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Anthro Theory Summaries

Anthro Theory Summaries - Anthropological Theories I...

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Anthropological Theories I. Unilineal evolution (1850s – 1900s) It was thought that cultures evolved just as hominids had, that societies evolve in a single direction toward complexity, progress, and civilization. A. Sir Edward Tylor (1832 1917) English. According to the text, he defined the concept of culture in 1871. He repudiated the idea of cultural evolution’s correlation with race or with the innate superiority of any population. B. Lewis Henry Morgan (1818 – 1881) American Published the first complete field report on a Native American tribe, the Iroquois, in 1851. Both men held ethnocentric views typical of their time period. Morgan’s theory: society evolves through progressive stages of cultural evolution as follows: Savagery à Barbarism à Civilization. The categories were based on increasingly complex technological sophistication, and each stage also included specific cultural patterns. According to Bates & Fratkin, Tylor and Morgan’s ethnocentrism masks their positive contributions especially the concept that people, regardless of technological achievements, were essentially equal in their innate abilities. II. Diffusionism (Early 20 th century) This school of thought maintains that cultural change occurs when societies “borrow” cultural traits from one another. A. The early, British form was not only ethnocentric but also incorrect. It essentially held that there was one center of culture – Egypt. Everything had diffused, or spread, from Egypt to other human groups. Egypt à Greece à Rome à Europe Contemporary cultures with no cultural traits from Egypt (including hunter-gatherers) had “degenerated” or just forgotten the original ideas previously borrowed from Egypt. B. Today the concept of cultural diffusion is very important, and explains how modernism has diffused into less complex cultures around the world. Example: The Netsilik Eskimo now use snowmobiles and live in houses made from modern building materials. III. Historical Particularism (Early 1900s) A uniquely American response to unilineal evolution and primarily associated with Franz Boas (1858 – 1942). A. Emphasis on fieldwork B. Inductively focused: collect data first, before formulating theories C. Cultural relativism emerges. It is necessary to understand a culture within the context of its cultural system. D. Holistic à look at all aspects of a culture and its interrelationships. E. Rejected generalizations about cultures à Boas emphasized that intensive study of a particular society and its history was necessary to understand and explain it. F. Instituted participant observation method as a basic research strategy of ethnographic fieldwork.
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G. Practiced salvage ethnography. Boas knew Native American cultures could die out through forced assimilation. Study of the Kwakiutl a specialty.
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