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Claude Lévi-Strauss Biography

18 November, 2019

Full name: Claude Lévi-Strauss.

Birth: November 28, 1908 in Brussels (Belgium).

Nationality: French-Belgian.

Death: October 30, 2009, 100 years old, Paris, France.

Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist, one of the great figures of his discipline, founder of structural anthropology and introducer in the social sciences of the structuralist approach based on the structural linguistics of Saussure. Given the weight of his work, inside and outside anthropology, he was one of the most influential intellectuals of the twentieth century.

He was, along with André Martinet, Roman Jakobson and Morris Swadesh, one of the founders of the International Association of Linguistics.

He argued that the “wild” spirit had the same structures as the “civilized” mind and that the human characteristics were the same everywhere. These observations culminated in his famous book, Trótes Tropics, which positions him as one of the central figures of the structuralist school of thought, where his ideas cover areas such as the humanities, sociology and philosophy. Structuralism has been defined as “the search for underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity”. 

He is honored by universities all over the world and holds the chair of social anthropology at the Collège de France (1959-1982). He was elected a member of the French Academy in 1973.

Claude Lévi-Strauss was born to French parents living in Brussels, where his father worked as a painter. He grew up in Paris and lived in a street in the 16th arrondissement named after the artist Claude Lorrain, whose work he admired and later wrote about him. During the First World War, he lived with his maternal grandfather, rabbi of the Versailles synagogue. He attended high school Janson de Sailly and high school Condorcet.

At the Sorbonne in Paris, Levi-Strauss studied law and philosophy. He did not finish his law studies, but was attached to philosophy in 1931. In 1935, after a few years of high school, he accepted a last minute offer to be part of a French cultural mission in Brazil during which he was a visiting professor at Sociology at the University of São Paulo, while his wife, Dina, was working as a guest professor of ethnology.

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