through Central America and eventually into the Arctic Circle
Arctic Circle
The Arctic Circle is one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of the Earth. For Epoch 2011, it is the parallel of latitude that runs north of the Equator....

, thus tracing the myth's cultural evolution from one end of the Western hemisphere to the other. He accomplished this in a typically structuralist way, examining the underlying structure of relationships among the elements of the story rather than by focusing on the content of the story itself. While Pensée Sauvage was a statement of Lévi-Strauss's big-picture theory, Mythologiques was an extended, four-volume example of analysis. Richly detailed and extremely long, it is less widely read than the much shorter and more accessible Pensée Sauvage, despite its position as Lévi-Strauss's masterwork.

Lévi-Strauss completed the final volume of Mythologiques in 1971. On 14 May 1973 he was elected to the Académie Française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

, France's highest honour for an intellectual. He was a member of other notable academies
Academy
An academy is an institution of higher learning, research, or honorary membership.The name traces back to Plato's school of philosophy, founded approximately 385 BC at Akademia, a sanctuary of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and skill, north of Athens, Greece. In the western world academia is the...

 worldwide, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He received the Erasmus Prize
Erasmus Prize
The Erasmus Prize is an annual prize awarded by the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation, a Dutch non-profit organization, to individuals or institutions that have made notable contributions to European culture, society, or social science. The Praemium Erasmianum Foundation was founded on 23 June 1958 by...

 in 1973, the Meister-Eckhart-Prize for philosophy in 2003, and several honorary doctorates from universities such as Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

, Harvard, and Columbia
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

. He also was the recipient of the Grand-croix de la Légion d'honneur, was a Commandeur de l'ordre national du Mérite
Ordre National du Mérite
The Ordre national du Mérite is an Order of State awarded by the President of the French Republic. It was founded on 3 December 1963 by President Charles de Gaulle...

, and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. After his retirement, he continued to publish occasional meditations on art, music, and poetry.

Later life and death



In 2008 he became the first member of the Académie Française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

 to reach the age of 100 and one of the few living authors to have his works published in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade
Bibliothèque de la Pléiade
The Bibliothèque de la Pléiade is a French series of books which was created in the 1930s by Jacques Schiffrin, an independent young editor. . Schiffrin wanted to provide the public with reference editions of the complete works of classic authors in a pocket format...

. On the death of Maurice Druon
Maurice Druon
Maurice Druon was a French novelist and a member of the Académie française.Born in Paris, France, Druon was the nephew of the writer Joseph Kessel, with whom he translated the Chant des Partisans, a French Resistance anthem of World War II, with music and words originally by Anna Marly.In 1948...

 on 14 April 2009, he became the Dean of the Académie, its longest-serving member.

He died on 30 October 2009, a few weeks before his 101st birthday. The death was announced four days later. French President Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy is the 23rd and current President of the French Republic and ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra. He assumed the office on 16 May 2007 after defeating the Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal 10 days earlier....

 described him as "one of the greatest ethnologists of all time". Bernard Kouchner
Bernard Kouchner
Bernard Kouchner is a French politician, diplomat, and doctor. He is co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières and Médecins du Monde...

, the French Foreign Minister
Minister of Foreign Affairs (France)
Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs ), is France's foreign affairs ministry, with the headquarters located on the Quai d'Orsay in Paris close to the National Assembly of France. The Minister of Foreign and European Affairs in the government of France is the cabinet minister responsible for...

, said Lévi-Strauss "broke with an ethnocentric vision of history and humanity [...] At a time when we are trying to give meaning to globalisation, to build a fairer and more humane world, I would like Claude Lévi-Strauss's universal echo to resonate more strongly". The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph is a daily morning broadsheet newspaper distributed throughout the United Kingdom and internationally. The newspaper was founded by Arthur B...

said in its obituary that Lévi-Strauss was "one of the dominating postwar influences in French intellectual life and the leading exponent of Structuralism in the social sciences". Permanent secretary of the Académie Française Hélène Carrère d'Encausse
Hélène Carrère d'Encausse
Hélène Carrère d'Encausse is the permanent secretary of the Académie Française and a historian specializing in Russian history....

 said: "He was a thinker, a philosopher [...] We will not find another like him".

Summary


Lévi-Strauss sought to apply the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics...

 to anthropology. At the time, the family was traditionally considered the fundamental object of analysis, but was seen primarily as a self-contained unit consisting of a husband, a wife, and their children. Nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all were treated as secondary. Lévi-Strauss argued that, however, akin to Saussure's notion of linguistic value
Value (semiotics)
In semiotics, the value of a sign depends on its position and relations in the system of signification and upon the particular codes being used.-Saussure's Value:Value is the sign as it is determined by the other signs in a semiotic system...

, families acquire determinate identities only through relations with one another. Thus he inverted the classical view of anthropology, putting the secondary family members first and insisting on analyzing the relations between units instead of the units themselves.

In his own analysis of the formation of the identities that arise through marriages between tribes, Lévi-Strauss noted that the relation between the uncle and the nephew was to the relation between brother and sister, as the relation between father and son is to that between husband and wife, that is, A is to B as C is to D. Therefore if we know A, B, and C, we can predict D, just as if we know A and D, we can predict B and C. The goal of Lévi-Strauss's structural anthropology
Structural anthropology
Structural anthropology is based on Claude Lévi-Strauss' idea that people think about the world in terms of binary opposites—such as high and low, inside and outside, person and animal, life and death—and that every culture can be understood in terms of these opposites...

, then, was to simplify the masses of empirical data into generalized, comprehensible relations between units, which allow for predictive laws to be identified, such as A is to B as C is to D.

Similarly, Lévi-Strauss identified myths as a type of speech through which a language could be discovered. This theory attempted to explain how seemingly fantastical and arbitrary tales, could be so similar across cultures. Because he believed there was not one "authentic" version of a myth, rather that they were all manifestations of the same language, he sought to find the fundamental units of myth, namely, the mytheme
Mytheme
In the study of mythology, a mytheme is the essential kernel of a myth—an irreducible, unchanging element, a minimal unit that is always found shared with other, related mythemes and reassembled in various ways—"bundled" was Claude Lévi-Strauss's image— or linked in more...

. Lévi-Strauss broke each of the versions of a myth down into a series of sentences, consisting of a relation between a function and a subject. Sentences with the same function were given the same number and bundled together. These are mythemes.

What Lévi-Strauss believed he had discovered when he examined the relations between mythemes was that a myth consists of nothing but binary opposition
Binary opposition
In critical theory, a binary opposition is a pair of related terms or concepts that are opposite in meaning. Binary opposition is the system by which, in language and thought, two theoretical opposites are strictly defined and set off against one another. It is the contrast between two mutually...

s. Oedipus
Oedipus
Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...

, for example, consists of the overrating of blood relations and the underrating of blood relations, the autochthon
Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples are ethnic groups that are defined as indigenous according to one of the various definitions of the term, there is no universally accepted definition but most of which carry connotations of being the "original inhabitants" of a territory....

ous origin of humans and the denial of their autochthonous origin. Influenced by Hegel, Lévi-Strauss believed that the human mind thinks fundamentally in these binary oppositions and their unification (the thesis, antithesis, synthesis triad), and that these are what make meaning possible. Furthermore, he considered the job of myth to be a sleight of hand, an association of an irreconcilable binary opposition with a reconcilable binary opposition, creating the illusion, or belief, that the former had been resolved.

Anthropological theories



Lévi-Strauss's theories are set forth in Structural Anthropology (1958). Briefly, he considers culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 a system of symbolic communication, to be investigated with methods that others have used more narrowly in the discussion of novels, political speeches, sports, and movies.

His reasoning makes best sense when contrasted against the background of an earlier generation's social theory. He wrote about this relationship for decades.

A preference for "functionalist" explanations dominated the social sciences from the turn of the twentieth century through the 1950s, which is to say that anthropologists and sociologists tried to state the purpose of a social act or institution. The existence of a thing was explained, if it fulfilled a function. The only strong alternative to that kind of analysis was historical explanation, accounting for the existence of a social fact by stating how it came to be.

The idea of social function developed in two different ways, however. The English anthropologist Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown, who had read and admired the work of the French sociologist Émile Durkheim
Émile Durkheim
David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.Much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain...

, argued that the goal of anthropological research was to find the collective function, such as what a religious creed or a set of rules about marriage did for the social order as a whole. Behind this approach was an old idea, the view that civilization developed through a series of phases from the primitive to the modern, everywhere in the same manner. All of the activities in a given kind of society would partake of the same character; some sort of internal logic would cause one level of culture to evolve into the next. On this view, a society can easily be thought of as an organism, the parts functioning together as do the parts of a body.

In contrast, the more influential functionalism of Bronisław Malinowski described the satisfaction of individual needs, what a person derived by participating in a custom.

In the United States, where the shape of anthropology was set by the German-educated Franz Boas
Franz Boas
Franz Boas was a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the "Father of American Anthropology" and "the Father of Modern Anthropology." Like many such pioneers, he trained in other disciplines; he received his doctorate in physics, and did...

, the preference was for historical accounts. This approach had obvious problems, which Lévi-Strauss praises Boas for facing squarely.

Historical information seldom is available for non-literate cultures. The anthropologist fills in with comparisons to other cultures and is forced to rely on theories that have no evidential basis whatsoever, the old notion of universal stages of development or the claim that cultural resemblances are based on some unrecognized past contact between groups. Boas came to believe that no overall pattern in social development could be proven; for him, there was no single history, only histories.

There are three broad choices involved in the divergence of these schools–each had to decide what kind of evidence to use; whether to emphasize the particulars of a single culture or look for patterns underlying all societies; and what the source of any underlying patterns might be, the definition of a common humanity.

Social scientists in all traditions relied on cross-cultural studies. It always was necessary to supplement information about a society with information about others. So some idea of a common human nature was implicit in each approach.

The critical distinction, then, remained: does a social fact exist because it is functional for the social order, or because it is functional for the person? Do uniformities across cultures occur because of organizational needs that must be met everywhere, or because of the uniform needs of human personality?

For Lévi-Strauss, the choice was for the demands of the social order. He had no difficulty bringing out the inconsistencies and triviality of individualistic accounts. Malinowski said, for example, that magic beliefs come into being when people need to feel a sense of control over events when the outcome was uncertain. In the Trobriand Islands
Trobriand Islands
The Trobriand Islands are a 450 km² archipelago of coral atolls off the eastern coast of New Guinea. They are situated in Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea. Most of the population of 12,000 indigenous inhabitants live on the main island of Kiriwina, which is also the location of the...

, he found the proof of this claim in the rites surrounding abortions and weaving skirts. But in the same tribes, there is no magic attached to making clay pots even though it is no more certain a business than weaving. So, the explanation is not consistent. Furthermore, these explanations tend to be used in an ad hoc, superficial way–one postulates a trait of personality when needed.

But the accepted way of discussing organizational function didn't work either. Different societies might have institutions that were similar in many obvious ways and yet, served different functions. Many tribal cultures divide the tribe into two groups and have elaborate rules about how the two groups may interact. But exactly what they may do–trade, intermarry–is different in different tribes; for that matter, so are the criteria for distinguishing the groups.

Nor will it do to say that dividing-in-two is a universal need of organizations, because there are a lot of tribes that thrive without it.

For Lévi-Strauss, the methods of linguistics
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

 became a model for all his earlier examinations of society. His analogies usually are from phonology
Phonology
Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...

 (though also later from music, mathematics, chaos theory
Chaos theory
Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including physics, economics, biology, and philosophy. Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the...

, cybernetics
Cybernetics
Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to information theory, control theory and systems theory, at least in its first-order form...

, and so on).

"A really scientific analysis must be real, simplifying, and explanatory," he says (in Structural Anthropology). Phonemic analysis reveals features that are real, in the sense that users of the language can recognize and respond to them. At the same time, a phoneme is an abstraction from language–not a sound, but a category of sound defined by the way it is distinguished from other categories through rules unique to the language. The entire sound-structure of a language may be generated from a relatively small number of rules.

In the study of the kinship systems that first concerned him, this ideal of explanation allowed a comprehensive organization of data that partly had been ordered by other researchers. The overall goal was to find out why family relations differed among various South American cultures. The father might have great authority over the son in one group, for example, with the relationship rigidly restricted by taboos. In another group, the mother's brother would have that kind of relationship with the son, while the father's relationship was relaxed and playful.

A number of partial patterns had been noted. Relations between the mother and father, for example, had some sort of reciprocity with those of father and son–if the mother had a dominant social status and was formal with the father, for example, then the father usually had close relations with the son. But these smaller patterns joined together in inconsistent ways.

One possible way of finding a master order was to rate all the positions in a kinship system along several dimensions. For example, the father was older than the son, the father produced the son, the father had the same sex as the son, and so on; the matrilineal uncle was older and of the same sex, but did not produce the son, and so on. An exhaustive collection of such observations might cause an overall pattern to emerge.

But for Lévi-Strauss, this kind of work was considered "analytical in appearance only." It results in a chart that is far more difficult to understand than the original data and is based on arbitrary abstractions (empirically, fathers are older than sons, but it is only the researcher who declares that this feature explains their relations). Furthermore, it doesn't explain anything. The explanation it offers is tautological
Tautology (rhetoric)
Tautology is an unnecessary or unessential repetition of meaning, using different and dissimilar words that effectively say the same thing...

–if age is crucial, then age explains a relationship. And it does not offer the possibility of inferring the origins of the structure.

A proper solution to the puzzle is to find a basic unit of kinship
Kinship
Kinship is a relationship between any entities that share a genealogical origin, through either biological, cultural, or historical descent. And descent groups, lineages, etc. are treated in their own subsections....

 which can explain all the variations. It is a cluster of four roles–brother, sister, father, son. These are the roles that must be involved in any society that has an incest taboo
Incest taboo
An Incest taboo is any cultural rule or norm that prohibits practices of sexual relations between relatives. All human cultures have norms regarding who is considered suitable and unsuitable sexual and/or marriage partners, and usually certain close relatives are excluded as possible partners...

 requiring a man to obtain a wife from some man outside his own hereditary line. A brother may give away his sister, for example, whose son might reciprocate in the next generation by allowing his own sister to marry exogamously. The underlying demand is a continued circulation of women to keep various clans peacefully related.

Right or wrong, this solution displays the qualities of structural thinking. Even though Lévi-Strauss frequently speaks of treating culture as the product of the axioms and corollaries that underlie it, or the phonemic differences that constitute it, he is concerned with the objective data of field research. He notes that it is logically possible for a different atom of kinship structure to exist–sister, sister's brother, brother's wife, daughter–but there are no real-world examples of relationships that can be derived from that grouping.

The purpose of structuralist explanation is to organize real data in the simplest effective way. All science, he says, is either structuralist or reductionist. In confronting such matters as the incest taboo, one is facing an objective limit of what the human mind has accepted so far. One could hypothesize some biological imperative underlying it, but so far as social order is concerned, the taboo has the effect of an irreducible fact. The social scientist can only work with the structures of human thought that arise from it.

And structural explanations can be tested and refuted. A mere analytic scheme that wishes causal relations into existence is not structuralist in this sense.

Lévi-Strauss's later works are more controversial, in part because they impinge on the subject matter of other scholars. He believed that modern life and all history was founded on the same categories and transformations that he had discovered in the Brazilian back country–The Raw and the Cooked
The Raw and the Cooked
The Raw and the Cooked is the first volume from Mythologiques written by French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. The original French title was Le Cru et le cuit....

, From Honey to Ashes, The Naked Man
(to borrow some titles from the Mythologiques). For instance he compares anthropology to musical serialism
Serialism
In music, serialism is a method or technique of composition that uses a series of values to manipulate different musical elements. Serialism began primarily with Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique, though his contemporaries were also working to establish serialism as one example of...

 and defends his "philosophical" approach. He also pointed out that the modern view of primitive cultures was simplistic in denying them a history. The categories of myth did not persist among them because nothing had happened–it was easy to find the evidence of defeat, migration, exile, repeated displacements of all the kinds known to recorded history. Instead, the mythic categories had encompassed these changes.

He argued for a view of human life as existing in two timelines simultaneously, the eventful one of history and the long cycles in which one set of fundamental mythic patterns dominates and then perhaps another. In this respect, his work resembles that of Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel was a French historian and a leader of the Annales School. His scholarship focused on three main projects, each representing several decades of intense study: The Mediterranean , Civilization and Capitalism , and the unfinished Identity of France...

, the historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 of the Mediterranean and 'la longue durée,' the cultural outlook and forms of social organization that persisted for centuries around that sea.

The structuralist approach to myth


Lévi-Strauss sees a basic paradox in the study of myth
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

. On one hand, mythical stories are fantastic and unpredictable: the content of myth seems completely arbitrary. On the other hand, the myths of different cultures are surprisingly similar:

On the one hand it would seem that in the course of a myth anything is likely to happen. […] But on the other hand, this apparent arbitrariness is belied by the astounding similarity between myths collected in widely different regions. Therefore the problem: If the content of myth is contingent [i.e., arbitrary], how are we to explain the fact that myths throughout the world are so similar?

Lévi-Strauss proposed that universal law
Universal law
In law and ethics, universal law or universal principle refers as concepts of legal legitimacy actions, whereby those principles and rules for governing human beings' conduct which are most universal in their acceptability, their applicability, translation, and philosophical basis, are therefore...

s must govern mythical thought and resolve this seeming paradox, producing similar myths in different cultures. Each myth may seem unique, but he proposed it is just one particular instance of a universal law of human thought. In studying myth, Lévi-Strauss tries "to reduce apparently arbitrary data to some kind of order, and to attain a level at which a kind of necessity becomes apparent, underlying the illusions of liberty".

According to Lévi-Strauss, "mythical thought always progresses from the awareness of oppositions toward their resolution". In other words, myths consist of:
  1. elements that oppose or contradict each other and
  2. other elements that "mediate", or resolve, those oppositions.


For example, Lévi-Strauss thinks the trickster
Trickster
In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphic animal who plays tricks or otherwise disobeys normal rules and conventional behavior. It is suggested by Hansen that the term "Trickster" was probably first used in this...

 of many Native American mythologies acts as a "mediator". Lévi-Strauss's argument hinges on two facts about the Native American trickster:
  1. the trickster has a contradictory and unpredictable personality;
  2. the trickster is almost always a raven
    Raven
    Raven is the common name given to several larger-bodied members of the genus Corvus—but in Europe and North America the Common Raven is normally implied...

     or a coyote
    Coyote (mythology)
    Coyote is a mythological character common to many Native American cultures, based on the coyote animal. This character is usually male and is generally anthropomorphic although he may have some coyote-like physical features such as fur, pointed ears, yellow eyes, a tail and claws...

    .

Lévi-Strauss argues that the raven and coyote "mediate" the opposition between life and death. The relationship between agriculture and hunting is analogous to the opposition between life
Life
Life is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased , or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate...

 and death
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

: agriculture is solely concerned with producing life (at least up until harvest time); hunting is concerned with producing death. Furthermore, the relationship between herbivores and beasts of prey is analogous to the relationship between agriculture and hunting: like agriculture, herbivores are concerned with plants; like hunting, beasts of prey are concerned with catching meat. Lévi-Strauss points out that the raven and coyote eat carrion and are therefore halfway between herbivores and beasts of prey: like beasts of prey, they eat meat; like herbivores, they don't catch their food. Thus, he argues, "we have a mediating structure of the following type":

By uniting herbivore traits with traits of beasts of prey, the raven and coyote somewhat reconcile herbivores and beasts of prey: in other words, they mediate the opposition between herbivores and beasts of prey. As we have seen, this opposition ultimately is analogous to the opposition between life and death. Therefore, the raven and coyote ultimately mediate the opposition between life and death. This, Lévi-Strauss believes, explains why the coyote and raven have a contradictory personality when they appear as the mythical trickster:
The trickster is a mediator. Since his mediating function occupies a position halfway between two polar terms, he must retain something of that duality—namely an ambiguous and equivocal character.

Because the raven and coyote reconcile profoundly opposed concepts (i.e., life and death), their own mythical personalities must reflect this duality or contradiction: in other words, they must have a contradictory, "tricky" personality.

This theory about the structure of myth helps support Lévi-Strauss's more basic theory about human thought. According to this more basic theory, universal laws govern all areas of human thought:
If it were possible to prove in this instance, too, that the apparent arbitrariness of the mind, its supposedly spontaneous flow of inspiration, and its seemingly uncontrolled inventiveness [are ruled by] laws operating at a deeper level […] if the human mind appears determined even in the realm of mythology, a fortiori it must also be determined in all its spheres of activity.

Out of all the products of culture, myths seem the most fantastic and unpredictable. Therefore, Lévi-Strauss claims, if even mythical thought obeys universal laws, then all human thought must obey universal laws.

The Savage Mind: Bricoleur and Engineer


Lévi-Strauss developed the comparison of the Bricoleur and Engineer in The Savage Mind
The Savage Mind
The Savage Mind is an early work of structural anthropology written by Claude Lévi-Strauss. It was originally published in 1962 in French with the title La Pensée sauvage...

. "Bricoleur" has its origin in the old French verb bricoler, which originally referred to extraneous movements in ball games, billiards, hunting, shooting and riding, but which today means do-it-yourself building or repairing things with the tools and materials on hand, puttering or tinkering as it were. In comparison to the true craftsman, whom Lévi-Strauss calls the Engineer, The Bricoleur is adept at many tasks and at putting preexisting things together in new ways, adapting his project to a finite stock of materials and tools. The Engineer deals with projects in their entirety, conceiving and procuring all the necessary materials and tools to suit his project. The Bricoleur approximates "the savage mind" and the Engineer approximates the scientific mind. Lévi-Strauss says that the universe of the Bricoleur is closed, and he often is forced to make do with whatever is at hand, whereas the universe of the Engineer is open in that he is able to create new tools and materials. But both live within a restrictive reality, and so the Engineer is forced to consider the preexisting set of theoretical and practical knowledge, of technical means, in a similar way to the Bricoleur.

Criticism


Lévi-Strauss's theory on the origin of the Trickster has been criticized on a number of points by anthropologists. Stanley Diamond
Stanley Diamond
Stanley Diamond was an American poet and anthropologist. As a young man, he identified as a poet, and his disdain for the fascism of the 1930s greatly influenced his thinking....

 notes that while the secular civilized often consider the concepts of life and death to be polar, primitive cultures often see them "as aspects of a single condition, the condition of existence." Diamond remarks that Lévi-Strauss did not reach such a conclusion by inductive reasoning, but simply by working backwards from the evidence to the "a priori mediated concepts" of "life" and "death", which he reached by assumption of a necessary progression from "life" to "agriculture" to "herbivorous animals", and from "death" to "warfare" to "beasts of prey". For that matter, the coyote is well known to hunt in addition to scavenging and the raven also has been known to act as a bird of prey, in contrast to Lévi-Strauss's conception. Nor does that conception explain why a scavenger such as a bear would never appear as the Trickster. Diamond further remarks that "the Trickster names 'raven' and 'coyote' which Lévi-Strauss explains can be arrived at with greater economy on the basis of, let us say, the cleverness of the animals involved, their ubiquity, elusiveness, capacity to make mischief, their undomesticated reflection of certain human traits." Finally, Lévi-Strauss's analysis does not appear to be capable of explaining why representations of the Trickster in other areas of the world make use of such animals as the spider and mantis.

Ironically, the criticism of playing the trickster was levelled by some at Lévi-Strauss himself, albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Edmund Leach noted that: "The outstanding characteristic of his writing, whether in French or English, is that it is difficult to understand; his sociological theories combine baffling complexity with overwhelming erudition. Some readers even suspect that they are being treated to a confidence trick".

Commentary on contemporary human culture


The following translated statement by Claude Lévi-Strauss was broadcast on National Public Radio in the remembrance produced by All Things Considered
All Things Considered
All Things Considered is the flagship news program on the American network National Public Radio. It was the first news program on NPR, and is broadcast live worldwide through several outlets...

 on November 3, 2009:
There is today a frightful disappearance of living species, be they plants or animals. And it's clear that the density of human beings has become so great, if I can say so, that they have begun to poison themselves. And the world in which I am finishing my existence is no longer a world that I like.

Interviews

  • De près et de loin, interviewed by Didier Eribon
    Didier Eribon
    Didier Eribon is a French author and philosopher, and a historian of French intellectual life.- Biography :Didier Eribon was born in Reims....

     (1988, Conversations with Claude Levi-Strauss, trans. Paula Wissing, 1991)
  • Loin du Brésil, interviewed by Véronique Mortaigne, Paris, Chandeigne, 2005
  • Jean-Louis de Rambures
    Jean-Louis de Rambures
    Jean-Louis Vicomte de Bretizel Rambures was a French journalist, author, translator of literature, literary critic, and cultural attaché.- Life :...

    , "Comment travaillent les écrivains", Paris 1978 (interview with C. Lévi-Strauss)

See also

  • James George Frazer
  • Alliance theory
    Alliance theory
    The Alliance Theory is the name given to the structural method of studying kinship relations. It finds its origins in Claude Lévi-Strauss's Elementary Structures of Kinship , and is opposed to the functionalist theory of Radcliffe-Brown...

  • Comparative mythology
    Comparative mythology
    Comparative mythology is the comparison of myths from different cultures in an attempt to identify shared themes and characteristics. Comparative mythology has served a variety of academic purposes...

  • Evolutionary Principle
    Evolutionary Principle
    The evolutionary principle is a largely psychological doctrine formulated by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss which roughly states that when a species is removed from the habitat in which it evolved, or that habitat changes significantly within a brief period , the species will develop...


Further reading


External links