Lévi-Strauss, Claude Gustave (b. 1908)
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French anthropologist (of Jewish descent, born in Belgium), known as the founder of structuralism, and widely considered the most influential anthropologist of the second half of the 20th century. After studying law and philosophy in Paris, Lévi-Strauss travelled to Brazil, where he taught at the University of São Paolo for some years and conducted field studies among various tribes in the Amazon. During the Second World War, Lévi-Strauss moved to New York, where he taught at the New School of Social Research, befriended American anthropologists and a number of European intellectuals, who had fled to the U.S. to escape Nazism. The most important of his new acquaintances was the Russian semiotician Roman Jakobson, who exterted a deep influence on Lévi-Strauss's anthropology. On his return to France, Lévi-Strauss published Les structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949; English edition: The Elementary Structures of Kinship, 1969), in which he proposed a radically different view of kinship that would later be known as "alliance theory" (as opposed to the "descent theory" propounded by the British structural functionalists). Few years later, he published an autobiography, Tristes tropiques (1955), a lyrical ethnographic meditation on the lost world of primitive man, and Anthropologie structurale (1958; English edition: Structural Anthropology, 1963). His position as the most influential anthropologist and contemporary thinker in France was by now secure, and in the course of the 1960's, as his books were belatedly translated into English, his impact was felt globally.

Lévi-Strauss's work falls roughly into two periods, during which he focused, first, on kinship, and then, following his perhaps most famous book, La pensée sauvage (1962; English edition: The Savage Mind, 1966), on myth. His Mythologiques (in four volumes 1964-71; English edition: Introduction to a Science of Mythology, 1969-81) is a massive, comparative exploration of South American myth and cosmology.

Aside from Jakobson, the most important influence on Lévi-Strauss was Marcel Mauss, whose theory of gift-giving underlies the structuralist theory of kinship alliances.

For a further account of Lévi-Strauss's thought, see structuralism.

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