This Is A Review Of Leslie White And His Three Key Works.

2047 words - 8 pages

Leslie Alvin White was born in Colorado in 1900. An advocate of social evolution at a time when it had virtually disappeared from anthropology, following its rejection by Franz Boas and his students. His affirmation of evolutionism, his materialist-utilitarian interpretation of custom, and his call for a science of culture are the pillars of his scholarly reputation. White first attended Louisiana State University before transferring to Columbia University where he received a Bachelors Degree (1923) and a Masters Degree (1924) in Psychology. Though he never took a course from Boas, he was familiar with his approach from courses he took at the New School of Social Research. According to Barrett (1989), the extent of White's attachment to a Boasian conception of culture has been insufficiently appreciated. In 1925 White went to the University of Chicago to study sociology but quickly found anthropology more to his taste. Here he completed his sociology Ph.D. dissertation in 1927 based on fieldwork among the Pueblo Indians of the southwest United States. It was not until he took a position at the University of Buffalo that White developed the theoretical passion that became his life work - the revival of evolutionary theory. Only after he accepted the position did he develop reservations about aspects of Boasian anthropology, most particularly the strictures against cultural evolutionism (Barrett 1989). From 1927 to 1930, White taught at the University of Buffalo and was curator of anthropology at the Buffalo Museum of Science. In 1930 he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan where he taught for the following 40 years, becoming a professor of anthropology in 1943. His last years of life were spent working at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the anthropology department. White died in Santa Barbara in 1975.Generally speaking White was influenced by Marxian economic theory, Darwinian evolutionary theory, and by what he learned while attending school and participating in fieldwork (this influence was Boasian). According to Barrett (1989), in the work of Leslie White, the Boasian paradigm lives alongside the Morganian, without, however, achieving a unity of the theoretical opposites. Many who seek to identify the influences on White remember such 19th-century theorists as Marx, Engels, Morgan, Tylor, Spencer, Durkheim, Malinowski, and Radcliffe-Brown but neglect to mention those influences from the Boasian school such as Kroeber, Sapir, or Lowie, three scholars who had a large influence on White's lifelong addiction to determinism and culturology (Barrett 1989).Early on in his career, White did fieldwork in the American Southwest with the Keresan Pueblo Indians - work, which resulted in a number of monographs. Most of White's publications in this period of his life (1925-30) were descriptive accounts which are entirely within the historical-particularist tradition and reflect the influence of Elsie Clews Parsons, White's mentor...

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