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Claude Lévi-Strauss obituary

November 4, 2009

by Maurice Bloch
from The Guardian

clsThe fame of Claude Lévi-Strauss, who has died aged 100, extended well beyond his own subject of anthropology. He was without doubt the anthropologist best known to non-specialists. This is mainly because he is usually considered to be the founder of the intellectual movement known as structuralism, which was to have such influence, especially in the 1970s. He was one of those French intellectuals – like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Paul Ricoeur – whose influence spread to many other disciplines because they were philosophers in a much broader sense of the word than the academic philosophers of the British and American tradition.

As a result, these French writers have seemed more stimulating to some Anglo-Saxon thinkers, working in intellectually more imaginative, but perhaps less rigorous, areas such as literature, history or sociology than the home-grown product. Yet it is something of an irony that Lévi-Strauss should have been thought of in this way, as he considered himself, above all, a technical anthropologist, and he was a little surprised, if not also a little suspicious, of the enthusiasm for structuralism manifested by students of literature and others. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that he relished the literary fame that his work acquired, especially for his 1955 book Tristes Tropiques. more

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