Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Lévi-Strauss, one of the founders of structural anthropology, used his discipline to achieve insights into Western civilization by studying non-Western societies. He challenged basic Western assumptions about politics, history, and culture and became one of the major figures in the intellectual history of the twentieth century.
Claude Lévi-Strauss was born on November 28, 1908, in Brussels, Belgium, where his French parents lived, while his father, an artist, painted. When World War I began, his parents took him home to France, where he joined his grandfather, the Rabbi of Versailles. Little is known about Lévi-Strauss’ youth, but his formal schooling obviously proved unsatisfactory. He studied law and philosophy at the University of Paris but found both fields sterile and intellectually confining, although he taught philosophy in the early 1930’s.
Outside the formal educational structure, Lévi-Strauss had taken what he described as his three intellectual mistresses: geology, psychoanalysis, and Marxism. He found an underlying similarity in these seemingly disparate modes of thought. Each found surface reality to reflect a truer reality beneath. Each turned the surface chaos of experience into an abstract model that made the deeper reality understandable.
These intellectual interests came together around 1934, when Lévi-Strauss read American anthropologist...
(The entire section is 1983 words.)
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Claude Lévi-Strauss (lay-vee strohs) not only founded structuralism but also affected Western thought as few people have done since World War II. He is one of France’s treasured thinkers, but he is as much a figure belonging to the world as to one country. This universality is appropriate to an anthropologist, and because of the circumstances surrounding Lévi-Strauss’s youth and family, there would seem few people better suited to this occupation. Lévi-Strauss was born in Brussels, Belgium, on November 28, 1908, to Raymond Lévi-Strauss and his wife, Emmy Lévy. In 1914 the family left Belgium and moved to Versailles, France, where they lived with Raymond’s father, a rabbi. The move put Claude into a doubly alien environment, French and Jewish, and he lived with this sense of otherness while he received his education. Lévi-Strauss studied philosophy and law at the Sorbonne in Paris from 1927 to 1932. In 1934, following two years of teaching in a lycée, Lévi-Strauss received an appointment to the University of São Paulo, Brazil, where he taught as a professor of sociology until 1937. Following the end of his appointment, Lévi-Strauss stayed in Brazil until 1939. During this time, Lévi-Strauss decided that he wanted to be an ethnologist and was able to make two trips into the Brazilian interior to do fieldwork. As a result of his studies, Lévi-Strauss not only published his first work but also developed the sense of the binary opposition of...
(The entire section is 1191 words.)