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Claude Lévi-Strauss

(b. 1908) French social anthropologist


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(1908– )

French anthropologist and structuralist. Educated in law, Lévi-Strauss received a doctorate in philosophy at the Sorbonne. He was appointed to a French university mission to Brazil, serving as professor at São Paulo from 1935 to 1938. From there he led several expeditions into the Mato Grosso and the Amazon. Subsequently he taught in the United States before receiving the chair of social anthropology in the Collège de France, from which he retired in 1982. Lévi-Strauss is the most important structuralist anthropologist. He learned from Saussure the importance of studying the unconscious infrastructure of human phenomena, and of seeing the elements of a system only in terms of their positional significance or relations with other elements. Part of his doctoral thesis made Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949, trs. as The Elementary Structures of Kinship, 1969), demonstrating the formal similarity between kinship systems and the phonetic systems studied by Saussure. Later works include La Pensée sauvage (1966, trs. as The Savage Mind, 1968), in which he opposes Lévy-Bruhl's doctrine of ‘primitive mentality’, and Tristes Tropiques (1955, trs. under the same title, 1961).

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