ANTHROPOLOGY (and Anglo-American positivism/racism)

Xxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx at
Fri Mar 9 10:03:03 MST 2001

PART II The Disciplines

ANTHROPOLOGY: from Gr.; in English originally in the widest sense as the
science of man or mankind, e.g., 1593; but generally confined to more
restricted meanings until the 1860's.

Hobbes began writing about man and society as a search for laws in the
spirit of natural science; however, it was the line of Pufendorf, Locke and
Spinoza which affirmed that the human mind was formed by experience and that
society as a human invention should be analyzed as such, with Vico the first
and most explicit exponent of the idea that society was man-made. Vico was
convinced that change itself obeyed laws and set out to discover historical
origins of very long-term regularities of change. But it is not through his
work that the key concepts of a man-made society, historical perspective,
contextual explanation, and the inclusion of nonliterate peoples were
propagated; this was due to Montesquieu
(with the exclusion of the emphasis on the long term) whose theories were
based on environmental determinism (de Waal Malefijt, 1974, 78ff). A
recognition of symbolic language as the method of transmission of a
cumulative culture is present in Turgot and both he and Condorcet espoused a
vision of progress.

Such reflections would be relevant to any of the social sciences; however,
in the wake of the French revolution two perspectives began to emerge: one
which would lead to sociology and another which would lead to anthropology.
The universalist thrust of Enlightenment thought had highlighted questions
engendered by the contact with non-European peoples, such as whether all
"men" were of the same species; whether, in fact, all possessed souls. The
discrediting of "reason" culminated in the romantic valorization of
diversity. This also resulted in the quest for an idiographic (universal)
"history of mankind" in which every society could be fitted, creating a
window on the evolutionary (cultural)
history of mankind.

Racism and phrenology played a part in the founding of the Société
Ethnologique de Paris in 1838. The Société d'Anthropologie de Paris was
established in 1859, with the accent on physical anthropology, as an
alternative to the 1799 Société des Observateurs de l'Homme.

The British Ethnological Society was founded in 1842 along the lines of the
Paris model of 1838 as an offshoot of the Aborigines Protection Society
(1837) to privilege the scientific over the humanitarian elements. The BES
was monogenist, espousing the essential unity of the human race, and the
"model of explanation was diffusionary and historical emphasizing the
environmental influences modifying human physical characteristics" using the
comparison of languages as the major methodological tool (Stocking, 1971,
372). But differences over the "Negro
question" moved James Hunt (a polygenist who championed the cause of the
Confederate south) to establish the Anthropological Society of London in
1863, under the banner, however, of the "whole matter of the origin and
development of humanity, with the aid of the geologist, archaeologist,
anatomist, physiologist, and philologist"--a whole science of man. He also
cited a Paris model, that of 1859. For the ASL, "anthropology would be
empirical, rejecting unproven hypotheses, and busying itself with the
collection of facts. But it would also be practical, uncovering the 'laws
[that] are secretly working for the development of some nations and the
destruction of others'" (Stocking, 1971, 377). The
ASL was anti-Darwinian while the ESL saw environmental circumstances shaping
human development, a pre-Darwinian evolutionism--Darwin's The Origin of
Species by Means of Natural Selection appeared in 1859. The "marginal"
anthropologicals argued that Negroes were a different species incapable of
civilization and better off as slaves while mainstream British science (an
intellectual aristocracy, including Huxley and Galton) was embracing the
"ape theory" of the origin of man.(1)

The two (and their various journals) were merged in 1871 as the
Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the same year as the
publication of Darwin's The Descent of Man and
Selection in Relation to Sex. The ethnologicals won out intellectually but
it was clear that what was at stake was "man's place in nature", more
adequately expressed etymologically in the
term "anthropology". E. B. Tylor (Primitive Culture, 1871; Anthropology,
1881) became Reader in anthropology at Oxford in 1884 and the first chair in
social anthropology was created at
Liverpool in 1908. Tylor never held a university degree; nonetheless, his
1889 paper, "On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions,
Applied to Laws of Marriage and
Descent", launched the method of cross-cultural comparison, frequently
statistical, which, in a greatly extended way, became so characteristic in
the twentieth century, especially after 1945
with the Human Relations Area Files at Yale University.

Theoretically, "functionalism" marked the first half of the century; it
informed not only anthropology, but architecture, psychology, sociology, and
even the philosophy of mind.(2) Research
was based on direct, intensive ethnographic documentation and when the
functional rather than evolutionary perspective was applied non-European
societies could no longer be viewed as
primitive but took on the aspects of complex, highly-integrated systems. In
contrast to the Enlightenment ideal of man the autonomous agent, Durkheim
(in a bid for disciplinary recognition
for sociology based on its own set of independent, scientific principles)
posited an interaction between individual and a sui generis society--an
expression of the exterior and constraining nature of "social facts". For
Durkheim, "function" was a "social phenomenon".

It is this concept that separates Durkheim most sharply  from later British
functionalists. The latter often transferred Durkheim's social functions to
an individual level, and discussed them in terms of biological,
psychological, or  personal human needs. His French followers understood him
better. Henri Hubert (1872-1927) and Marcel Mauss (1972-1950) absorbed their
teacher's notion of function as a social phenomenon, and they also turned to
the analysis of nonliterate societies as a starting point for the
understanding of universal social conditions (de Waal Malefijt,
1974, 190).

In England, Radcliffe-Brown promoted a nomothetic, "true science", social
anthropology--a sociology of the nonliterate which could also be called up
in the service of British colonial
policy--accepting verifiability and the establishment of universal laws as
paramount, as against idiographic ethnology, of little practical use. He
recognized that functional consistency and
logical consistency in social systems were not the same, even often at odds
(this conceptualization would eventually offer the possibility of addressing
change) and realized that "function" itself
needed explanation. His synchronic comparative method did not rule out
diachronic studies. But he did tend to concentrate on structures and slight
analyses of change, as did later
functionalists who emphasized solidarity and functional
consistency--"structural-functionalists" to differentiate them from
Malinowskian "functionalists".

Bronislaw Malinowski, on the other hand, claimed to be the "father" of
functionalism. He related functions to the individual and his psychological
needs and ultimately to biological
imperatives. Functionalism was for him a heuristic method for the
understanding of culture as a survival mechanism. Absorbed with the present,
Malinowski was intent on comprehending
observed realities, unlike Radcliffe-Brown who sought laws.

In the U.S., the American Ethnological Society was founded in 1842 and
Anthropology was recognized as a scientific discipline from 1851 by the
American Association for the Advancement
of Science. The Anthropological Society of Washington was established in
1879; the American Anthropologist appeared in 1888; and the American
Anthropological Association was founded
in 1902. During the first half of the twentieth century the most influential
figure in the discipline in the U.S. was Franz Boas (Columbia, 1896-1942).
Born and educated in Germany in
physics and mathematics before shifting to geography, he was cognizant of
the Geisteswissenschaften/Naturwissenschaften distinction when he turned to
anthropology. Advocating a historical
rather than a comparative method ("historical particularism"--"cultures" not
"culture") in reaction to the "cultural evolution" perspective, he
eventually gave up any possibility of formulating
any laws, general or particular, and became interested in the role of the

Marvin Harris argues that the separation of "social" and "cultural"
anthropology had no epistemological, methodological or theoretical
significance; both simply meant non-physical and
stemmed from the French social (which gained acceptance in Great Britain in
the form of sociology of primitive societies instead of kultur identified
with civilization by Malinowski in 1923)
and German kultur traditions (transplanted to the U.S. by the
German-American founders of twentieth-century American cultural
anthropology)--both united through their roots in the non- and
anti-Marxist work of Durkheim.

 Durkheim's main ideological contribution was the development of a
"scientific," state-supported system of morals, based on the notion of
collective conscience and organic  solidarity ... ideas about organic
solidarity were much more useful in the postwar [post-1918] colonial
context. Applied to "tribal" peoples, solidarism sanctioned a timeless
("synchronic"), homeostatic, explicitly organismic view of exploited
colonial populations. ... Synchronic solidarist-structuralism was celebrated
during precisely the same period and on a bigger scale in the United States.
However, its dominion lay not within American anthropology, but within
American sociology. Its chief exponent was Talcott Parsons (Harris, 1980,

Lévi-Strauss, however, asserts that although "cultural anthropology and
social anthropology cover exactly the same ground", there is a difference in
the direction of the movement in analysis:
the first    starts from techniques and material things and proceeds
ultimately to the "super-technique" of social and political activity, which
makes life in society possible and determines the forms it takes, while the
other starts from social life and works down to the things on which social
life leaves its mark and the activities through which it manifests itself
(1963, 357).

The first begins with man the tool-maker, different from animals (the
nature/culture distinction); the second with the group, and thus
communication. Durkheim of course stipulated that the
very stuff of the "social" were "things", social facts; just as tools,
weapons or ritual objects form systems of representation.

Despite the seeming differences among the French structuralists
(Lévi-Strauss in the lead) British and American structural-functionalists
(Parsons, Merton) or American grammarians
(Chomsky, Syntactic Structures, 1957), they, and even more-so their
followers, risked being  equally ill-disposed toward the etic[(3)] actuality
of flesh and blood human behavior. The idealist expropriation of culture ...
fulfills the conservative bias inherent in university-sponsored American
social science ... formal analysis and structural-functionalism are
nomothetically convergent and functionally equivalent expressions of the
same conservative thrust ... [and] the grammarians offer a consensus theory
of social structure. ... Never has there been a sociocultural paradigm
better calculated to avoid  the study of conflict and political-economic
process" (Harris, 1980, 404-5).

That said, the position of Claude Lévi-Strauss is both more complex and
pivotal to the development of the discipline and the social sciences in
general. In 1954 he cleared the air regarding
the myriad of terms used in departments, institutes, journals, etc. He
defined ethnography, ethnology and anthropology as simply referring to
different stages of inquiry from observation to
analysis, despite the institutional survival of usages reflecting local
variations and past sectarian interests.(4)

There is certainly nothing revolutionary here, but Lévi-Strauss made two
arguments and put them into practice, with vast epistemological and
practical implications down to the present.
First, no one better than he situated anthropology in relation to the social
sciences or more clearly delineated its position in relation to the
nomothetic sciences and idiographic history and the
humanities; and second, he adopted and propagated structural linguistics as
a general model applicable throughout the social sciences. On the relation
between history and anthropology, he
was able to write in 1949 that the  fundamental difference between the two
disciplines is not one of subject, of goal, or of method. They share the
same subject, which is social life; the same goal, which is a better
understanding of man; and, in fact, the same method, in which only the
proportion of research techniques varies. They differ, principally, in their
choice of complementary perspectives: History organizes its data in relation
to conscious expressions of social life, while anthropology proceeds by
examining its unconscious  foundations. ... Boas must be given credit for
defining the unconscious nature of cultural phenomena with admirable
lucidity. By comparing cultural phenomena to  language from this point of
view, he anticipated both the subsequent development of linguistic theory
and a future for anthropology whose rich promise we are just beginning to
perceive. He showed that the structure of a language remains unknown to the
speaker until the introduction of a scientific grammar. Even then the
language continues to mold discourse beyond the consciousness of the
individual, imposing on his thought conceptual schemes which are taken as
objective categories (1963, 18,

Lévi-Strauss implemented the linguistic model developed in the work of
Saussure, Troubetzkoy, and Jakobson to grasp the unconscious structures of
social institutions and customs. It was
generalization that supported comparisons. However, even the "analysis of
structures ... requires constant recourse to history. By showing
institutions in process of transformation, history
alone makes it possible to abstract the structure which underlies the many
manifestations and remains permanent throughout a succession of events
(1963, 21). What the anthropologist must
grasp is the range of the not unlimited, unconscious possibilities.
"Unpredictable", but "never arbitrary", they offer the logical framework for
historical developments. Building on Marx's
insight, Lévi-Strauss asserts that "Men make their own history, but they do
not know that they are making it" as the justification for one, history, and
two, anthropology, showing at the
same time that the two are inseparable" forming a "true two-faced Janus
(1963, 23, 24).

Physical anthropology as the "natural" study of man--description and
evaluation of physical variation--ties anthropology to the nomothetic
sciences. Sociology failed to become a total science
of man and instead advanced the social science of the observer while
anthropology advanced that of the observed. From this perspective "it takes
as a guiding principle that of 'meaning'"
working from the linguistic model to become a "semeiological science" (1963,
364) in which it is the relations which matter not the terms.
Linguistics,(5) "probably the only [social science]
which can truly claim to be a science and which has achieved both the
formulation of an empirical method and an understanding of the nature of the
data submitted to its analysis" (1963, 31),
then, provided a fresh link with the nomothetic sciences from the

Also during the 1950's, psychoanalysis and behavioralism spawned the
relativistic "culture and personality" subfield which hardened into the more
general psychological anthropology. By the 1960's, Marxism and ecology
became influential. The ecological perspective (in opposition to Chomskian
"innateness": cultures are not simply systems of communication but real
adaptational situations) revolutionized archeological anthropology and led
to stronger links of this latter with "cultural" anthropology. Marxism was
associated with the "symbolic" and "cognitive" developments through a
revival of the sociology of knowledge tradition in the form of "the social
construction of reality" (Fox, 1985, 29, 30). In 1961 Evans-Pritchard,
abandoning generality and universality, could declare that the difference
between history and social anthropology was "one of orientation, not of aim"
and in 1968 George Stocking's Race, Culture, and Evolution "made the first
major break with the custom of ignoring external intellectual currents,
showing the relevance of literary movements, broad political trends, and
developments in other scientific disciplines" (Leaf, 1979, 2, xi). Both the
physical and social/cultural wings felt threatened by the publication of E.
O. Wilson's Sociobiology which made "a
grab for a total explanation of all social behaviour from insect to man"
(Fox, 1985, 31).

The position occupied by anthropology between the nomothetic sciences and
the idiographic humanities and the exhaustion of nonliterate "societies"
with the concomitant move of
anthropologists into domains occupied by historians and sociologists (and
the large-scale borrowing of ethnographic and linguistic methods by these
latter) in developed societies accounts for much of the current tension and
the tenuous alliances formed and dissolved between anthropological subfields
and predicate disciplines.

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
Ph.D Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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