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Claude Lévi-Strauss (/klɔːd ˈlvi ˈstrs/;[2] French: [klod levi stʁos]; 28 November 1908 – 30 October 2009)[3][4][5] was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, born in Belgium to French-Jewish parents living in Brussels, whose work was key in the development of the theory of structuralism and structural anthropology.[6] He held the chair of Social Anthropology at the Collège de France between 1959 and 1982, was elected a member of the Académie française in 1973 and was a member of the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. He received numerous honors from universities and institutions throughout the world and has been called, alongside James George Frazer and Franz Boas,[7] the "father of modern anthropology".[8]

Lévi-Strauss argued that the "savage" mind had the same structures as the "civilized" mind and that human characteristics are the same everywhere.[9][10] These observations culminated in his famous book Tristes Tropiques that established his position as one of the central figures in the structuralist school of thought. As well as sociology, his ideas reached into many fields in the humanities, including philosophy. Structuralism has been defined as "the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity."[4]

Because the raven and coyote reconcile profoundly opposed concepts (i.e., life and death), their own mythical personalities must reflect this duality or contradiction: in other words, they must have a contradictory, "tricky" personality.

This theory

This theory about the structure of myth helps support Lévi-Strauss's more basic theory about human thought. According to this more basic theory, universal laws govern all areas of human thought:

If it were possible to prove in this instance, too, that the apparent arbitrariness of the mind, its supposedly spontaneous flow of inspiration, and its seemingly uncontrolled inventiveness [are ruled by] laws operating at a deeper level...if the human mind appears determined even in the realm of mythology, a fortiori it must also be determined in all its spheres of activity.[31]

Out of all the products of culture, myths seem the most fantastic and unpredictable. Therefore, Lévi-Strauss claims, if even mythical thought obeys universal laws, then all human thought must obey universal laws.

Lévi-Strauss developed the comparison of the Bricoleur and Engineer in The Savage Mind.

Bricoleur has its origin in the old French verb bricoler, which originally referred to extraneous movements in ball games, billiards, hunting, shooting and riding, but which today means do-it-yourself building or repairing things with the tools and materials on hand, puttering or tinkering as it were. In comparison to the true craftsman, whom Lévi-Strauss calls the Engineer, the Bricoleur

Bricoleur has its origin in the old French verb bricoler, which originally referred to extraneous movements in ball games, billiards, hunting, shooting and riding, but which today means do-it-yourself building or repairing things with the tools and materials on hand, puttering or tinkering as it were. In comparison to the true craftsman, whom Lévi-Strauss calls the Engineer, the Bricoleur is adept at many tasks and at putting preexisting things together in new ways, adapting his project to a finite stock of materials and tools.

The Engineer deals with projects in their entirety, conceiving and procuring all the necessary materials and tools to suit his project. The Bricoleur approximates "the savage mind" and the Engineer approximates the scientific mind. Lévi-Strauss says that the universe of the Bricoleur is closed, and he often is forced to make do with whatever is at hand, whereas the universe of the Engineer is open in that he is able to create new tools and materials. However, both live within a restrictive reality, and so the Engineer is forced to consider the preexisting set of theoretical and practical knowledge, of technical means, in a similar way to the Bricoleur.

Lévi-Strauss's theory on the origin of the Trickster has been criticized on a number of points by anthropologists.

Stanley Diamond notes that while the secular civilized often consider the concepts of life and death to be polar, primitive cultures often see them "as aspects of a single condition, the condition of existence."Stanley Diamond notes that while the secular civilized often consider the concepts of life and death to be polar, primitive cultures often see them "as aspects of a single condition, the condition of existence."[33]:308 Diamond remarks that Lévi-Strauss did not reach such a conclusion by inductive reasoning, but simply by working backwards from the evidence to the "a priori mediated concepts"[33]:310 of "life" and "death," which he reached by assumption of a necessary progression from "life" to "agriculture" to "herbivorous animals," and from "death" to "warfare" to "beasts of prey." For that matter, the coyote is well known to hunt in addition to scavenging and the raven also has been known to act as a bird of prey, in contrast to Lévi-Strauss's conception. Nor does that conception explain why a scavenger such as a bear would never appear as the Trickster. Diamond further remarks that "the Trickster names 'raven' and 'coyote' which Lévi-Strauss explains can be arrived at with greater economy on the basis of, let us say, the cleverness of the animals involved, their ubiquity, elusiveness, capacity to make mischief, their undomesticated reflection of certain human traits."[33]:311 Finally, Lévi-Strauss's analysis does not appear to be capable of explaining why representations of the Trickster in other areas of the world make use of such animals as the spider and mantis.

Edmund Leach wrote that "The outstanding characteristic of his writing, whether in French or English, is that it is difficult to understand; his sociological theories combine baffling complexity with overwhelming erudition. Some readers even suspect that they are being treated to a confidence trick."[34] Sociologist Stanislav Andreski criticized Lévi-Strauss's work generally, arguing that his scholarship was often sloppy and moreover that much of his mystique and reputation stemmed from his "threatening people with mathematics," a reference to Lévi-Strauss's use of quasi-algebraic equations to explain his ideas.[35] Critic Camille Paglia dismissed Lévi-Strauss as overrated, commenting that "[w]hen as a Yale graduate student I ransacked that great temple, Sterling Library, in search of paradigms for reintegrating literary criticism with history, I found literally nothing in Lévi-Strauss that I felt had scholarly solidity."[36] Drawing on postcolonial approaches to anthropology, Timothy Laurie has suggested that "Lévi-Strauss speaks from the vantage point of a State intent on securing knowledge for the purposes of, as he himself would often claim, salvaging local cultures...but the salvation workers also ascribe to themselves legitimacy and authority in the process."[37]