Chapter 4, The Growth of Anthropological Theory



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Chapter 4, The Growth of Anthropological Theory

  • Key Terms


American historicism Headed by Franz Boas, a school of anthropology prominent in the first part of the twentieth century that insisted upon the collection of ethnographic data (through direct fieldwork) prior to making cross-cultural generalizations.

  • American historicism Headed by Franz Boas, a school of anthropology prominent in the first part of the twentieth century that insisted upon the collection of ethnographic data (through direct fieldwork) prior to making cross-cultural generalizations.

  • barbarism The middle of three basic stages of a nineteenth-century theory developed by Lewis Henry Morgan that all cultures evolve from simple to complex systems: savagery, barbarism, and civilization.



binary oppositions A mode of thinking found in all cultures, according to Claude Lévi-Strauss, based on opposites, such as old–young, hot– cold, and left–right.

  • binary oppositions A mode of thinking found in all cultures, according to Claude Lévi-Strauss, based on opposites, such as old–young, hot– cold, and left–right.

  • cultural ecology An approach to the study of anthropology that assumes that people who reside in similar environments are likely to develop similar technologies, social structures, and political institutions.



cultural materialism A contemporary orientation in anthropology that holds that cultural systems are most influenced by such material things as natural resources and technology.

  • cultural materialism A contemporary orientation in anthropology that holds that cultural systems are most influenced by such material things as natural resources and technology.

  • deductive approach The act or process of reasoning from general propositions to specific cases, used by the early cultural anthropologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.



dysfunction The notion that some cultural traits can cause stress or imbalance within a cultural system.

  • dysfunction The notion that some cultural traits can cause stress or imbalance within a cultural system.

  • ethnoscience A theoretical school popular in the 1950s and 1960s that tries to understand a culture from the point of view of the people being studied.



evolutionism The nineteenth-century school of cultural anthropology, represented by Tylor and Morgan, that attempted to explain variations in world cultures by the single deductive theory that they all pass through a series of evolutionary stages.

  • evolutionism The nineteenth-century school of cultural anthropology, represented by Tylor and Morgan, that attempted to explain variations in world cultures by the single deductive theory that they all pass through a series of evolutionary stages.

  • French structuralism A theoretical orientation that holds that cultures are the product of unconscious processes of the human mind.



functionalism/functional theory A theory holding that social stratification exists because it contributes to the overall well-being of a society.

  • functionalism/functional theory A theory holding that social stratification exists because it contributes to the overall well-being of a society.

  • functional unity A principle of functionalism that states that a culture is an integrated whole consisting of a number of interrelated parts.



hypothesis An educated hunch as to the relationship among certain variables that guides a research project.

  • hypothesis An educated hunch as to the relationship among certain variables that guides a research project.

  • inductive approach The act or process of reasoning involving the development of general theories from the study of a number of specific cases. An approach insisted upon by Franz Boas.



interpretive anthropology A contemporary theoretical orientation that holds that the critical aspects of cultural systems are such subjective factors as values, ideas, and worldviews.

  • interpretive anthropology A contemporary theoretical orientation that holds that the critical aspects of cultural systems are such subjective factors as values, ideas, and worldviews.

  • multilinear evolution Mid-twentieth-century anthropological theory of Julian Steward who suggested that specific cultures can evolve independently of all others even if they follow the same evolutionary process.



neoevolutionism A twentieth-century school of cultural anthropology, represented by White and Steward, that attempted to refine the earlier evolutionary theories of Tylor and Morgan.

  • neoevolutionism A twentieth-century school of cultural anthropology, represented by White and Steward, that attempted to refine the earlier evolutionary theories of Tylor and Morgan.

  • postmodernism School of anthropology that advocates the switch from cultural generalization and laws to description, interpretation, and the search for meaning.



psychic unity A concept popular among some nineteenth-century anthropologists who assumed that all people when operating under similar circumstances will think and behave in similar ways.

  • psychic unity A concept popular among some nineteenth-century anthropologists who assumed that all people when operating under similar circumstances will think and behave in similar ways.

  • psychological anthropology The subdiscipline of anthropology that looks at the relationships between cultures and such psychological phenomena as personality, cognition, and emotions.



savagery The first of three basic stages of cultural evolution in the theory of Lewis Henry Morgan; based on hunting and gathering.

  • savagery The first of three basic stages of cultural evolution in the theory of Lewis Henry Morgan; based on hunting and gathering.

  • structural functionalism A school of cultural anthropology, associated most closely with Radcliffe-Brown, that examines how parts of a culture function for the well-being of the society.



theory A general statement about how two or more facts are related to one another.

  • theory A general statement about how two or more facts are related to one another.

  • unilinear evolution A theory held by anthropologists such as Tylor and Morgan attempting to place particular cultures into specific evolutionary phases.



universal evolution White’s approach to cultural evolution, which developed laws that apply to culture as a whole and argued that all human societies pass through similar stages of development.

  • universal evolution White’s approach to cultural evolution, which developed laws that apply to culture as a whole and argued that all human societies pass through similar stages of development.

  • universal functions A functionalist idea that holds that every part of a culture has a particular function.





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