Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Wise words, wise man

Claude Lévi-Strauss, arguably the single most important social anthropologist of the 20th century, passed away in Paris on Sunday at the age of 100.

Strauss carved out a reputation for rigorous research and a towering intellect, and is credited with establishing Anthropology as equal to any of the natural sciences. He championed a controversial theory known as "structuralism" in anthropology; a philosophical method of approaching anthropology that identifies fundamental behaviour that is crucial to the functioning of human society; inherent in the human mind, pre-programmed, unconscious and common to us all - sparking a debate which continues to this day.

In his two best selling books; "Tristes Tropiques" (A World on the Wane) 1955 and "La Pensée Sauvage" (The Savage Mind) 1962, he set out to show that there were few differences between 'civilised' and 'primitive societies'. He preferred to refer to the latter as "societies without writing", chastising our so-called 'civilised' society for mistakenly dismissing them as savages.

Lévi-Strauss's view of mankind was that of a race ultimately destined for extinction, in the revolutionary "Tristes Tropiques", based on his work in South America in the 1930s, he observed:
"The world began without the human race and will certainly end without it"

"What else has man done except blithely break down billions of structures and reduce them to a state in which they are no longer capable of integration?"
Wise words indeed, we should take heed...


  1. He made good jeans thats for sure

  2. It's been a very long time since I read any anthropology (or much else of value). I should start again. Thanks for that.

  3. @scunnert - Just a hobby of mine, intended to study Anthropology at Uni - and ended up on an Engineering degree sponsored by BP (heh - the best laid plans).. Desmond Morris "The Naked Ape Trilogy" got me interested, worth a read - anytime

  4. When discussing the Gaia, Climate Catastrophe thing with quite sensible, right on people it surprises me how many of them view the " we are the problem and need eradicating " argument as bizzare and unreal.