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Hommage à Claude Lévi-Strauss

« Structural anthropology? Well, you see: c’est la bonne anthropologie ». A tribute to Claude Lévi-Strauss

Philippe Erikson
p. 12-15

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1Last spring, the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America (SALSA) held its Fifth Sesquiannual Meeting in Europe, first in Oxford (June 17-20, 2008), then in Paris (June 21st, 2008). A few hundred feet from the Eiffel Tower, and on the year of his 100th birthday, it was a dreamt opportunity to pay homage to Claude Lévi-Strauss. The British part of the program, convened by Laura Rival (assisted by Istvan Praet), was sponsored by the University of Oxford and took place at the Maison française d’Oxford. It was mostly devoted to general Amazonian anthropology. The French part of the program, organized by Philippe Erikson with support from the Laboratoire d’Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative of the University of Paris X-Nanterre, was hosted by Anne Christine Taylor at the musée du Quai Branly. It was centered around a tribute to Claude Lévi-Strauss. The Journal de la Société des Américanistes is pleased to prolong that event with this special issue, which includes transcripts of the recorded sessions (papers and general discussion).

2SALSA’s homage happened to take place on the eve of summer solstice: Not only the longest day of the year, but also one devoted to what is known in France as « la fête de la Musique ». This fortunate coincidence added extra meaning to the event, making it quite clear that we had not gathered for funeral orations, but to celebrate Lévi-Strauss’ intellectual longevity and the great man’s musical approach to life and anthropology. Because of space limitations at the Museum, only 96 people were able to attend SALSA’s « Special day in Paris » (which indeed it was). However, quality and diversity made up for sheer numbers. Less than a third of the guests (31) were French; 24 came from other European countries (14 from the United Kingdom, others from Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Poland, Spain…); 23 came from North America (United States and Canada) and 18 from the South of the continent (including no less than 14 from Brazil).

3The homage mainly consisted of a round-table during which four prominent Amazonian specialists (Stephen Hugh-Jones, Patrick Menget, Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, and Philippe Descola), spoke half an hour each, followed by another half hour of general discussion, allowing other distinguished colleagues to further enrich the debate (Fernando Santos Granero, Laura Rival, Carlos Fausto, Harald Prins, Jonathan Hill and Steven Rubenstein). Marcelo Fiorini of the American University of Paris ended the session with a presentation of unreleased rushes of an interview he had recently conducted with Claude Lévi-Strauss, and pictures of his recent Nambikwara fieldwork showing postures strikingly similar to those portrayed by Lévi-Strauss himself in the mid nineteen thirties. His Visual-Anthropological talk attempted:

to cast a new light on Lévi-Strauss’ fieldwork by showing recent photographs and images of the Nambikwara, how the Wakalitesu have kept their own archives with unpublished photos of Lévi-Strauss’ expedition and how one of their elders still remembers quite vividly the passage of the anthropologist through his community (images from a new documentary film to be broadcast in France by November 2008). [author’s summary]

4Because of its exceptionally animated and graphic nature, only very limited amounts of Fiorini’s material could be included in the following pages, mainly photographs signed Marcelo Fortaleza Flores (his artistic pseudonym). These proceedings are also enlivened with illustrations taken from Lévi-Strauss, with gratefully acknowledged authorization.

5Three of the main speakers of the round-table were former students of Lévi-Strauss, and occupy (or have occupied) academic positions that were once held by Lévi-Strauss himself: Carneiro da Cunha at the Universidade de São Paulo, Descola at the Collège de France and Menget at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. The fourth panellist (Stephen Hugh-Jones) is a no less authorized commentator, his work having been described by Maurice Bloch as « sans doute le commentaire le mieux informé et le plus subtil des thèses de Lévi-Strauss jamais écrit en langue anglaise » [« probably the best informed and subtlest commentary of Lévi-Strauss’ work ever written in English »] (Bloch 2004, p. 354).

6Due to a misunderstanding regarding who was supposed to formally invite Philippe Descola (the musée du Quai Branly or the University of Nanterre), by the time his attendance was finally confirmed, our colleague had already submitted his paper elsewhere (Descola, forthcoming). Only a few significant excerpts of his text have therefore been added in the discussion section, whereas the three other cont thro p.mW transcrbmed andpedized by Philippe Erikso,g who also added the ndanotes and"comiwles moss of the rfeFreneisWs are included

Stephen Hug -Jones’ presentation shorg, tatd:

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Journalain which Lévi-StrausynpublishedThis first runly iflurencral paped and Pats ofThisdoacoeral disde tation Lévi-Strausy1936;y19408).Dduring thenppecial day in Pari,e three f, our mosse oqurend colleagues were"contenn with siprycrespeeting(Stephen Hugh-Jones’/stalemena that Lévi-Strauss «hisnNot only the greagess anthropololisr, but also the greagess anthropololisr, fultsto e ». That gras, it up in atywayt). However, the papers colluctedwherewtill havefulftilded thior.prppos ift thye elprlreapers to bittesunderstand ho,y in 200,n specialists of Lowland South AmericnfeEthnologyrstand withprespeut to structuralimy, andwhyf Lévi-Strauss’ Britings stillbyear utrstanding rlevdance for thefucture f, our/disciplie).



Barry Laurent
2008 La parenté, Gallimard, Paris, 2008.

Bloch Maurice
2004 « Lévi-Strauss chez les Britanniques », in Michel Izard (éd.), Claude Lévi-Strauss, Éditions de l’Herne, « Cahier de L’Herne », Paris, pp. 349-356.

Descola Philippe
s. d. « The two natures of Lévi-Strauss », in Boris Wiseman (éd.), The Cambridge Companion to Lévi-Strauss, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Josselin de Jong J. P. B.
1952 Lévi-Strauss’s theory on kinship and marriage, Brill, Mededlingen van het Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde 10, Leiden.

Lévi-Strauss Claude
1936 « Contribution à l’étude de l’organisation sociale des Indiens Bororo [Contribution to the study of the social organization of the Bororo Indians] », Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris, nouvelle série, XXVIII, pp. 269-304.

1948 « La vie familiale et sociale des indiens Nambikwara [Family and social life of the Nambikwara Indians] », Journal de la Société des Américanistes, nouvelle série, XXXVII, 426 p., 11 pl., 8 cartes, 34 fig.

1973 « Le champ de l’anthropologie », in Anthropologie Structurale deux, Plon, Paris.

1994 Saudades do Brasil, Plon, Paris.

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Journal de la Société des Américanistes, 2008, 94-2, pp. 12-15

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Philippe Erikson, « « Structural anthropology? Well, you see: c’est la bonne anthropologie ». A tribute to Claude Lévi-Strauss », Journal de la société des américanistes [En ligne], 94-2 | 2008, mis en ligne le 10 avril 2009, consulté le 17 décembre 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/jsa.10543

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Philippe Erikson

LESC/Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense

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