Levi-Strauss, Claude

Tremlett, Paul-François (2020). Levi-Strauss, Claude. In Gamez, Patrick ed. Bloomsbury Encylopedia of Philosophers Bloomsbury, London.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5040/9781350999992.0039


Lévi-Strauss’s considerable oeuvre has divided scholars. Some have suggested that it reduces human experiences and meanings to the effects of deep, unconscious, psychological structures and that it privileges a static conception of structure drawn from linguistics that fails to capture the dynamic, lived dimensions of culture. However, others—including this author—maintain that structuralism is a mode of analysis where the emphasis is firmly on transformation. According to this second view, LéviStrauss’s work demonstrates a range of influences beyond linguistics from cybernetics to information theory and mathematics to music, influences that anticipate postmodern and post-structuralist theory and the insight that systems and structures—be they textual, sociocultural, or indeed biological—are inherently unstable and prey to change and indeed liable to entropic decay. Here I will focus on his approach to myths and masks and on the importance of the concept of entropy to understanding his work, before concluding with some brief remarks on his influence on the wider humanities and social sciences. First, however, a brief biographical summary.

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