Happy 100th Birthday, Claude Levi-Strauss

And Le Nouvel Observateur marks the occasion with a great special issue on Levi-Strauss.

There is no disputing the fact that Levi-Strauss is the last of the great post-War public intellectuals that France has produced and an enormous influence on the social sciences. His structuralism revolutionized anthropology and sociology and is still considered a foundation for the social sciences. Structuralism is the first course I taught at the University of Nice in 1997 along with structural linguistics as part of a course on language and society. His analysis of myths was truly a revelation of the power of structural analysis that definitely made all other approaches seem childish. And of course, his influence on the rest of the French intellectual scene, from Foucault to Bourdieu is undeniable even as both men criticized structuralism for its underestimation of power (something that will be at the heart of the post-structuralist movement.

Sociology on YouTube – Bourdieu on Levi-Strauss

Liberation is starting an interesting weekly series in partnership with the National Institute of Audiovisual (INA – the television archives). They will publish segments of old television programs with important intellectual figures. The first installment can be seen here, an interview with Claude Levi-Strauss. Claude Levi-Strauss was the initiator of a major (and I mean MAJOR) epistemological shift in France (VERY simplistically, from existentialism to structuralism) thanks to his structural anthropology (excerpts here). The French intellectual scene was never the same… there is a “before Levi-Strauss” and “after Levi-Strauss”. Of course, I am still an enthusiastic reader of his work and he is still considered the most important French intellectual in France. And he’s still alive!

Unfortunately, it’s all in French, so, if you don’t speak the language (you mean the whole world is not francophone? Well I never!), you’re missing out on all the good stuff on the structural study of myths as language and the raw and the cooked as symbolic representations of the duality between nature and culture. I still think there is very little that is more powerful than structural analysis (and post-structural as well… damn, I have to blog more on theories, especially the French ones).

The good news is that there is a YouTube clip for everything, so, without further ado, let’s hear it from Pierre Bourdieu (gosh, I miss him!) – with sub-titles – on Levi-Strauss.