Two approaches to the humanities: Claude Lévi-Strauss and Germaine Tillion

Tzvetan Todorov


This article compares two different approaches to the humanities in general and to anthropology in particular, represented by two renowned French scholars, Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2009) and Germaine Tillion (1907–2008). While Lévi- Strauss emphasized the importance of an objective stance in the humanities and wanted to eliminate all subjectivity, Tillion desired to reserve an exclusive role for subjectivity, preferring human individuals to abstractions. The article suggests looking for the reason for these opposite positions within the disparate experiences the two scholars had during World War II: an American university life for Lévi-Strauss, and “humanist classes” in a German concentration camp for Tillion. A person who had been through the schooling at Ravensbrück could not arrive at the same conception of the field as another whose experiences came from the campus of an American university.


anthropology; epistemology; Claude Lévi-Strauss; Germaine Tillion

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SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES. ISSN 1406-4243 (print), 1736-7409 (online). E-mail: Postal address: Sign Systems Studies, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi St. 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia