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History of Anthropology
Brief Introduction to Significant
Theorists and Ideas
Origins of Anthropology
► Varying
theories on when the discipline began
► Differing views on whether it is a natural science
or a humanities subject
► Today is clearly considered a social science, and
many aspects cross over into other social science
disciplines, such as psychology, history, sociology,
philosophy, etc.
► Elements of early origins trace back as far as the
Greeks in 5 BCE
► Missionaries, explorers, and philosophers all
contributed to the early discipline
Early Perspectives
► 19th
C. (Victorian age) idea of social evolution
 Belief that all human societies develop in one
particular direction (from savage to civilized)
 European societies were believed to embody
“civilized” (according to Europeans, of course!)
► Technological
advances of the Industrial
Revolution and the spread of European
colonialism contributed to this belief
 Europeans believed that “white man’s burden” was
to “civilize the savages” through colonialism and
missionary work
Cultural Evolutionists:
Henry Maine of Britain
► Britain:
Henry Maine (1822-1888)
 Made distinction between status and contract
 Status societies are based on kinship and myth as
operating principles
 Contract societies are based on individual merit
and achievement
 Idea corresponds with later, modern theories
 Overly simplistic, but still has an impact on
anthropological thinking today
Cultural Evolutionists:
Lewis Henry Morgan
► America:
Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-82)
 Published the first ethnography of the Iroquois
 Outlined an evolutionary scheme that traced seven
stages of societies from savage to civilized
 Each of the stages was connected to technological
 Also focused heavily on kinship systems
 His work influenced later philosophers and social
scientists, such as Marx and Engels
Cultural Evolutionists:
Edward Tylor and James Frazer
► Tylor
(1832-1917) teacher
 influenced Darwin
 Outlined major fields of anthropology still used today
 Wrote noteworthy definition of culture: “complex whole
which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, custom,
and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man
as a member of society”
► Frazer
(1854-1941) student
 Focused his work on myth and religion
 Believed thought developed from the magical via the
religious to the scientific
 First person to hold title “Professor of Anthropology”
Contrasting perspective:
Adolf Bastian (1826-1905)
► German
► Reacted against what he believed to be
overly simplistic typological schemata
► Instead of belief that all humans evolve
in similar, straightforward pattern
toward “civilization,” he believed that
humans all have same pattern of
The Big Three of Social and
Cultural Anthropology
1. Franz Boas (1858-1942):
 German immigrant to America
2. Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942):
 Polish immigrant to Britain
3. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955):
 British
► Their
theories moved the field away from
evolutionism to actor, agency, and context
Franz Boas:
Father of American Cultural Anthropology
► Studied
Eskimo and Kwaikutl Indians of North
America in 1890s
► Four-field approach to American anthropology:
cultural and social, physical, archaeology,
► Emphasis on cultural relativism
► Focused on collection of empirical data
► Concerned about cultural change and loss of
unique cultures
► Influenced many later American cultural
anthropologists who systemized his ideas
Bronislaw Malinowski:
Father of British Social Anthropology
► Set
the standard for ethnographic field work with
his studies in Trobriand Islands
► Emphasized immersing oneself in the culture
► Focused on the individual’s actions within the
framework of society’s social structure
► Emphasis on “holism”
► Believed inborn human needs were impetus
behind development of social institutions
A.R. Radcliffe-Brown:
Major Influence on British Social Anthropology
► Developed
theory of structural-functionalism
► Saw the acting individual as less important,
emphasizing instead the social institutions
► All social and cultural institutions are
functional in maintaining overall social
structure of a society
Other Significant Theorists
► Emile
► Marcel Mauss
► Claude Levi-Strauss
► E.E. Evans-Pritchard
► Clifford Geertz
► Victor Turner
► Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf