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Anthropological Theory. Part I. Paradigm Change. Thomas Khun: Scientific thought is the result of a series of revolutions or “paradigm changes” A Paradigm: sums up the scientific views about what should be the object of research & how to go about solving scientific problems.

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paradigm change
Paradigm Change
  • Thomas Khun:
    • Scientific thought is the result of a series of revolutions or

“paradigm changes”

  • A Paradigm: sums up the scientific views about what should be the object of research & how to go about solving scientific problems
normal science
Normal Science
  • The formulation of a paradigm is followed by a period of normal science, governed by the paradigm
  • Thus, anthropological ideas at any given time are reflection of the cultural environment of the anthropologists
  • The history of anthropology is a history of the values of the Western world
what s the point
What’s the Point?
  • To understand how current biases influence the way anthropologists have interpreted the cultures they study
  • Ask yourself how the cultures you study reflect the researcher’s bias
  • Ask what questions are not being asked because of the current paradigm
read think critically
Read & Think Critically !
  • Anthropology has gone through a number of paradigm changes
  • We will begin with a brief history of the discipline
  • Know this background & understand the different theories as they apply to the cultures you study
a prelude
A Prelude
  • The 16th Century:
    • Age of Discovery
      • “Mercantilism”
    • European World View – chosen by God
    • Thomas Hobbes – the lives of savages are “nasty, brutish, & short”
  • 18th Century:
    • All people capable of progress

toward civilization

    • “The Noble Savage”
    • 1800 Society for the Observation

of Man

      • Comparative anatomy
      • Comparative Languages
      • Museum of Comparative Ethnography
context for unilineal evolution
Context for Unilineal Evolution
  • 19th Century:
    • 1855 Berlin Conference
    • Colonialism – economic & political domination
    • Transfer of wealth to Europe
    • Increasing Racism
  • 3 Orientations
    • Polygenists: Separate creations
      • Races are distinct species
      • Craniometry
    • Monogenists: One creation
      • Biblical interpretation
      • All races with ability to progress
      • “White Man’s Burden”
    • Degeneration: Regression after single creation

Separate Creations

Can’t Achieve Civilization


Capable of Advancement


Punishment for Falling from Perfection

charles darwin
Charles Darwin
  • 1859 – Origin of Species
    • Natural Selection
    • Biological Evolution &

dissatisfaction with

biblical version of creation

    • Yet Polygenist-Monogenist debate continued through the 19th Century
herbert spencer
Herbert Spencer
  • “Survival of the Fittest”
    • Social Darwinism
    • Biological explanation of

cultural differences

      • Evolution of mental capacity
  • European society became the standard by which “primitive” societies were judged to be inferior
    • “Primitive Man” = savage, small brain, dark skin
paradigm i unilineal evolution
Paradigm I. Unilineal Evolution
  • 19th Century Concept of Cultural Evolution
    • The process by which new cultural forms emerge out of older ones
    • Each Society is believed to PROGRESS through the same stages of development, from SAVAGERY to BARBARISM to CIVILIZATION
      • Only Europeans had reached civilization




basis for unilineal evolution
Basis for Unilineal Evolution
  • Materialist approach
  • Application of biological evolution to culture
  • Interest in general laws, not history
  • Comparative method
  • Ranking of societies on a scale of progress
  • Armchair anthropologists
1 edward b tylor
#1 Edward B. Tylor
  • Founding father of anthropology
  • 1896 1st professor of anthropology
  • 1st to use “Culture” as a synonym for civilization
  • “Culture, or Civilization,

is that complex whole…”

  • Animism: belief in spirits
    • Animism polytheism monotheism
2 lewis henry morgan
#2 Lewis Henry Morgan
  • 1851 – League of the Iroquois
  • Ethnical Periods

“An attempt will be made to bring forward evidence of the rudeness of the early condition of mankind, of the gradual evolution of their mental & moral powers & of their protracted struggle while winning their way to civilization. The principle tribes of mankind can be classified, according to the degree of their relative PROGRESS, into conditions which can be recognized as distinct.

What are the key factors?
  • Human society evolved through 3 major stages, each marked by a techno-logical break-through
strengths weaknesses
Strengths & Weaknesses:
  • Strengths:
    • Created a science of humans
    • New concepts, methods
    • Comparative approach—analyzed range of human variability
    • Developed systems of classification
    • Morgan: holistic approach
  • Weaknesses:
    • Racial determinists, ethnocentric ranking on a scale of progress
    • Biological determinism (reductionist)
    • Ignored history & environment
    • Justified political & economic domination (colonial context)
native peoples were
Native Peoples Were…
  • Subjugated
  • Exploited
  • Oppressed
  • Objects of Genocide & Ethnocide
  • --All in the name of PROGRESS
  • How would evolutionists have written a book on Nisa’s culture?
paradigm ii historical particularism
Paradigm II. Historical Particularism
  • Early 20th C. paradigm change
  • Professionalization of anthropology
  • Represents a reaction against unilineal evolution
  • Division between British & American anthropology
  • Omnibus approach
franz boas
Franz Boas
  • Born a German Jew
  • Father of American


  • 1888 founded 1st anthropology

department in the U.S.

  • Natural scientist
  • 1883 expedition to Baffinland, Inuit
  • Conversion—became ethnographer
  • Concern with disappearance of Native American cultures
  • Cultural Relativism
boas activism
Boas’ Activism
  • Critique of German Nazism
  • Fought against racism
    • Differences are due to culture, not race
  • Critique of unilineal evolution:

“The history of human civilization does not appear as determined entirely by a uniform evolution the world over. Rather each group has its own UNIQUE HISTORY. It would be quite impossible to understand, on the basis of a single evolutionary scheme, what happened to any PARTICULAR PEOPLE”

assumptions of historical particularism
Assumptions of Historical Particularism:
  • Rejects general laws, ranking on a scale, progress
  • There are no simple or complex societies, only different societies
  • Unilineal evolution is based on speculation, is ethnocentric
  • Not Culture, but cultures
  • Culture, not race, determines behavior
  • Methodological rigor
strengths weaknesses28
Strengths & Weaknesses
  • Strengths:
    • Cultural Relativism
    • History
    • Relation of culture & environment
    • Fieldwork
  • Weaknesses:
    • Ecclectic approach
    • Avoidance of synthesis
    • Weak on theory
paradigm iii culture personality
Paradigm III. Culture & Personality
  • 1930-50s – Students of Boas
  • Borrowed from psychology
  • Focus on the individual as the bearer of culture
  • Idealist approach:

interest in personality & how individuals thought, felt

  • Studied process of enculturation, especially child development
2 related approaches:
    • Intra-cultural variation
    • Inter-cultural variation
  • Studied individuals

cultural patterns of individual societies

cross-cultural comparisons

to arrive at generalizations

  • This is Shostak’s approach in Nisa
1 ruth benedict
#1 – Ruth Benedict
  • 1923 1st woman professor of anthropology
  • Child rearing molds personalities to a basic type
  • Each culture develops

a limited number of themes

– cultural configurations –

that dominate the thought &

behavior of its members

  • Each culture selectively chooses among an infinite number of traits
benedict s comparative approach
Benedict’s Comparative Approach
  • Kwakiutl = individualistic, competitive, intemperate, egoistic
    • Potlatch: Give away enormous

quantities of goods, complete with

rival groups

    • “Dionysian” (Greek god of excess)
  • Zuñi = control their emotions, value sobriety & inoffensiveness, do not boast, restrained behavior, cooperative
  • “Apollonian” (Greek god Apollo)
  • Cora Dubois – Rorschach tests
    • 37% fit modal personality
    • 22% fall outside the modal personality
    • 40% are “deviant”
  • Benedict: The Chrysanthemum

& the Sword

2 margaret mead
#2 – Margaret Mead
  • 1928 Coming of Age in Samoa
  • Enculturation & its effect on puberty
    • Nature-nurture debate
      • Psychological changes of puberty are not biologically, but culturally conditioned
    • Samoa – Sexual liaisons, no

stigma for out-of-wedlock births

  • Comparison with U.S. society
Derek Freeman: 1983, Margaret Mead & Samoa: The Making & Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth
    • Rather than the carefree adolescent sexual experimentation Mead described, Samoans have a “virginity complex”
    • How to explain these different interpretations?
“Man made for himself a fabric of culture within which each human life was dignified by form & meaning. Each people makes this fabric differently, selects some clues & ignores others, emphasizes a different sector of the whole arc of human potentialities, as each culture creates distinctively the social fabric in which the human spirit can wrap itself—it may bend every individual born within it to one type of behavior”
strengths weaknesses42
Strengths & Weaknesses
  • Strengths:
    • Popularized anthropology
    • Focus on culture as a system of meaning
    • Attention to variation among societies
    • Attention to the individual as a bearer of culture
  • Weaknesses:
    • Broad, impressionistic generalizations based on personal impressions
    • Lack of history
    • Stereotyping—national character studies
    • Political implications