Structural Anthropologist

Even though Claude Lévi-Strauss was born in Belgium, it was to a French Artist's family --that was of Jewish heritage-- who flourished in the intellectual community.

After finishing his studies at the University of Paris in 1935, he first got his addictive taste for traveling into the Brazilian interior during his professorship at the University of Sao Paulo. After more expeditions to study indigenous peoples upon leaving that position in 1939, he accepted a professorship at New York's New School for Social Research in 1942, and safely held that teaching baton until 1945. Here, he had the opportunity to study North Amerindians where he compared notes from previous endeavors which helped this anthropologist utilize the scientific method with his ideas that concerned the universality of human beings.

He was back in 1950 as Director of Studies at the Ecole Practique des Haute Etudes (Practical School of Higher Learning), and by 1959 he was elevated to the Chair of Social Anthropology at the College de France. Besides the books written in the 1960's: The Savage Mind, The Raw and the Cooked, Elementary Structures and Triste Tropiques, he wrote Structural Anthropology and Totemism.

Lévi-Strauss had given up on his attempts at Legal and Philosophical studies as they gave him new meaning of the word ennui. (Give him a Savage Mind over a logical one, any day.) His own philosophy was more political, as he sympathized with Marx; while he psychoanalyzed with Freud. The other discipline he enjoyed, which had some relation to his field, was geology; and the scholar additionally was heavily involved in classic and modern literature and music.


Lévi-Strauss developed a method for studying relatively "primitive" cultures to hone his theory that viewed man as just one more temporary species in the Cosmos, whose brain shaped humanity's development -- from animal-like to civilized. This organic basis is the material which develops language -- which in turn is the key to understanding the commonalities. It was a school of linguistics that used structuralism for its study, and this scholar made excellent use of it. There is a blank slate at the beginnings of a society where there is a "radical ambiguity" that has to be filled, and that is supplied with words that define that groups needs and wants. Thus, the conclusion is -- Language is Culture. If there is no war in a community, they might not even have a word for this phenomenon. This writer believes that this is demonstrated by, for example, Celtics and Highlanders in UK, Basques in Spain and France, French Quebecois in Canada and Puerto Rico of the the US and their respective independence movements. They are all groups which resisted assimilation -- starting with -- a 'Host' country's tongue.


One can use structuralism looking at a special kind of language, that is more prevalent in tribes without writing, -- the myth. An interesting observation was the similarity of myths around the planet, and further reinforced his method regarding the concentration on detailing structure and not analyzing content. Myth was a language, albeit more complicated because:

  1. It is formed of elements that comply with definite standards.
  2. Relationships are formed with each segment that are based in polarity (The n-ary opposites).
These myths are continued through time with repetition, and by putting this logical structure 'under the microscope' and unraveling the layers of the stories that build -- these 'onion skins' are what have grown different upon countless retelling -- the scientist can see the structure of the myth remains the same.

Perhaps these techniques can be used to dissect Everything2's underlying structure: a living consistency even though it has multiplied like some virtual lemming colony on Methamphetamine.

Introduction to Anthropology, University of Maryland, 1969.