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Comparative Ideas In Anthropological Thinking Essay

1376 words - 6 pages

Anthropology, akin to other academic disciplines, has stirred among its colleagues debates of theories. As anthropologists have attempted to explain human behavior and culture a few of these premises have been discredited, others dismantled and portions renovated, and still others have become staples of anthropological analysis. Regardless of modern opinion regarding the theories of past anthropologists, elements of each concept remain essential to study. By utilizing the resources of McGee and Warms, Moore, Perry, Salzman, Sokolvosky, and Spencer, I will evaluate pairs of ideas in anthropology that include ideographic and nomeothetic, unilinear evolution and neoevolution, and organic and superorganic, while also indicating their influences on other aspects of anthropological thought.
One of the main debates in anthropological theory is ideographic versus nomothetic explanations, which encompasses the dispute if the discipline of anthropology is historical or scientific. Ideographic is defined according to A.R. Radcliffe-Brown as “patterns found in a particular place and time” (Salzman 2010:26). An ideographic approach is most notably associated with Historical Particularism, which was founded by Franz Boas and advocated by Alfred Kroeber. Boas believed that cultural practices were to be understood in specific cultural contexts, not evolutionary stages (Perry 2003:141). Thus, he emphasized ethnographic fieldwork of individual cultures, which remains the major concern of cultural anthropology. Boas believed that to comprehend a culture’s customs, one must study the environmental conditions during their development, psychological factors, and historical connections, but its history was the most imperative (McGee and Warms 2012:114). In his view, societies were created by their own unique histories. The notion of each culture’s own history influenced the formation of the concept of cultural relativism, or the cultures should be studied without judgment (Perry 2003:201). This has remained a tenet of anthropology. A.R. Radcliffe-Brown describes nomothetic as the “quest for general knowledge” and its literal translation is “law giving” (Salzman 2010:26). This refers to the approach to anthropology that natural laws govern human behavior and culture and anthropologist should discover those laws. Radcliffe-Brown supported this method and it was prevalent among nineteenth century cultural evolutionists. These theorists proposed that societies, like biological organisms were subject to the natural laws in their evolution. These laws pertain to human thought in societies as all progress through the same stages. According to Morgan, for example, these stages or ethical periods were “savagery”, “barbarianism”, and “civilization” and were separated by differences in inventions and discoveries, the idea of government, the organization of the family, and the concept of property (Moore 2009:26). To Morgan, the progression of societies was manifested in the...

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