Who is Claude Levi-Strauss?June 25, 2021
Claude Lévi-Stra, who lived between November 28, 1908 and October 30, 2009, is a French anthropologist, ethnologist and the most important figure of structuralist anthropology.
Claude Lévi-Strauss was born in Brussels on November 28, 1908, to a French-Jewish family. His father, Raymond Lévi-Strauss, who had an art education, was a portrait painter, and his mother, Emma Lévi-Strauss, was from an educated family. Lévi-Strauss’ childhood was spent in Paris in an elite circle.
After his father’s military service due to World War I in 1914, he and his mother started to live with his grandfather, Emile Lévy, who was the Chief Rabbi of Versailles. He studied jurisprudence and philosophy at the Sorbonne University in Paris. After teaching at a high school in Leon for two years, he began working as a professor at the University of São Paulo in 1935. From 1935 to 1939, he took over the Ethnographic Handbook in the Amazons. II. He returned to France shortly before World War II. After completing his voluntary military service, he decided to leave France again to teach at a school in New York. There he met Roman Jakobson and was particularly influenced by his linguistic thinking.
In 1944 he was summoned to France by the French Foreign Ministry and then sent to New York as Cultural Advisor to the French Consulate to complete his new research. In 1949 he became director of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, from 1959 until his retirement in 1982 as professor of social anthropology at the Collège de France.
The founder of structuralism, who strongly opposed Descartes and Sartre, is a famous French anthropologist. For Levi-Strauss, we are primarily social creatures, not consciousness, but the product of language, culture, and education. Levi-Strauss, who never dwells on the subject-object distinction that preoccupies philosophy, says that structuralism is a science. Accordingly, structuralism begins by classifying the basic elements of human activity, actions and words, and then examines how these elements are combined; Structuralism is therefore a scientific study aimed at reaching objective laws concerning all kinds of human activity.
Levi Strauss, who took the basis of his ideas about structuralism from the model of Ferdinand de Saussure, also led the theorists who came after him. Saussure presents structural analysis as a method for the discovery of “eternal universal human truths”. Saussure developed this method by considering language as a structure, that is, by evaluating the language in terms of the functioning of its own components.
For Levi-Strauss, in particular, universal human realities are shared by all people and become observable at every level of the structure, thanks to the quality of being human. Levi-Strauss attempts to evaluate the cultural field in Saussure’s method. It treats the phenomenon of culture just like a system of signs.
One of the ways in which the structure is handled at different levels is that the relations between these building blocks of Levi-Strauss take place around “binary pairs/binary oppositions” within the principle of similarity or difference. These pairs become “interchangeable” with Saussure’s idea of paradigms as they are different, or with syntagmas if they are the same. According to Levi Strauss, the relations between units or elements can be understood through pairs. You can say that an apple is an apple because you know it is not a pear, or a melon, or a watermelon, or a strawberry. But you can determine “what” an apple is by comparing it to another element. For Levi Strauss, the relationship between A and B is important, not what A or B is. Because structuralism is mainly concerned with the System or Structure itself, which grounds the relation of one thing to another.
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