In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Claude Lévi-Strauss

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Early Life
  • Intellectual Influences
  • Life in the United States
  • Mythologiques
  • Paris in the 1950s–1960s
  • Reception in the English-Speaking World
  • The 1970s–1990s
  • The 1990s and 2000s and Posthumous Publications
  • The Legacy of Lévi-Strauss

Anthropology Claude Lévi-Strauss
Michael Harkin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0034


Claude Lévi-Strauss (b. 1908–d. 2009) was the preeminent French anthropologist of the twentieth century and one of the most influential thinkers on the subjects of myth, culture, religion, and social organization. He is the originator of the best-known version of “structuralism,” a theoretical framework that examines elementary units of cultural systems, such as myth, and the principles by which they are organized at a systemic level. His work has been highly influential within and outside anthropology, especially in fields such as literary studies and philosophy. Indeed, a generation of “post-structuralist” French philosophers, such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jean Baudrillard, arose to modify and contest structuralism, and thus to affirm its importance.

General Overviews

Lévi-Strauss cast such a large shadow on the profession of anthropology, as well as the humanities and social sciences more broadly, especially in France and the English-speaking world, that inevitably scholars would examine his legacy, especially toward the end of his life. Izard 2004 examines Lévi-Strauss’s legacy primarily within France itself, and accounts for not merely his scholarship but his central institutional role in the development of anthropology in postwar France. Wiseman 2009 examines his intellectual influence globally, with attention to particular aspects of his thought that have been underrepresented in secondary literature, such as his concept of humanism. Mauzé, et al. 2004 examines his legacy in the study of American Indian culture and literature, from a primarily North American perspective.

  • Godelier, Maurice. 2018. Claude Lévi-Strauss: A critical study of his thought. Translated by Nora Scott. London: Verso.

    A summary of his most important works by a prominent student. It eschews personal information, ignoring that aspect altogether, focusing instead on his legacy. It offers critiques of many aspects of the structuralist project, including alliance theory and the analysis of myth.

  • Harkin, Michael E. 2019. Lévi-Strauss: Two lives. Reviews in Anthropology 48.2: 88–102.

    DOI: 10.1080/00938157.2019.1644468

    This review essay discusses the Godelier and Loyer books, discussing them as the Left Bank versus Right Bank versions of a biography of Lévi-Strauss.

  • Izard, Michel, ed. 2004. Claude Lévi-Strauss. Paris: Éditions de L’Herne.

    An authoritative edited volume on many aspects of Lévi-Strauss’s career, edited by a preeminent French anthropologist. Internationally prominent scholars examine biographical, theoretical, and historical contexts of Lévi-Strauss’s career, both within and outside France.

  • Loyer, Emmanuelle. 2015. Claude Lévi-Strauss. Paris: Flammarion.

    The authorized biography of Lévi-Strauss, by a prominent French historian. It adds considerable detail, based on interviews with family members and extensive archival research, to our knowledge of his life, although it does not depart significantly from the accounts by Lévi-Strauss himself in Tristes Tropiques and his several volumes of interviews.

  • Loyer, Emmanuelle, ed. 2018. Correspondance, 1942–1982. Paris: Éditions de Seuil.

    This large volume of correspondence between Lévi-Strauss and Roman Jakobson documents just how significant that relationship was to Lévi-Strauss. It sheds light on the development of his thought over the years, after his initial encounter with Jakobson in the 1940s. It also illuminates the playful side of Lévi-Strauss, as much of the correspondence consists of wordplay and amusing anecdotes.

  • Mauzé, Marie, Michael E. Harkin, and Sergei Kan, eds. 2004. Coming to shore: Northwest Coast ethnology, traditions, and visions. Papers presented at the Northwest Coast Ethnology Conference, Paris, June 2000. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

    An edited volume arising from a conference in honor of Claude Lévi-Strauss held at the Collège de France in 2000. Many of the contributors examine the contributions Lévi-Strauss made to American and Canadian anthropology.

  • Wiseman, Boris, ed. 2009. The Cambridge companion to Lévi-Strauss. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521846301

    A less encyclopedic volume than Izard 2004, but with many of the same authors. The focus is more directly on the theoretical dimensions of Lévi-Strauss’s work. Its thrust is in the direction of considering Lévi-Strauss in new contexts, such as aesthetics, philosophy, and humanities.

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