Claude Levi- Strauss (1908-19xx)

Major work:


Key figures:

Related Figures:

The Savage Mind

Structuralism, structural anthropology, kinship

Durkheim (played a critical influence), Saussure

Godelier, Jacobson

Structuralism is concerned with the meaning of different social practices. Meaning is something to be uncovered, it is not transparent and self-evident.

'Structure is two dimensional, combining synchrony and diachrony. If, for Durkheim, the idea of value concealed a veritable antinomy that only an appeal to a conscience collective at once transcendent and immanent could give him the illusion of resolving, Saussure was the first to demystify the problem by showing that the constraining force of values, so puzzling for Durkheim, arose from their systemic character of the same kind as that exercised by every grammar. Values are NOT (contrary to Durkheim) social facts in themselves, but rather they translate the impact on the consciousness of the individual of intellectual constraints resulting from the system of intellectual categories.' (Anthropology and Myth, p. 21)

Levi-Strauss�s anthropology extends the linguistic systems of Saussure to other domains of social enquiry � to social practices of exchange, kinship, food and myths. As one commentator has described it his concern was to see social organisation ' as a combination of elements, never intelligible in itself, but only when its internal arrangement can be seen as one amongst others' (Glucksman p. 235)

'The originality of anthropology has always consisted in studying man by placing itself at what, in each epoch, has been considered the boundaries of humanity. [...] As an 'interstitial' science devoted to the exploration of this mobile frontier separating the possible from the impossible, anthropology will exist as long as humanity and is, in this sense, eternal.' (Anthropology and Myth)

We should look at Levi-Strauss�s critique of Sartre as played out in the Savage Mind.

'We have been taught to fear the impurity of foreign things, a doctrine which we embody in the formula 'Hell is other people', but primitive myth has the opposite moral implication: 'Hell is ourselves' (l'enfer, c'est nous-meme). In a century when man is bent on the destruction of innumerable forms of life, it is necessary to insist, as in the myths, that a properly appointed humanism cannot begin of its own accord but must place the world before life, life before man, and the respect of others before self-respect'. (The Savage Mind, p. 422).


on this site

on other sites

Read essay

Mythical Brief - review of Levi Strauss's Myth and Meaning

The structural study of myth (excerpt from Structural Anthropology)


Quoted piece on Levi-Strauss�s criticism of functionalism



The elementary structures of kinship (1949)

Race and History (1952)

Tristes Tropiques (1955)

Structural Anthropology (1958)

Totemism (1962)

From honey to ashes (1967)

The raw and the cooked (1969)

The view from afar (1985)


The structuralism of Levi Strauss and Althusser - Miriam Glucksman in Rex, J- Approaches to sociology, Routledge, London 1974

Structuralism in anthropology - Harold W.Scheffler, Yale French Studies No. 36/37, Structuralism (1966)- [comparison of levi-strauss with formal ethnography]