Claude Lévi-Strauss biography

Claude Lévi-Strauss

Philosopher, Author

1908 – 2009


Who was Claude Lévi-Strauss?

Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called, along with James George Frazer and Franz Boas, the "father of modern anthropology". The work of Lévi-Strauss was also key in the development of the theory of structuralism and structural anthropology. He was honored by universities throughout the world and held the chair of Social Anthropology at the Collège de France, and was elected a member of the Académie française in 1973.

He 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, which positioned him as one of the central figures in the structuralist school of thought, where his ideas reached into many fields in the humanities, as well as sociology and philosophy. Structuralism has been defined as "the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity."

Famous Quotes:

  • Being human signifies, for each one of us, belonging to a class, a society, a country, a continent and a civilization; and for us European earth-dwellers, the adventure played out in the heart of the New World signifies in the first place that it was not our world and that we bear responsibility for the crime of its destruction.
  • Just as the individual is not alone in the group, nor any one in society alone among the others, so man is not alone in the universe.
  • Since music is a language with some meaning at least for the immense majority of mankind, although only a tiny minority of people are capable of formulating a meaning in it, and since it is the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable, the musical creator is a being comparable to the gods, and music itself the supreme mystery of the science of man, a mystery that all the various disciplines come up against and which holds the key to their progress.
  • I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact.
  • Our system is the height of absurdity, since we treat the culprit both as a child, so as to have the right to punish him, and as an adult, in order to deny him consolation.
  • Enthusiastic partisans of the idea of progress are in danger of failing to recognize... the immense riches accumulated by the human race. By underrating the achievements of the past, they devalue all those which still remain to be accomplished.
  • Language is a form of human reason, which has its internal logic of which man knows nothing.
  • The only phenomenon with which writing has always been concomitant is the creation of cities and empires, that is the integration of large numbers of individuals into a political system, and their grading into castes or classes. It seems to have favored the exploitation of human beings rather than their enlightenment.
  • The musical emotion springs precisely from the fact that at each moment the composer withholds or adds more or less than the listener anticipates on the basis of a pattern that he thinks he can guess, but that he is incapable of wholly divining. If the composer withholds more than we anticipate, we experience a delicious falling sensation; we feel we have been torn from a stable point on the musical ladder and thrust into the void. When the composer withholds less, the opposite occurs: he forces us to perform gymnastic exercises more skillful than our own.
  • The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions.


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Nov 28, 1908
Also known as
  • Claude Levi-Strauss
  • Judaism
  • Jewish people
  • French people
  • France
  • Belgium
  • University of Paris
  • Lycée Janson de Sailly
  • Lycée Condorcet
  • Collège de Sorbonne
  • Visiting Professor, University of São Paulo
    (1935 - 1939)
  • Professor, The New School
    (1942 - 1945)
  • Professor, Collège de France
    (1959 - 1982)
  • Professor, École libre des hautes études
Lived in
  • Paris
  • New York City
Oct 30, 2009

on July 23, 2013

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