Claude Levi-Strauss is credited with Structural Anthropology, which assumes that cultural forms are based on common underlying properties of the human mind. Levi-Strauss believed that human minds have certain characteristics which stem from the functions of the brain. These common mental structures lead people to think similarly, regardless of their society or cultural background. Since culture is formulated by human minds, which follows the same pattern of functions, all cultures are based on common general rules.
According to Levi-Strauss, among these universal mental characteristics is the need to classify: to impose order on aspects of nature, on people’s relationships with nature, and on relations between people. Levi-Strauss argued that a universal aspect of classification is opposition, or contrast. Furthermore, he discovered that one of the most common means of classifying is by using binary opposition, such as good and evil, white and black, old and young, high and low. He argued that a fundamental characteristic of the human mind is the desire to find a midpoint between such oppositions.
Levi-Strauss first applied his ideas about classification and binary opposition towards kinship and published The Elementary Structure of Kinship in 1949. One of the most famous writings by Levi-Strauss is his Mythologiques series, in which he applied Structuralism to the analysis of myths. He saw myths as symbols that represent our social existence. For example, in the story of Asdiwal, a myth among the Timshian in Canada, there are parallel opposite pairs, such as Matrilocal/Patrilocal, Journey West/Journey East, Sea/Land, and Sea Hunting/Land Hunting. In fact, each oppositional pair is composed by one real characteristic and one imaginary characteristic in the Tsimushian society. In other words, these opposites do not exist in reality. Levi-Strauss argued that these fantasy oppositions reveal our tendency of classifying our complicated reality by giving explanations.
Biography of Claude Levi-Strauss