Sociology Index

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Claude Lévi-Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908 – 2009) was a French anthropologist and ethnologist whose work was key in the development of the theories of structuralism and structural anthropology. Claude Lévi-Strauss held the chair of Social Anthropology at the Collège de France between 1959 and 1982, was elected a member of the Académie française in 1973 and was a member of the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. He received numerous honors from universities and institutions throughout the world and has been called, alongside James George Frazer and Franz Boas, the "father of modern anthropology."

The Daily Telegraph 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."

Lévi-Strauss argued that the "savage" mind had the same structures as the "civilized" mind and that human characteristics are the same everywhere. These observations culminated in his famous book Tristes Tropiques that established his position as one of the central figures in the structuralist school of thought. As well as sociology, his ideas reached into many fields in the humanities, including philosophy. Structuralism has been defined as "the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity." He won the 1986 International Nonino Prize in Italy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy described him as "one of the greatest ethnologists of all time". Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, said Lévi-Strauss "broke with an ethnocentric vision of history and humanity, and at a time when we are trying to give meaning to globalization, to build a fairer and more humane world, I would like Claude Lévi-Strauss's universal echo to resonate more strongly." A statement by Lévi-Strauss was broadcast on National Public Radio in the remembrance produced by All Things Considered 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."