Sunday, January 10, 2021

Claude Levi-Strauss - introduction and main ideas

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908 - 2009) is an anthropologist and ethnologist who had a major impact on social sciences and humanities in the second half of the 20th century. Lévi-Strauss became in particular one of the founding figures of structuralism from the 1950s by developing a specific methodology, structural anthropology, through which he radically renewed ethnology and anthropology by applying to them the holistic principles derived from the language , the phonology, mathematics and natural sciences.

Levi-Strauss' innovation in the field of anthropological thought was in the application of linguistic structuralism (see de-Saussure's work) to the social sciences, to culture and, in fact, to reality. The basic idea is that just as language is made up of structures, so are human phenomena. The two most important works of Levi-Strauss dealt with the study of kinship and the study of mythology. Using a large database of data he came to the conclusion that despite what seems like a great mixture of perceptions, the "primitive" world of the natives is an intellectually orderly world, with an almost-scientific order. Therefore, the differences between Western and Indigenous society are only at the surface level, and at the depth level they are secondary. The white person and the black person, red or yellow, process information in the same way, using the same procedures, which are based on several universal binary opposites: nature versus culture, male versus female, life versus death.

Main idea's in Claude Levi-Strauss theory:

"The sad tropics" (


ristes Tropiques

Strauss was interested in fieldwork in Brazil but in his diary he described a difficult journey into the depths of the jungle and his feeling that it is impossible to really understand people who are different from us so he came to the idea that the only way to understand other people's worlds is to see thought patterns The universals that we and they have in common - this is a binary mechanism - thinking through opposites. Was influenced by linguistics and he takes it to the side of culture.

The principle of binary thinking is innate, universal and the differences between cultures stem not from the structure of thinking but from the elements with which they think, from the various materials found in every human group.

The structural analysis - Levi-Strauss focuses on myths that are ostensibly stories of fantasy but there are similar myths all over the world and in his opinion this myth is a basic transfer of knowledge to culture and by myths one can analyze certain, hidden things of culture- i.e. the meaning of the myth is in its structure. For example: the story "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" - Goldilocks symbolizes the enlightened person who came from culture and the three bears symbolize nature - it is a basic pair of opposites and gold, as the bears are hybrid creatures that allow to merge or mediate between the opposites.

The story of Oedipus - in order to tell the myth you have to follow the lines - one thing after another. To understand the myth one has to go by the columns and look at each column as a unit.

Two opposites and an intermediary element - according to Levi-Strauss the myth creates syntheses between the opposites and dulls the severity of the opposites but does not resolve the opposites - thus the myth creates a reality for itself in which man can deal with the binary inherent in human experience.

Survival - Survival is a reciprocal exchange, it is a system that regulates the exchange of women between different groups in marriage and thus defines relationships between groups - therefore, according to Strauss, there is a prohibition on incest because it interferes between groups which is the basis for group interaction.

Levi Strauss' approach  differs from the functional tradition in that he studies culture as an independent phenomenon in society - in the structure of thinking. Strauss does not seek what is visible, but deals with what is hidden and deep, which is universal.

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