Franz Boas and Unilineal Evolution

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Unilineal cultural evolution, also known as Unilineal Evolution or classical social evolution is 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. This idea primarily originated from the Enlightenment period. Lewis Henry Morgan who worked with tribal people, declared they symbolized the earlier phases of cultural evolution. This, he said was the course and development of cultural evolution. His analysis of the cross-cultural information was established around three postulations: modern societies were categorized as either more primal or more civilized, there are a limited number of phases between primal or civilized, and all cultures evolve through these phases at a different pace.

Franz Boas is known as one of the first people to reject the idea of Unilineal Cultural Evolution, and his students strongly disagreed with this theory. He used ethnography to dispute the ideas of Morgan, Sir E.B. Tylor (who did similar work as Morgan), and Spencer. Also, he declared that early anthropologists did not collect data themselves and organized the second-hand data improperly to follow their beliefs. (Moore 1996) He claimed the "primal" or "civilized" theory was untrue, showing that primitive cultures have the same amount of history and were just as developed as the proposed civilized societies. He considered the research done by these previous anthropologists ethnocentric and therefore non-scientific. Through participant observation Franz Boas developed the...
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