November 4, 2009

Father of Modern Anthropology Dies

French academic Claude Levi-Strauss, the creator of structural anthropology, passed away at the age of 100, his publisher Plon announced on Tuesday.

Levi-Strauss, famous from his 1955 memoir, "Tristes Tropiques," passed away on Saturday.

"He was France's greatest scientist," said writer Jean d'Ormesson to Reuters News.

Beatriz Perrone Moises, an anthropology professor at the University of Sao Paulo, said to the Associated Press that "given his age, we were almost expecting this, but still I feel a kind of emptiness."

A man who shined at geology, law and philosophy, Levi-Strauss was sent to Brazil as a professor in 1935. It was there that he first discovered his affinity for anthropology.

He traveled to isolated areas of the Amazon and the Mato Grosso to investigate tibal customs, creating theories and ideas that eventually had a weighty impact on anthropology.

Levi-Strauss served several esteemed positions in Paris and New York and began writing his prominent scientific volumes.

Specifically, he took the tribal customs and myths he unearthed to indicate that human behavior derives from rational systems that differ from society to society, yet retain a similar sub-structure.

These writings, which defied the idea that Western European culture was more advanced, spoke to those against the idea of colonialism. Levi-Strauss insisted that language, communication and logic could be utilized to divulge basic social systems.

During his exceptionally long career, Levi-Strauss wrote academically important anthropological classics like "Tristes Tropiques" (1955), "The Savage Mind" (1963) and "The Raw and the Cooked" (1964).

France responded expressively to Levi-Strauss' passing, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy uniting with government officials, politicians and citizens posting heartfelt responses online.

He was awarded France's highest acknowledgment for a scientist in 1973, when he was nominated to the Academie Francaise. He also won awards from foreign universities and governments.