The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss died this weekend at 100, the office of the president of Paris’s School for the Advanced Studies in Social Sciences announced today. Levi-Strauss pioneered the structuralist approach to anthropology, which holds that myths, involving deeply rooted patterns of language and symbolism, are the building blocks of culture. His ideas, influenced by years field work with Native American and Amazonian tribes, in turn influenced philosophers including Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.
Levi-Strauss grew up in an assimilated Jewish family in Paris. He fought in the French army at the start of World War II and fled to New York when the Nazis marched into Paris. One of his first works, Race and History, published in 1952, suggests how his wartime experience and his anthropological insights came together: the UNESCO-sponsored project “made the case that fighting the notion that some races are inferior to others also means combating the concept that some societies are culturally superior to others,” as the Forward wrote last year on the occasion of his works being republished in the Gallimard Bibliotheque de la Pleiade series. After returning from New York in the 1950s, Levi-Strauss lived out his life in Paris, where he was a prominent member of the elite Academie Francaise.
Claude Levi-Strauss, Scientist Who Saw Human Doom, Dies at 100 [Bloomberg]
Claude of the Jungle [Forward]