French anthropologist. He helped to formulate the principles of structuralism by stressing the interdependence of cultural systems and the way they relate to each other, maintaining that social and cultural life can be explained by a postulated unconscious reality concealed behind the reality by which people believe their lives to be ordered.
In his analyses of kinship, myth, and symbolism, Lévi-Strauss sought to produce a scientific basis for anthropology and argued that, though the superficial appearance of these factors might vary between societies, their underlying structures were universal and could best be understood in terms of binary oppositions: left and right, male and female, nature and culture, the raw and the cooked, and so on, which represented the universal structure of the mind. His views have been extensively criticized by British and US anthropologists who adhere to a more empiricist approach.
His works include Tristes Tropiques 1955 – an intellectual autobiography – Mythologiques/Mythologies 1964–71, The Savage Mind 1966, The Raw and the Cooked 1970, The Elementary Structures of Kinship 1970, and Totemism 1974.
Lévi-Strauss was born in Brussels, and studied philosophy at Paris. He taught in Brazil at the University of São Paolo 1935–39 and later at academic institutions in New York, where he was a cultural attaché at the French embassy 1946–47. He taught at the Sorbonne 1948–58 and became professor of social anthropology at the Collège de France 1958.
His thinking was influenced by the linguistics of Ferdinand Saussure and Roman Jakobson. He also claimed to be influenced by geology, psychoanalysis, and Marxism. In turn, his ideas have influenced many academic disciplines, ranging from philosophy, politics, and history to art and literary criticism.
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