After weeks crossing the high seas, Claude Levi-Strauss breathed in his first lungful of the New World, a perfume tinged with pepper or tobacco. The sensory awakening was the start of a journey that turned a young Parisian scholar into a founder of modern anthropology.
On that 1930s trip that took him across the Atlantic to Latin America, Levi-Strauss’ scholarly upbringing guided him on a methodical search for humankind’s inner workings as he met tribes in Brazil’s jungles. His studies would later electrify — and divide — the intellectual world with the idea that cultures share similarities underlying their myths and patterns of behavior.
Levi-Strauss’ death at age 100 was announced in Paris on Tuesday. French media said he died on Friday.
Born on Nov. 28, 1908, in Brussels, Belgium, to French parents of Jewish origin, he was forced to flee France during World War II after Germany invaded and the collaborationist Vichy regime passed anti-Jewish laws. He ended up in New York, which he called “the most fruitful period of my life.”
He was widely regarded as having reshaped anthropology, becoming the leading advocate of what is now known as structuralism — defined as the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity.
His ideas reached into fields including the humanities and philosophy.