the Claude Lévi-Strauss century


In 1938, the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss drove a mule train up a derelict telegraph line, which wound its way across the scrublands of Mato Grosso state in Brazil. He headed an ethnographic team conducting fieldwork among the semi-nomadic Nambikwara who roamed the plains through the dry season. Photographs from the journey look dated even for their era. Men in pith helmets mingling with virtually naked tribesmen, mules heaving crates of equipment through the wilderness, laden-down canoes and jungle campsites – it all has the feel of some grand nineteenth-century scientific expedition. Yet, after the Second World War, Lévi-Strauss would add a modern twist to anthropology with the development of a completely new way of thinking about ethnographic data.

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