This week, France mourns the loss of one of the nation’s most influential anthropologists and thinkers. Claude Lévi-Strauss died after enduring cardiac arrest last Friday, just twenty-nine days shy of his 101st birthday. He will be remembered most as a revolutionary academic thinker, a scientist and a writer of both enormous intellect and influence. He is survived by his wife, Monique Roman, sons Laurent and Matthieu, and two grandchildren.
In the academic realm of anthropology, which demanded his implicit adherence to conformity of thought, Lévi-Strauss challenged many of his field’s previously accepted tropes. His controversial stances on the history of civilization radically changed the script for humankind’s history on Earth, one which claimed that so-called “primitive” societies were populated by uninspired tribes of humans who were collectively driven by their basic physical needs. Lévi-Strauss insisted that both reason and logic were central to the group dynamics, even if it wasn’t immediately obvious to the field researchers who had come before him.
In his work, he hoped to prove that oral and written myths, from tribes as seemingly disparate as two villages in Brazil and South France, were connected by the evidence of unified structures and patterns which govern all human activity. He argued that tribal communities were formed by their guiding laws and the community’s adherence to these laws. With the minor shift of a few details which were specific to each region, Lévi-Strauss believed the most advanced and the most remote of cultures and time periods shared universal motifs of binary opposition: hot and cold, raw and uncooked, black and white.