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3: Anthropological Theory

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    Learning Objectives

    • Explain the historical development of anthropological thought.
    • Identify the contributions Franz Boas and his students made to the development of new theories about culture.
    • Identify the prominent anthropological figures and their school of thought.

    • 3.1: Development of Theories on Culture
      Both Sir James Frazer and Sir E. B.Tylor contributed important and foundational studies even though they never went into the field to gather their information. Armchair anthropologists, as they called, were important in the development of anthropology as a discipline in the late nineteenth century because although these early scholars were not directly experiencing the cultures they were studying, their work did ask important questions.
    • 3.2: Cultural Evolution
      E. B. Tylor, Lewis Henry Morgan, and Herbert Spencer all played a part in the development of the theories of cultural evolution. The primary assumption of cultural evolution is that societies develop from simple to complex, albeit at different rates, which explains why different types of societies exist in the world. These theories would later be proven untrue and rejected by future anthropologists such as Franz Boas and Bronislaw Malinowski.
    • 3.3: Anthropology in Europe
      During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the discipline of cultural anthropology developed somewhat differently in Europe and North America with each region contributing new dimensions to the concept of culture. Many European anthropologists were particularly interested in how societies were structured and how they remained stable over time.
    • 3.4: Anthropology in the United States
      Boas is often considered the originator of American anthropology because he trained the first generation of American anthropologists including Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Alfred Kroeber. Using a commitment to cultural relativism as a starting point, these students continued to refine the concept of culture as well as contributing to the theoretical perspectives in anthropology.
    • 3.5: Franz Boas and His Students
      One of Boas's many contributions to anthropology, cultural relativism, became central to Boasian paradigm, which was central in the development of Historical Particularism and Culture and Personality school of thoughts.
    • 3.6: Cultural Evolution Revisited
      Ecology is a biological term for the interaction of organisms and their environment, which includes other organisms. Cultural ecology is a theoretical approach that attempts to explain similarities and differences in culture in relation to the environment. Highly focused on how the material culture, or technology, related to basic survival, i.e., subsistence, cultural ecology was the first theoretical approach to provide a causal explanation for those similarities and differences.
    • 3.7: Some More Theories
    • 3.8: End of Chapter Discussion

    Image: Franz Boas from Popular Science Monthly Volume 72, 1908, under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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