Chapter 12 Theory in Cultural Anthropology by Lavenda

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19 th Century Approaches

Unilineal cultural evolutionism—generally regarded as the first theoretical perspective to take root in the discipline of anthropology a relationship of society advancement though a series of progressive stages. In this theory, people believed cultures develop under one universal order of society evolution. First originating from the mid-nineteenth century philosopher Herbert Spencer, Unilineal Evolution classified the differences and similarities of cultures by categorizing them into three chronological phases of growth: savagery, barbarism, and civilization. This was the main premise of the early anthropologists who believed that Western civilization was the peak of communal evolution.

Biological Determinism-- scientific racism, for it claimed to have empiricalevidence that supported both the existence of biologically distinct human populations, or races, and the relative rankings of these races on a scale of superiority and inferiority.

--- biological differences between different human populations explained their different ways of life or, put another way, that a group's way of life was determined by its distinct, innate biological makeup.

Early 20th Century Approaches
As the twentieth century began, German anthropologists were offering a very different uni- versal theory of culture change, based on the supposedly regular spread of various cultural items from group to group by diffusion, or borrowing. Boas challenged the 2 forms of reductionism

Boas agreed that cultures changed over time, but such change could not be confined to passage through a single sequence of progressive evolutionary stages. Rather, historical evidence showed that cultures simplified over time, instead of becomig more complex, and in any case could easily skip stages by b orrowing advanced' cultural inventions from their neighbors. Similarly, although cultures are full of cultural items or activities, called cul- ture traits, borrowed from neighboring societies, anthropologists go to far if they assume that most human groups are incapable of inventing anything on their own and must await the innovations that spread from a few favored sites of cultural creativity. Boas rejected both extreme evolutionary shemes and extreme diffusion schemes

Historical Particularism—distinct histories of change in particular human societies. By comparing the culture histories of neighboring peoples, they were able to trace the limits of diffusion of many cultural traits, eventually producing maps of culture areas far smaller and more complex than the vast maps of the German diffusionists. Every culture changes based on their own civilization and own past experiences *Franz Boas

Functionalism—to classify the customs and beliefs he learned about in the field in terms of the function each one performed in the satisfaction of what he called basic human needs

Structural Functionalism—the theoretical approaches of other British and French anthropolgists was to focus not on the function of particular customs in meeting the needs of particular human beings, but rather on their function in preserving the structure of the society itself

-- concerned with what kept societies from falling apart (discussed in Chapter 7), and they could demonstrate that a variety of social practices described by ethnographers-witchcraft accusations, kinship organization, myths and the Like--performed this function.

Social Determinism-- British social anthropologists, via Radcliffe-Brown, who was influenced by Durkheim, took society as their defining concept. To them, human bodies arranged in space in particular configurations constituted the unquestionable reality that must be shaped by material laws of cause and effect operating in the social realm. social interactions and constructs alone determine individual behavior (as opposed to biological or objective factors).

(North America)Cultural determinism-- he belief that the culture in which...
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