Pre-eminent social anthropologist

Claude Levi-Strauss, one of the pre-eminent social anthropologists of the 20th century, whose erudite, often mind-bendingly labored studies of indigenous Brazilian tribes led to influential theories examining human behavior and culture, died over the weekend in Paris. No cause of death was reported.

Dr. Levi-Strauss was often paired with writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Andre Malraux as the towering French intellectuals of the past century. He said his life's work was "an attempt to show that there are laws of mythical thinking as strict and rigorous as you would find in the natural sciences."

He was best-known for popularizing a social science theory known as "structuralism," a philosophical method of approaching anthropology.

In his best-known books - "Tristes Tropiques" (1955), sometimes translated as "A World on the Wane," and "La Pensee Sauvage" (1962), translated as "The Savage Mind" - he set out to show that there was little distinction between so-called civilized and primitive societies.

Cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder of the University of Chicago said Dr. Levi-Strauss's theories come down to this: Logically deduce all the possible ways in which people can behave. Observe which behaviors are actually exhibited in the real world. Finally, try to explain the reason why some behaviors exist and why other logically possible behaviors are never seen. These reasons form a grammar, a structure, upon which all cultures were based, both primitive and civilized.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad