Claude Levi-Strauss (1908 to 2009) is widely regarded as the father of structural anthropology. In the 1940s, he proposed that the proper focus of anthropological investigations was on the underlying patterns of human thought that produce the cultural categories that organize world views hitherto studied. He believed these processes were not deterministic of culture, but instead, operated within culture. His work was heavily influenced by Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss as well as the Prague School of structural linguistics (organized in 1926) which include Roman Jakobson (1896 to 1982), and Nikolai Troubetzkoy (1890 to 1938). From the latter, he derived the concept of binary contrasts, later referred to in his work as binary oppositions, which became fundamental in his theory.
In 1972, his book Structuralism and Ecology was published detailing the tenets of what would become structural anthropology. In it, he proposed that culture, like language, is composed of hidden rules that govern the behavior of its practitioners. What made cultures unique and different from one another are the hidden rules participants understood but are unable to articulate; thus, the goal of structural anthropology is to identify these rules. He maintained that culture is a dialectic process: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Levi-Strauss proposed a methodological means of discovering these rules through the identification of binary oppositions.
The structuralist paradigm in anthropology suggests that the structure of human thought processes is the same in all cultures, and that these mental processes exist in the form of binary oppositions (Winthrop 1991). Some of these oppositions include hot-cold, male-female, culture-nature, and raw-cooked. Structuralists argue that binary oppositions are reflected in various cultural institutions (Lett 1987:80). Anthropologists may discover underlying thought processes by examining such things as kinship, myth, and language. It is proposed, then, that a hidden reality exists beneath all cultural expressions. Structuralists aim to understand the underlying meaning involved in human thought as expressed in cultural acts.
A social anthropologist regarded as structuralist, he is known for his technical studies in the fields of kinship, marriage, ritual and myth, moving rapidly from one topic to another. In his book Political Systems of Highland Burma he elaborates the notion of verbal categories. A contextual structuralist by approach, his form of structuralism is more empirically based than the intellectual versions of it offered in Europe. He examined the ways in which humans use categories to distinguish between self and other, we and say, culture and nature. He criticized Radcliffe Brown and his successors who claim to construct typologies and infer social laws directly from ethnographic data