Joyeux anniversaire, Claude

28 Nov 2008

Happy Birthday to Claude Lévi-Strauss, the anthropologist and pioneer of structuralism, who was born a hundred years ago today in Brussels.

Lévi-Strauss studied philosophy at the University of Paris. From 1935-9 he was Professor at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. Applying of Ferdinand de Saussure’s structural linguistics theories (whose focus was not on the meaning of the word, but the patterns that the words form) to primitive family life and the narratives of myth, he made several expeditions to the Amazon jungle to study native tribes.

Lévi-Strauss is now recognized as one of the founders of the structuralist school, which sought to uncover the hidden, unconscious or primitive patterns of thought it believed determine the outer reality of human culture and relationships.

In 1940 he moved to New York, where he worked on his dissertation, The Elementary Structures of Kinship. This and other works, such as Tristes Tropiques, The Savage Mind and Structural Anthropology, were hugely influential, inspiring not only anthropologists but also philosophers, linguists and literary theorists.

From 1942 to 1945, Lévi-Strauss was Professor at the New School for Social Research in New York, but in 1950 he returned to Europe to become Director of Studies at the Ecole Practique des Hautes Etudes in Paris. In 1959 he assumed the Chair of Social Anthropology at the College de France. Lévi-Strauss was awarded the Wenner-Gren Foundation’s Viking Fund Medal in 1966 and the Erasmus Prize in 1975.

He has been awarded four honorary degrees at Oxford, Yale, Harvard and Columbia, and has held memberships in institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

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