French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss has died

ALeqM5g4fjX9rSZYoTo9fmfb7fc60beP8Q.jpgThe man widely considered to be the father of modern anthropological study has passed away at 100 years of age. NYT, Bloomberg, Wikipedia, AFP.

"Among the more striking conclusions of his work was the idea that there is no fundamental difference between the belief systems and myths of so-called 'primitive' races and those of modern western societies."


  1. This makes me sad. I remember reading The Raw and the Cooked as a wee little college freshman. He’ll be missed.

  2. He must have seen the the $500 denim thread…

    I have mixed feelings about some of the stuff he wrote and (as with all the other non-English speaking writers)I often wonder about what’s been lost in translation, but to think about the places he went when he did, trying to grasp them anthropologically and philosophically is pretty staggering. I can’t help but think so much of what he documented and tried to understand is no longer there.

  3. “Among the more striking conclusions of his work was the idea that there is no fundamental difference between the belief systems and myths of so-called ‘primitive’ races and those of modern western societies.”


    I don’t mean to demean the man and his accomplishments (which I’m sure are great and many), but… you know… duh!

    1. Truths which are self-evident to thinking people are often not evident to non-thinking people. There are far more people who believe their “civilized” belief system is far superior to “non-civilized” belief systems than those who believe they’re equally uncivilized.

      At the time CL-S was writing about such things, it was a pretty radical idea. We have the benefit of several decades-worth of that idea filtering down through things like books, of whose existence many non-thinking people are completely unaware.

    2. It’s only “you know… duh!” because the culture has changed significantly in the past, well, 100 years. And THAT is because of people like him.

    3. Oskar, if you’d come across that concept forty or fifty or one hundred years ago, you’d dismiss it out of hand: “what? Everyone knows that primitive races are inferior to more advanced civilized societies!”

      That idea wasn’t a “duh” at all when Levi-Strauss got it moving into the public eye. The fact that you think that wasn’t a significant contribution to anthropology is the fault of people like him. It wasn’t “duh!” at all when he was writing about it.

  4. First the Grandmother of Performance Art, now the Father of Modern Anthropology. Once out of family members, there’s the King, Queen, Jack and, in a pinch, “Furpo Gozlin, The Ten of College Radio.”

  5. As it happens I’m reading his “Caduveo” right now. I’m an anthropologist and I spent a great deal of my college years reading his works. He was a great thinker and he will be missed.

  6. “Among the more striking conclusions of his work was the idea that there is no fundamental difference between the belief systems and myths… “

    There’s a functional difference between the kind of spirituality we see in band, tribe and chiefdom level societies as opposed to the formal religions of state level societies. State religions are designed to honor and glorify the state and metaphorically place the ruling class into a higher level of the celestial hierarchy in the minds of people. In this model the patriarchal state itself, on a mythical level, becomes the god in the minds of the adherents.

    The spirituality of bands, tribes and chiefdoms (though chiefdom cheat towards state mythology) is more focused on helping people and cultures cope with the enormous power of chaotic natural forces. A majority of the old Norse myths deal with the subject. Modern elves and fairies stories are a remnant linking back to the old greenman cautionary tales.

    However, it is fair to say that the need to have and construct myths seems to be a constant among people. The stories and the functions may have slightly different flavor and function, but the common thread of shared wonder and imagination is still there. The very fact that I can write this is due to the work of Lévi-Strauss. So, via con dios you fancy b@$t@rd.

  7. Wow. I guess I had assumed he was already dead…

    Really, I’m not much of a devote of his work (although I think structuralist anthropology is one of those rare instances that is clearer and more insightful than that which “came after it” (that is, post-Structuralism with all of their corner-painting performative contradictions)), but I don’t think one can deny his influence on modern thought.

    In a perfect world he would be missed by many. In this world, few I suppose…

  8. “The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he is one who asks the right questions.”
    Farewell, Claude, you will be missed.

  9. Back when we were studying political theory, my ex-girlfriend and I used to have this Lévi-Strauss quote on our wall:

    Le village entier partit le lendemain dans une trentaine de pirogues, nous laissant seuls avec les femmes et les enfants dans les maisons abandonnées.”

    La pensée sauvage

    Loosely: “The whole village left the next day in thirty canoes, leaving us alone with the women and children in the abandoned houses.” It was to remind ourselves that sexism is everywhere, even among the greats, that we are all potentially its agents, and we must therefore be watchful.

    Yeah, we were young…

  10. Just heard an interview of him of a couple months ago, reflecting on age. I wish I was as clear-headed and insightful now than he was at 100.

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