Four Neo-Evolutionists Walk into a Bar: Steward, White, Service & Fried

Neo-evolutionary anthropology developed in the mid-Twentieth Century as a response to the need to develop theories that better explained cultural differences, similarities and the processes of culture change than the British Structural-Functionalists or the American Historical Particularists. The need was especially felt in archeology for an empirical method that could be used to categorize types of societies from material evidence. This new theoretical perspective incorporated evolutionary theory with Marxism, Structural-Functionalism of British anthropology, the American Historical Particularists and other perspectives. Neo-evolutionists Julian Steward, Leslie White influenced their successors at Columbia University Elman Service, Morton Fried, Marvin Harris and Sidney Mintz . The following essay will compare and contrast the explanations for social evolution of Steward and White and that of their successors Service and Fried. Continue reading

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Political Authority According to Ed and Fred

Both Edmund Leach (“Ed”) and Fredrick Barth (“Fred”) disputed the British Structuralists conception of society as a socially cohesive, culturally homogenous and territorially bound entity that used coercion (military force) to maintain itself. In their fieldwork, both anthropologists found proof of inherently unstable and diverse societies that used other means than coercion to maintain the political authority of its leaders. The following essay will compare and contrast each of their explanations of the forces that underwrote power and authority in Kachin and Pathan tribal societies respectively. Leach, who did his fieldwork during World War II in the Kachin society of Highland Burma was an mentor to Barth at Cambridge University. Barth did his field work with the tribal Pathans of the Swat Valley in highland Pakistan in the late 1940s. Continue reading

Individual and Society: The contrasting views of Benedict, Geertz and Wilson

What is the relationship between the individual and his or her society/culture? Does a person’s culture and society determine his beliefs and behavior? Or do the individual beliefs and behaviors based on self-interest, collectively comprise a culture and determine the cohesion of a society? In this paper I will compare and contrast the views of Ruth Benedict, Clifford Geetz and David Sloan Wilson on the relationship between people and their culture and society. Continue reading

Keeping it together: Why some societies & cultures cohere & some persist

Why do some social groups or societies persist for generations and others disappear in only a few generations? How is the integration and coherence of a society developed and maintained? Benedict, Gluckman, Barth, and Wilson all believed in specific mechanisms that sustained traditional values and societies over time. In this paper I will compare and contrast the various explanations for cultural coherence and longevity put forth by Ruth Benedict, Max Gluckman, Fredrik Barth and David Sloan Wilson. Continue reading