, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 330–347

Claude Lévi-Strauss on race, history and genetics

  • Staffan Müller-Wille
Original Article

DOI: 10.1057/biosoc.2010.17

Cite this article as:
Müller-Wille, S. BioSocieties (2010) 5: 330. doi:10.1057/biosoc.2010.17


In 1952, the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss published a small booklet titled Race and History. It formed part of a series of pamphlets on the so-called ‘race-question’ by leading anthropologists and geneticists, which UNESCO published as part of its campaign against racism. Roughly 20 years later, in 1971, UNESCO invited Lévi-Strauss's to give a lecture to open the International Year of Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. This time the lecture, titled ‘Race and culture’, caused a scandal. In 2005, on occasion of the Organisation's sixtieth anniversary, Lévi-Strauss was once again invited by UNESCO to give a lecture. It followed the same lines as his 1971 speech, but now met with acclaim. In my paper I will analyse Lévi-Strauss’s interventions with respect to their reliance on contemporary genetics. Lévi-Strauss always saw a close analogy between structuralist anthropology and genetics, and derived his anti-evolutionary stance from the combinatory logic that both disciplines endorsed. I will argue, that it was this combinatory logic which created room for historical contingency and agency in Lévi-Strauss’s understanding of the history of humankind.


structural anthropologypopulation geneticsmolecular biologyraceClaude Lévi-Strauss

Copyright information

© The London School of Economics and Political Science 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Staffan Müller-Wille
    • 1
  1. 1.ESRC Centre for Genomics and Society, University of Exeter, Byrne HouseExeterUK