Methods of Ethnology Summary

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Specifically, Boas, in The Methods of Ethnology, argued against the various traditional evolutionary theories proposed by Morgan, Marx, Tylor and Spencer. Stating simply that these theories had a particular resilience, but lacked any sort of empirical evidence, Boas argued that the evolutionary theory was based on the counterfactual assumption that our culture was the most advanced and all others were merely following us (Boas, 134). After attacking the diffusionists by noting that their data was not competent enough, methodological difficulties, he responded to the view that historical particularism (Historical particularism argued that each society is a collective representation of its unique historical past. It showed that societies could reach the same level of cultural development through different paths) was atheoretical. How things are and how they come to exist can give only broad outlines of chronological events. Hence cultures are dynamic and in constant flux; every phenomenon is not only an effect, but also a cause. (Boas, 137) A point, taken to the extreme by Kroeber, but also put forth by Boas was that certain problems may be solved in only particular ways. Because humans are similar in their ``infrastructure'', they would tend to solve these problems in similar ways, leading towards the creation of similar traits. Hence, it is not about cultural achievement, but rather about particular conditions that exist at the moment when the new effect is obtained

In his 1920 essay on the “The Methods of Ethnology,” Franz Boas clearly made the case for human societies’ dynamism and the need to study history and change. Thus, recognition of this fact arose early in the history of anthropology and ethnography, but it did not become central to general practice until later.

In Boas’ article, “Methods of Ethnology”, he argues the hypotheses of hyper-diffusion and linear evolution is flawed, and lack supportive evidence. He provides an alternative...
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