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Anthropology In The Early-Twentieth-Century Contained Theories

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Anthropology in the early-twentieth-century contained theories that departed from those of the unilineal evolution in the nineteenth century. The unilineal evolutionary theory argued that all societies passed through a single evolutionary process; therefore, progressing from being a primitive society to the most advanced, or civilized, in a uniform manner. The theory that species were thought to evolve into increasing complexity was applied to societies’ development to progress from a simple to complex state. It was thought that most societies arrive, ultimately, at a common end as a fully civilized nation. Lewis Henry Morgan, an advocate for and an ethnological scholar of the Iroquois, delineated human culture into three basic stages:…show more content…
72). Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict popularized this concept as they humanized Anthropology by incorporating observations of human feelings and other psychological states. Following Boas, Lowie rejected and criticized Morgan’s cultural evolutionary approach, and insisted that there is “no one determinant of culture” (Erickson and Murphy, p. 68). Furthermore, Kroeber promoted the concept of the “superorganic”, which emphasizes the “importance of environment over heredity”; thus endorsing Boas’ theory that human behavior results more from nurture than nature (Erickson and Murphy, p. 69). Accordingly, Kroeber launched the search for cultural patterns and its adaptations that correspond to the variation of environments. The results rendered by these scholars promoted the idea that each society contains its own unique culture and social constructs that conflict with Morgan’s theory of uniform progress towards a civilized society.
To further aid in the argument against unilineal evolution, Bronislaw Malinowski stressed the importance of achieving ethnographic understanding through a subjective participation and objective observation method when studying different societies and their cultures (Erickson and Murphy, p. 94). As a result of the emphasis on the method of participant-observation, Anthropology has been distinguished from other social science disciplines by its emphasis on cultural relativity, in-depth examination of (historical) context, cross-cultural
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