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Levi-Strauss 1908 - 2009 (101)

The world began without man, and it will complete itself without him.


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Sad tropics




Claude Lévi-Strauss (November 28, 1908 - October 30, 2009) was a French anthropologist and philosopher, one of the great thinkers of the 20th century, a pioneer of structuralism as a method of understanding human society. He was born in Brussels and studied Law and Philosophy at the Sorbonne. After a few years of teaching in secondary education, he became a member of a French cultural mission to Brazil in 1935 and lived there for 4 years. During this period, he conducted a large-scale ethnographic survey of tribes in the Amazon rainforest. He studied Guaicuro and Bororo living among them for some time. After several years he will return to the area to study the communities of Nambikuara and Tupi Kawahib.

Back in France, he wanted in 1939 to take part in the war but after the French surrender to the Germans and as he was a Jew, he left for South America and eventually ended up in New York. There he taught at the New School for Social Research and contributed to the formation of the theoretical nature of constructivism. After a brief diplomatic career as cultural attorney at the French Embassy in Washington, Levi-Strauss returned to Paris in 1948 and received his doctorate from the Sorbonne with two dissertations. With "The Elementary Structures of Kinship" which was published the following year, he changed the idea about kinship. While the British believed that kinship was based on descent from a common ancestor, Levi-Strauss argued that kinship was based on the relationship (alliance) formed between two families, when women from one family married men from the other.

In 1955 he became known to the general public with "Sad Tropics", a travel novel in prose style, with philosophical reflections and ethnographic analyzes of the peoples of the Amazon. In 1959 he became progfessor of Social Anthropology at the French College and published a collection of essays entitled "Structural Anthropology". In 1962 he published his most important work, "Wild Thought"; in 1973 he was elected a member of the French Academy while he was also a member of other important Academies of Art and Letters. He has received numerous awards and distinctions and has been awarded honorary doctorates at Oxford, Harvard and Columbia University. Levi-Strauss had been married twice (1932-1945 and 1954-2009) and had two children. He died of a myocardial infarction on October 30, 2009 in Paris.