Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1908-2009
The weekend death of Claude Lévi-Strauss was announced in Paris this morning. He would have turned 101 later this month. One of the most influential anthropologists in the history of the discipline, Lévi-Strauss achieved international renown for his seminal works in structural anthropology which sought to understand human social relationships in terms of their most basic formal qualities. His La Pensée Sauvage or The Savage Mind, published in 1966, is considered the work that most firmly established his groundbreaking ideas in the social sciences, followed closely by his application of that theory in his four volume Mythologiques—a series of books that trace the structural similarities of a single myth originating in South America through its many variations and re-tellings in cultures throughout Central America and all the way to the Arctic Circle.
Born in Brussels, Strauss grew up in France and attended the Sorbonne in Paris where he agrégated in Philosophy in 1931. He briefly became a visiting professor at the University of São Paulo in Brazil where he also made one of his first forays into ethnographic fieldwork conducting research in the Matto Grosso and Amazon rainforest in 1935. His return to Paris roughly coincided with the beginning of WWII but because of his Jewish heritage and the installation of the Vichy regime in 1940, he emigrated to the United States where he spent the duration of the war teaching at New York’s New School for Social Research. Lévi-Strauss returned to Paris in 1948, producing his first published work The Elementary Structures of Kinship the following year, and receiving his doctorate in Anthropology from the Sorbonne. Later in 1959 he would be named to a chair in Social Anthropology at the Collége de France.
Highly decorated for his work throughout his career, he was elected to the Académie Française in 1931 and received the Erasmus Prize for his notable contributions to the social sciences in 1973. In 2003 he received the Meister Eckhart Prize for philosophy and has received honorary doctorates from universities such as Oxford, Harvard, and Columbia. He is also a recipient of the Grand-croix de la Légion d’honneur, and is a Commandeur de l’ordre national du Mérite and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres.
In 2008 he became the first member of the Académie Française to reach the age of 100.
The University of Chicago Press was honored to publish editions in English of the following books by Claude Levi-Strauss:
The Savage Mind (1968)
The Raw and the Cooked (1969)
From Honey to Ashes (1973)
The Origin of Table Manners (1978)
The Naked Man (1981)
Structural Anthropology, Volume 2 (1983)
The View from Afar (1985)
The Jealous Potter (1988)
Conversations with Claude Levi-Strauss) (1991)
The Story of Lynx (1995)