Victorians, Germans and a Frenchman
Between the Napoleonic
wars (17921815) and the First World War (191418), we see the
rise of modern Europe and of the modern world. This was, perhaps
above all, the age of the Industrial Revolution. In the 1700s, profound
transformations had taken place in agriculture and manufacturing, particularly
in Britain. Steam power and spinning machines had become widespread, and
a growing class of landless peasants and urban labourers began to make
themselves heard. But the greatest changes were still ahead. In the 1830s,
the first major railways were built; a decade later, steamships crossed
the Atlantic on a regular basis; and in 1846, the telegraph was introduced.
It was becoming possible, on a scale that the world had never seen before,
to move vast quantities of information, raw materials, commodities and
people across global distances. This, in turn, meant that production could
be increased both in agriculture and manufacturing. Europe was able to
feed more people, in part through increased production, in part through
expanding imports. As a result, population grew. In 1800, Britain had
10.5 million people. By 1901, there were 37 million, 75 per cent of whom
lived in cities. Peasants deserted the countryside, forced by population
pressure and the rationalisation of agriculture, and moved to urban centres
like London or Paris, where they were resocialised as workers. Conditions
in the rapidly growing cities were hardly optimal: epidemics were common,
and when the first British law against child labour was introduced in
1834 it affected only children under the age of nine.
In time, protests
against these changes increased in frequency and scale. The most dramatic
example was the French Revolution, but the Chartist revolt in Britain
in the 1840s, the French, Austrian and Italian revolutions in 1848-49,
the Paris Commune of 1870, also clearly indicate the potential for violence
that industrialisation unleashed. And along with the protests, a new,
socialist ideology grew. Its roots go back to social philosophers such
as Rousseau and Henri de Saint-Simon (17601825), and to the German
neo-Hegelians, but its decisive formulation came with Karl Marx, to whom
we shall return later.
But the success
of the labour movement during the nineteenth century would hardly have
been possible without the train and the steamship. Millions of migrants
were transported by rail and ship to the USA, Australia, Argentina, South
Africa, Siberia and elsewhere, relieving population pressure in Europe,
and permitting a long-term rise in standards of living for all. Meanwhile,
in the colonies, administrations disseminated European culture and institutions.
This grand process of diffusion had variable effects. New power relations
arose between colonial administrator and Indian merchant, between
plantation owner and black slave, between Boer, Englishman and Bantu,
between settler and Australian aborigine. In the wake of these new relations
of dominance and dependence, new philosophies, ideologies and myths arose
to defend or attack them. The campaign against slavery is an early example,
and slavery was successfully abolished in the British and French dependencies
in the 1830s. But racism, which first emerged as an organized ideology
during the nineteenth century, was a response to the same processes. Finally,
an internationalised science emerged. The global researcher becomes a
popular figure the prototype naturally being Charles Darwin (18091881),
whose Origin of the Species (1859) was based on data collected
during a six-year circumnavigation of the globe.
It is hardly
surprising that anthropology arose as a discipline at this time. The anthropologist
is a prototypical global researcher, dependent on detailed data about
people all over the world. Now that these data had suddenly become available,
anthropology could be established as an academic discipline. So could
sociology. If anthropology grew from imperialism, sociology was a product
of the changing class relations brought about by industrialisation in
Europe itself all the founding fathers of sociology discuss the
meaning of "modernity", and contrast it with "pre-modern" conditions.
social evolutionism Morgan
While most major
nineteenth-century sociologists were German or French, the leading anthropologists
were based either in Britain (the greatest colonial power, with plentiful
access to "others") or the USA (where "the others" were close at hand).
Theoretical developments in the two traditions also differed markedly.
The evolutionism typical of nineteenth-century anthropology built
on ideas of development from the eighteenth century, bolstered by the
experience of colonialism, and (starting in the 1860s) by the influence
of Darwin and his most famous supporter, the social philosopher Herbert
Spencer (18201903), who founded Social Darwinism, a social philosophy
extolling the virtues of individual competition. But anthropology did
not develop into a racist pseudo-science. All the leading anthropologists
of the time supported the principle of the psychic unity of mankind humans were everywhere born with roughly the same potentials, and
inherited differences were negligible. Indeed, theories of social evolution
presupposed this principle. For if racial differences were held to be
fundamental, the cultural comparisons on which these theories were based
would be unnecessary.
sociologists followed the lead of Kant and Hegel, and explored the socially
constructed reality discovered by the two Germans. Various sociologists
realised this project in various ways, but they shared the idea of society
as an autonomous reality that must be studied on its own terms, not with
the methods of natural science. Like the anthropologists, the sociologists
asserted the psychic unity of mankind and deferred to evolutionist theory.
Unlike the anthropologists, who classified and compared the external characteristics
of societies all over the globe, sociologists were concerned with the
internal dynamics of Western, industrial society. The sophisticated theories
that were thus developed were to have a fundamental impact on anthropology
as well, starting in the early twentieth century.
Here we shall
illustrate the differences between these two emerging traditions with
the work of two of their most prominent pioneering figures: the American
anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan (181881) and the German sociologist
Karl Marx (181883).
life in many ways embodied the America of equal opportunity that the French
sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville described in 1835. He grew up on a farm
in New York State, was educated as a lawyer, and became a prosperous and
active participant in local politics. An early champion of the political
rights of Native Americans, he had been fascinated by Indians since his
youth. In the 1840s, he lived with the Iroquois for some time, and
was adopted into one of their clans and given the name Tayadaowuhkuh:
"he who builds bridges".
that most of the complexity of Native American culture would soon be irretrievably
destroyed as a result of the influx of Europeans, and considered it a
crucial task to document traditional culture and social life before it
was too late. This attitude, often referred to as urgent anthropology,
was shared by the second great American anthropologist, Franz Boas (Chapter
3), and has since been widespread in research on indigenous peoples.
Morgan had close
contact with the people he studied, sympathised with their problems, and
published detailed accounts of their culture and social life. But he also
made substantial theoretical contributions, particularly in his pioneering
work on kinship. Morgans interest in kinship dated back to his stay
with the Iroquois. Later, he discovered surprising similarities and differences
between their kinship system and other in North America. He then devised
a large-scale comparative study of Native American kinship, eventually
including other groups as well. Morgan created the first typology of kinship
systems (cf. Holy 1996), and introduced a distinction between classificatory and descriptive kinship which is still in use. To simplify greatly
descriptive systems (like our own) differentiate kinsmen of the
direct ascending or descending line (linear kin) from kinsmen "to the
side" (collateral kin, such as siblings, cousins and in-laws). Classificatory
kinship (as with the Iroquois) does not differentiate these two categories.
Here the same term might be used, for example, for all linear and collateral
male kin on my fathers side (father, fathers brother, fathers
brothers son, etc.). But Morgan did more than formulate a theory;
he grounded it in years of intensive study of empirical kinship systems
around the world. In his influential Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity
of the Human Family (1871), the results of this research are presented,
defined kinship, once and for all, as a primary anthropological concern.
For Morgan, kinship
was primarily a point of entry to the study of social evolution. He argued
that primitive societies were organised on the basis of kinship, and that
terminological variations among kinship systems correlated with variations
in social structure. But he also supposed that kinship terminology changed
slowly, and that it therefore contained clues to an understanding of earlier
stages of social evolution.
In his magnum
opus Ancient Society (1877), Morgan attempts a grand synthesis
of all this work. He distinguishes three major stages of cultural evolution:
savagery, barbarism and civilization (with three sub-stages each for savagery
and barbarism). His criteria for these divisions were mostly technological:
His "savages" were hunters and gatherers, "barbarism"
was associated with agriculture, "civilization" with state formation
and urbanisation. In hindsight, it seems clear that Morgans synthesis
did not succeed. Even if his basic evolutionary scheme is accepted, the
details are often hazy. At times, isolated technological features are
accorded unreasonable weight for example, pottery is the criterion of the transition between two stages. Where would that leave
the Polynesian chiefdoms, with their complex political systems, but no
trace of pottery? It is only fair to add that Morgan himself was conscious
that his conclusions were often speculative, and critical of the quality
of his (mostly secondary) data.
Morgan had considerable
influence on later anthropology, particularly on kinship studies, but
also, on American cultural materialists and other evolutionist anthropologists
in the twentieth century (Chapter 5). But Morgan was read by sociologists
as well. When Marx discovered Morgan towards the end of his life, he and
his partner, Friedrich Engels, attempted to integrate Morgans ideas
in his own, post-Hegelian, evolutionary theory. The unfinished results
of this work were published by Engels in The Origin of the Family,
Private Property, and the State, in 1884, the year after Marx
The scope and aims
of Marx work contrast sharply with Morgans, despite their
shared commitment to materialist explanations. Marx writings on
non-industrial societies are scattered and tentative. It was through his
analysis of capitalist society in his masterwork, Das Kapital (vol.
1-3: 1867, 1885, 1896; Capital, 1906), that he made his lasting
contribution to social theory. Though Marxism collapsed as a political
movement late in the 1980s, it has remained an important academic influence.
Born in the same
year as Morgan, into a wealthy Jewish family in an inconspicuous German
town, Marx completed a university education in philosophy before embarking
on a career as social theorist, pamphleteer, editor, journalist, labour
organiser and agitator. He was actively involved in the revolutionary
wave that left the European establishment in shock in 184849, and
in the Paris Commune in 1870. After the Commune, he became known as one
of the leading figures of the international labour movement.
on social theory is manifold and complex, and may be traced in many anthropological
analyses to this day (though his influence on sociology, history and economics
is even greater). The confluence of social theory and political activism
runs deep in Marx, and gives his entire project a paradoxical and thought-provoking
character (see Berman 1982). In a sense, Marx tried throughout his life
to reconcile an idealist impulse from German philosophy (particularly
Hegel) with a materialist world-view. It is sometimes said that he "placed
Hegel on his feet": He retained Hegels dialectical principle,
but argued that the movement of history took place on a material, not
a spiritual, level. Society, according to Marx, consists of infrastructure
and superstructure. The former comprises the conditions for existence
material resources and the division of labour; the latter includes
all kinds of ideational systems religion, law and ideology. In
all societies, the primary contradiction runs through the infrastructure:
between the relations of production (that organise labour and property)
and the forces of production (e.g. technology or land). When technological
advances render previous relations of production obsolete, class conflict
ensues, and the relations of production are changed e.g. from slavery
to feudalism to capitalism. Marx predicted that the capitalist system
would itself give way to socialism (ruled by a dictatorship of the proletariat),
and finally to classless communism a utopia, where everything is
owned by all.
The theory is
so ambitious, and in many respects so ambiguous, that it was bound to
raise many problems when confronted with real-world complexities. An example
is Marxian class analysis. Marx postulated, roughly, that property-holders
and the propertyless constitute discrete classes with particular interests.
The objective interest of the working class consists in overthrowing the
ruling class through revolution. But the working class is only partly
conscious of being exploited, since the true power relations are concealed
by an ideology that justifies the existing order. Superstructural
phenomena such as law, religion or kinship are typically infused a "false
consciousness" that passifies the population.
But, asks the
anthropologist, is this model applicable to non-Western contexts? How
does it fit with Morgans dictum that kinship is the primary organising
principle in primitive societies? Is kinship part of infrastructure? But
how can that be, if kinship is an ideology which conceals the infrastructure?
Must the entire distinction between infra- and superstructure, the material
and the spiritual, be abandoned? In what sense, if any, is ideology "less
real" than power? Such issues have attained greater and greater prominence
in anthropology, and a significant part of Marx attraction today
lies in his ability generate questions such as these.
was not oblivious to these problems. His extensive discussion of value
formation is proof enough of this. The value of an object in itself, its
concrete use value, its correspondence to real human needs, is
transformed, under capitalism, into an abstract exchange value,
its value as compared to other objects. "Material" objects are
transformed into "spiritual" commodities, and the further this continues,
the more abstract, absurd and alienated does the world seem. In such passages,
"value" becomes a deeply ambiguous concept, in which power and ideology,
the material and the spiritual merge seamlessly. Nevertheless, it remains
doubtful whether Marx actually solved the problem he posed for himself.
We might note, for example, that his difficulties with bringing materialism
and (Hegelian) idealism together are reminiscent of Morgans problem
with the materialist causes of kinship terminology. Only in the 1980s
do we see a concerted effort at solving the paradox.
and other Victorians
Morgan and Marx belonged
to the first generation of social scientists, who were active in the 1850-70s.
But although their contribution overshadows that of most of their contemporaries,
they were far from alone:
In the 1860s,
while Morgan was still at work on his great volume on kinship, a series
of books were published in Europe which in part complemented Morgan, in
part raised altogether different questions. In 1860, the prolific German
anthropologist Adolf Bastian (18261905) published his three-volume Der Mensch in der Geschichte ("Man in History", see Koepping
1983). Bastian, originally a medical doctor, was trained as an ethnographer
under the influence of the brothers Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt,
the linguist and the geographer who revolutionised humanistic and social
thought in Germany during the first half of the 1800s. Bastian travelled
extensively, indeed it has been estimated that he spent twenty years outside
of Germany (Koepping 1983: 8). In between his travels he wrote his books,
was appointed Professor of Ethnology at the University of Berlin and Director
of the Imperial Museum, founded the important Berliner Museum für
Völkerkunde in 1868, and contributed generously to its collections.
Like the Humboldt brothers before him and Boas after him (Chapter 3),
Bastian continued the German tradition of research on Volkskultur that had been inspired by Herder, and sharply criticised the simplistic
evolutionist schemes that were on the rise in his day. As the only major
nineteenth-century anthropologist, Bastian was an energetic and articulate
critic of evolutionism. His view was that all cultures have a common origin,
from which they have branched off in various directions a view
later developed to great sophistication by Boas and his students. He was
keenly aware of the historical connections between cultures, and thus
anticipated a later development in German anthropology, namely diffusionism.
Bastian even anticipated structuralism and Jungian psychology, when he
argued that all humans share certain elementary patterns of thought: Elementärgedanken.
It was chiefly in German anthropology, and largely through Bastians
work, that the embryonic principle of cultural relativism, evident in
Herder but absent from Enlightenment thought and nineteenth-century Anglo-American
anthropology, asserted its presence in anthropology during the nineteenth
century. In France, for example, the sociological school of Auguste Comte
(17981857) was anything but relativist, operating with a rigid system
of three stages of social evolution.
The year after
the publication of Der Mensch in der Geschichte, the Scottish lawyer
Henry Maine (182288) published Ancient Law. This was primarily
an inquiry into cultural history based on written sources. Maine tried
to demonstrate how changes in legislation reflect wider social changes,
and distinguished traditional societies based on status from modern
societies based on contract. In status-based societies, rights
are distributed through personal relationships, kinship and inherited
rank. Contract society, in contrast, is based on formal, written principles
which function independently of actual persons. The distinction between
status and contract is still in use today, and many scholars have followed
Maines lead in distinguishing between two "ideal types"
simple and complex societies and have, in turn, been criticised
idea that influenced Morgan, Engels and others, but has since been discarded,
was the theory of original matriarchy. This was first launched by the
Swiss lawyer Johann Jakob Bachofen (181587), in Das Mutterrecht (1861; "Mother's Right", cf. Bachofen 1968). Bachofen argued
in favour of an evolutionary theory that moved from an initial stage of
general promiscuity (Hetarismus) to the first organised form of
social life matriarchy where women held political power.
Real matriarchies, Bachofen admitted, no longer existed, but their traces
were found in matrilineal kinship systems, where descent chiefly follows
the mothers line. This idea, which implied that humanity progressed
as female leaders were replaced by males, gained many followers, and was
almost taken for granted by the next generation of anthropologists. In
Britain it was promoted by another lawyer interested in social evolution,
John Ferguson McLennan (182781). Though no ethnographic evidence
exists for this idea, it has remained so resilient that it was felt, as
late as among feminist anthropologists in the 1970s, that it needed to
be demolished (Bamberger 1974).
did not work in an intellectual vacuum. Interest in comparative studies
of culture and society was on the rise, particularly in Britain and Germany,
and access to reliable empirical data was rapidly improving due to colonialism.
Still, the only nineteenth-century anthropologist to rival Morgan in influence
was Edward Burnett Tylor (18321917).
E.B. Tylor grew
up as a Quaker, and was barred by his faith from a university education.
But during a reconvalescence in Cuba, he discovered an interest in archaeology
and was invited to take part in an expedition to the Toltec ruins in Mexico.
In an era dominated by evolutionism, the step from prehistory to anthropology
was short, and Tylors work as an anthropologist would soon gain
him (and the discipline) considerable prestige. In 1896, he was appointed
the first British professor of anthropology, at the University of Oxford.
In 1912, he was knighted. Tylor was still a young man when he published
his first great evolutionist synthesis, Researches into the Early History
of Mankind and the Development of Civilization (1865); and his major
work, Primitive Culture (1871), followed just a few years later.
Tylor here proposed an evolutionary scheme reminiscent of Morgans
in Ancient Society (the two books were published in the same year).
He shared Morgans faith in the primacy of material conditions. Like
Morgan, too, his knowledge of cultural variation was vast (Darwin refers
to Tylor several times in his work on human evolution from the 1870s).
But Tylor did not share Morgans interest in kinship terminology,
and instead developed a theory of cultural survivals. Survivals
were cultural traits that had lost their original functions in society,
but had continued, for no particular reason, to survive. Such traits were
of crucial importance to the effort to reconstruct human evolution. Tylor
advocated a trait-by-trait comparative method, which allowed him to isolate
survivals from the larger social system. Though influential at the time,
this method was abandoned by the next generation of anthropologists. Curiously,
it reappeared in the mid-1970s, when the sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson,
in an intellectual venture comparable to Tylors, attempted to reconcile
cultural variation and Darwinist evolutionism (cf. Ingold 1986).
most significant contribution to modern anthropology is his definition
of culture. The definition appears on the first page of Primitive Culture,
and reads like this:
Culture, or civilization,
taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which
includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other
capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. (Tylor
1958 : 1)
On the one hand,
culture is thus a general term that cross-cuts evolutionary stages. Where
evolution differentiates societies in qualitative terms, culture unites
mankind. Tylor, like Bastian, was an explicit proponent of the "psychic
unity of humanity". And the similarity to Bastian goes deeper than this.
Tylor was well versed in German anthropology and philosophy, and had read
both Bastian himself and several of his teachers (cf. Koepping 1983).
On the other hand, Tylor equates culture with civilization, a qualitative
term. Culture thus, at least implicitly, becomes a matter of degree: Everyone
has it, but not in equal amount. This concept of culture starkly contradicts
Bastian and the entire Herderian notion of Volk. For Herder and
his successors, humanity consisted of autonomous, bounded cultures.
For Tylor and other Victorian evolutionists, humanity consisted of groups
that were cultured to various degrees, and distributed on the rungs of
a ladder of cultural evolution.
In the years between
1840 and 1880, a whole range of new problems was raised by sociologists
and anthropologists. While Marx developed the first grand theory in sociology,
comprising modernisation, value formation, power and ideology, and while
Darwin formulated the principles of biological evolution, anthropologists
were engaged in a dual project. In part they were busy devising grand
evolutionary schemes unilineal in intent and universalistic in
pretentions; in part they were documenting the immense range of human
socio-cultural variation and out of the knowledge thus accumulated
grew the first low-level theories, pertaining to specific ethnographic
domains, such as kinship, and rooted in specific and detailed empirical
It was still
uncommon for the anthropologist himself to carry out field studies, though
Morgan and Bastian were prominent exceptions. Another, less well-known
exception was the Russian ethnographer Nicolai Nicolaievich Miklukho-Maklai
(18461888), who in 1871, forty years before Malinowski, carried
out a fifteen-month intensive field study on the New Guinea coast, and
laid the groundwork for a rich ethnographic tradition in Russia that is
virtually unknown in the West (see Plotkin and Howe 1985). But the vast
majority of anthropologists gathered their data through correspondence
with colonial administrators, settlers, officers, missionaries and other
"whites" living in exotic places. Given the uneven quality of these data
and the authors vast theoretical ambitions, such studies were almost
always full of the kind of speculation that Radcliffe-Brown (Chapter 3)
would later dismiss as conjectural history. But in spite of these
shortcomings, the learned books of the Victorians were theoretically focused
and empirically grounded to an extent that had never before been seen.
of kinship in this phase of the disciplines evolution, cannot be
overstated. Kinship terminology was a limited empirical field. Nevertheless,
mapping and understanding it was a humbling experience. The closer one
looked at these strangely formal systems, the more complex they seemed.
True, to the first practitioners of kinship studies, mostly lawyers by
profession, the task seemed fairly simple. They looked for a "legal
system" that would regulate behaviour in primitive societies, and
kinship was the obvious candidate an empirical system of formalised,
verbalised norms. At the end of the century, it was widely held that kinship
was a kind of anthropologist's Rosetta Stone, that allowed primitive customs
to be understood and translated into rational terms.
The Golden Bough
and the Torres expedition
For a couple of decades
after the prolific 1860s and '70s, little of importance was published
in anthropology. In sociology too, there seems to have been a dearth
a notable exception being Ferdinand Tönnies Gemeinschaft
und Gesellschaft (1887; Community and Society, 1963), which
proposed a dichotomy of the traditional and modern that was similar to
McLennans, but with a less judicial accent. In the course of these
years a new generation appeared. Many of the leading figures discussed
so far, including Marx, Morgan, Bachofen and Maine, were dead. In anthropology,
we see the first institutionalisation of the discipline in Britain, Germany,
France and the USA. Independent national traditions were starting to crystallise,
and separate sets of issues were being raised in each of the four countries.
The Germans followed the lead of Bastian and the comparative linguists,
whose success in untangling the history of the Indo-European languages
was almost as sensational, in its time, as Darwins evolutionism.
A research programme for the study of human prehistory was established
that mimicked the spread and movement of languages in much the same way
as evolutionism mimicked biology. This programme, diffusionism,
studied the origin and dissemination of cultural traits. The challenge
posed by these concrete historians to the abstract histories of evolutionism,
made diffusionism a truly radical innovation around the turn of the century.
In the USA and Britain, evolutionism remained dominant, but scholars were
becoming increasingly specialised, focusing on particular subfields, such
as kinship, religion, magic or law. In France, meanwhile, a unique blend
of sociology and anthropology was under way. Each of these research programmes,
however, was seriously hampered by a lack of accurate and detailed data.
This gap had become increasingly evident throughout the nineteenth century,
and there was by now a near universal consensus in the field that more
and better data are needed. As early as in 1857, British anthropologists
published the first edition of what was to become the authoritative
work on field methods for nearly a century Notes and Queries
on Anthropology, which was re-issued in four revised, and ever more
detailed, editions. But the methodological breakthrough that everyone
was waiting for did not arrive before a radically new conception of anthropological
fieldwork was established.
The last great
Victorian evolutionist was James George Frazer (18541941), a student
of Tylor who was celebrated far beyond anthropological circles, for his
masterpiece The Golden Bough, which was first published as a two-volume
set in 1890, and later expanded to fill twelve gigantic tomes. The
Golden Bough is a vast, comparative investigation of the history of
myth, religion and other "exotic beliefs", with examples drawn
from all over the world. Like so many of the evolutionists, Frazer believed
in a three-step model of cultural evolution: a "magical" stage
is replaced by a "religious" stage, which gives way to a "scientific"
stage. This general scheme can be traced through Comte all the way back
to Vico. Though Frazer clearly considered magical rites irrational, and
assumed that "primitives" based their lives on a completely
mistaken understanding of nature, his main concern was to identify patterns
and universal traits in mythical thought. But with a few notable exceptions
(Lévi-Strauss being one of them), modern anthropologists rarely
refer to Frazer as anything but an historical figure. But his influence
was greatest outside of anthropology; two of his warmest admirers were
the poet T. S. Eliot and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Yet Frazers
fascinating and ponderous work was never followed up by later research.
It stands alone, a majestic monument to the insecure empirical basis of
fared better with another British turn-of-the-century enterprise, less
noticed at the time and far less well known outside anthropology, namely
the Torres Expedition, organised from the University of Cambridge in 1898
to the Torres Straits, between Australia and New Guinea. The expedition
was to collect detailed data about the traditional population of the islands
in the area, and included several anthropologists though all were
originally trained in other disciplines, since academic training in anthropology
were still very rare. Alfred C. Haddon (18551940) was originally
a zoologist, William H. R. Rivers (18641922) a psychologist, and
Charles G. Seligman (18731940) a medical doctor. In contrast to
the individualist ideal of later British fieldwork, the Torres expedition
was a collective effort where scholars from various disciplines explored
different aspects of the local culture. Nevertheless, due to high quality
and the impressive volme of the data they collected, many have seen these
anthropologists as the first true fieldworkers. "Through their work,"
writes one commentator, "British social anthropology was born" (Hynes
Haddon, a colleague
of Frazers at the University of Cambridge, had planned the Torres
expedition as an "ideal" field project, where the participants
would cover all aspects of native life: ethnography, psychology, linguistics,
physical anthropology and musicology. He himself would take care of sociology
and folklore, as well as material culture. For Seligman, who in later
years became a central figure at the influential anthropology department
at the London School of Economics, the expedition was the beginning of
a career which, after work in Melanesia and Sri Lanka, would culminate
in several major field studies in the Sudan. He thus contributed decisively
to moving the focus of British anthropology from the Pacific islands (where
it remained until well into the 1920s) to Africa (which would soon become
an ethnographic gold mine). Seligmans major work from the Sudan,
co-authored with his wife Brenda Seligman (Seligman and Seligman 1932),
is still regarded as a classic in its field.
Rivers was the
most unusual member of the expedition. Until his early death in 1922,
he was a professor at the University of Oxford, where he invested much
effort in developing a psychological anthropology, a project that was
too far ahead of its time to succeed. Towards the end of his life, Rivers
came under the influence of Sigmund Freuds psychology, an impluse
he transmitted to his student Bronislaw Malinowski. During the Torres
expedition, Rivers concentrated particularly on the mental abilities of
the natives, especially their use of the senses. In 1908, he published
a descriptive monograph, The Toda, based on work among a tribe
in South India; and in 1914 The History of Melanesian Society,
a comprehensive work which outlined the immense cultural variation of
Melanesia and explained it as a result of repeated waves of migration,
an hypothesis which is still accepted, with due modifications, among present-day
archaeologists. With this work, Rivers stated to move away from evolutionism,
towards the new school of diffusionism, which was the subject of his last
the geographical distribution and migration of cultural traits, and posited
that cultures were patchworks of traits with various origins and histories.
All parts of a culture are therefore not necessarily linked into a larger
wholes. In contrast, most evolutionists held that societies were coherent,
functional systems. True, evolutionists also recognised the existence
of isolated, non-functional cultural traits (Tylors survivals),
and in practice, these received a disproportionate amount of analytical
attention (considering that they were atypical), since they were the key
to reconstructing the social forms of the past. But when the evolutionist
perspective collapsed, the idea of societies as coherent wholes was also
discredited (though it remained strong in sociology, and would soon
reappeared with renewed force in British social anthropology). Now all cultural traits were potential "survivals". Diffusionists
still used them to reconstruct the past, but "the past" was
no longer a unilineal movement through well-defined stages. Cultural history
was a fragmented story of cultural encounters, migrations and influences,
each instance of which was unique. In the early decades of the twentieth
century, diffusionism was an attractive alternative to evolutionism, because
of it had greater respect for the facts on the ground and more modest
The fact that
technology and ideas could travel was not a new discovery. In the eighteenth
century, German philologists had shown that European and North Indian
languages had shared origins. Archaeologists had discovered that pottery
and other artefacts had spread from cultural centres to peripheries. Europeans
were conscious of the fact that the dominant religion of their own continent
had Middle Eastern origins. What was new about anthropological diffusionism
was its systematic comparitive effort and its emphasis on detailed empirical
knowledge. Like Rivers, many diffusionists worked in limited regions,
where it was possible to demonstrate convincingly that specific cultural
traits had an identifiable history.
was chiefly a Germanic specialisation, with centres in the great museum
cities of Berlin and Vienna. Apart from Rivers, it had little direct influence
on British and French anthropology (but as we shall see, it had important
repurcussians in the USA). Like their colleagues elsewhere, the German
anthropologists of the nineteenth century tended to subscribe to some
kind of evolutionist framework. But the influence from Herder, with its
emphasis on the unique and local, along with the relativism we have noted
in Bastians work, counteracted this tendency, and when evolutionism
was challenged at the turn of the century, this tradition again came to
the fore. Scholars like Friedrich Rätzel (18441904), Fritz
Graebner (18771936), Leo Frobenius (18731938) and Wilhelm
Schmidt (18691954) followed the lead of Herder (and Bastian), emphasising
the uniqueness of each peoples cultural heritage. They argued that
cultural evolution was not unilineal, and that there was no simple determinism
between, say, technological complexity and complexity in other areas.
A people with a simple technology, might perfectly well have a highly
sophisticated religious system.
aimed towards a comprehensive survey of the spread of cultural traits
from the earliest times until today. They developed complex (sometimes,
it must be said, rather arcane) classifications of "culture circles"
(Kulturkreise) and surveyed their possible dissemination from an
original centre. In certain cases, as in Graebners studies from
Oceania, they could identify as many as seven historically discrete sediments
or Kulturkreise in each society.
It is worth noting
that diffusionism did not shed its evolutionist background overnight.
Most diffusionists still believed that social change generally led to
progress and increased "sophistication". What they objected
to in Victorian evolutionism was its unilineal and deterministic character;
the idea, found in Tylor and others, that all societies must pass through
certain stages that were more or less the same all over the world. The
diffusionist world-view was less tidy than this, and more sensitive to
As we shall see
in the next chapter, both evolutionism and diffusionism were thoroughly
thrashed by the following generations of social and cultural anthropologists.
But diffusionist research was often far more sophisticated than later
anthropologists were willing to admit, and in the German language area,
particularly in Austria, the Kulturkreise programme remained in
vigour until the 1950s.
was also important for East European anthropologists, not least for the
large group of Russian anthropologists who followed the lead of Miklukho-Maklay.
Three prominent names were Vladimir Ilich Jochelson (18551937),
Vladimir Germanovich Bogoraz (18651936) and Lev Yacovlevich Shternberg
(18611927), all of whom were exiled to Eastern Siberia by the Czar
and used the opportunity to carry out long-term fieldwork among the indigenous
peoples of the region. Around the turn of the century, they participated
in a major Russo-American expedition to the indigenous peoples around
the Bering Straits, organised by a German-American by the name of Franz
Boas. These scholars were diffusionist in their orientation, and indeed
diffusionism is even today a respectable theory in Russia, with long traditions
and high analytical and methodological standards. In the West, diffusionism
survives in the tradition of imperialism studies that ultimately
stems from Marx and Lenin, but which has been resurrected under such headings
as "dependency studies", "global system studies", and, most recently,
"globalisation studies" (see Chapters 7 and 9). The Marxian influence
here adds power to the diffusionists Herderian brew, with a more
potent and violent result.
The new sociology
The new generations
of anthropologists, who will be introduced in the following chapters,
had good reason to distance themselves from evolutionism and diffusionism.
They were convinced that they had discovered a theoretical alternative
with greater potential than any previous theory of socio-cultural variation.
British (and to a lesser extent, American) anthropologists had discovered
What is called
"classical sociology" in textbooks and undergraduate courses,
usually refers to the oeuvre of a handful of (mostly German or French)
theorists, who produced most of their work between the 1850s and
the First World War. The leading lights of the first wave were Marx, Comte
and Spencer, though the latter two are nearly fogotten today. The second
generation included Ferdinand Tönnies (18551936), Emile Durkheim
(18581917), Georg Simmel (18581918) and Max Weber (18641920).
Like Marx, all of these authors are still read for the intrinsic interest
of their work (rather than as expressions of an historical Zeitgeist).
Tönnies explored the simple/complex society dichotomy in sociology,
adding complexity and nuance to the simple schemes that had gone before
him; Simmel (who is experiencing a renaissance today) is admired for his
studies of modernity, the city and money. Both Durkheim and Weber are
still considered important enough to generate frequent book-length commentaries.
But of all the classical sociologists, Durkheim has been most significant
for anthropology, in part because he himself was concerned with many anthropological
themes, in part because of his direct and immediate influence on British
and French anthropology. In the USA, "classical sociology" only made itself
felt many years later, and was never as strong as in Europe. The main
influence here was rather from Bastian and the Völkerkunde school, which was brought into American anthropology by its (German) founding
father, Franz Boas. The leading American anthropologists of the early
twentieth century were therefore oriented towards cultural history, linguistics
and even psychology rather than sociology.
Like Marx, Durkheim
grew up in a Jewish family (in a small town near Strasbourg), and his
parents wanted him to become a rabbi. He did so well in school, however,
that he was admitted to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in Paris, which secured a later academic career. During his education
he had lost his religious faith, and become part of a dynamic and critical
intellectual milieu. Throughout his life, Durkheim was deeply concerned
with moral issues, and he was an committed promoter of social and educational
reforms. In 1887, he was appointed lecturer in pedagogy and sociology
at the University of Bordeaux, becoming the first French social scientist
to hold an academic post. During this period, which lasted until his move
to Paris in 1902, Durkheim wrote two of his most important works, De
la division du travail social (1893; The Division of Labour in
Society, 1964) and Le suicide (1897, Suicide, 1951).
He also founded the influential journal LAnnée Sociologique,
which he continued to edit after moving to Paris. As professor at Sorbonne
from 1906 till his death in 1917, Durkheims influence on later French
sociology and anthropology was immense. With his nephew and intellectual
successor Marcel Mauss, he wrote extensively on non-European peoples;
a notable work in this regard is Classification Primitive (1900; Primitive Classification, 1963), a study of the social origins
of knowledge systems, which draws on ethnographic data, particularly from
Australia. This book, which posits an intrinsic connection between classification
and social structure, is still a point of reference for anthropological
studies of classification.
Unlike both diffusionists
and evolutionists, Durkheim was not particularly interested in origins.
He was concerned with synchronic rather than diachronic explanations. Like the diffusionists, but unlike the evolutionists, he
was deeply commited to basing his anthropology on observable, often quantifiable
data. Unlike the diffusionists, however, he was convinced that societies
were logical, integrated systems, in which all parts were dependent on
each other and worked together to maintain the whole. In this, he approached
the evolutionists, who, like him, drew analogies between the functional
systems of the body and society. Indeed, Durkheim often described society
as a social organism. Like Tönnies and Maine, but unlike Marx
and Morgan, Durkheim subscribed to a dichotomous division of societial
types dropping all talk of "stages" and "evolution",
he juxtaposed traditional and modern societies without postulating that
the former would ever evolve into the latter. Primitive societies were
neither "survivals" from a dim past nor "steps" towards
progress, but social organisms that deserved to be studied on their own
terms. Finally, unlike Bastian and the Völkerkunde school,
Durkheim was concerned, not with culture, but with society, not with symbols
and myths, but with organisations and institutions.
The book on the
division of labour delves into the difference between simple and complex
social organisations. In Durkheims view, the former are based on mechanical solidarity. People support the existing social order
and each other because they share the same everyday life, carry out the
same tasks and perceive each other as similar. In complex societies, in
contrast, organic solidarity prevails. Here, society and mutual
commitment are maintained by peoples perception of each other as
different, with complementary roles. Each carries out a different
task that contributes to the whole. Durkheim adds that the two forms of
solidarity must be understood as general principles of social integration
rather than societal types. Most societies have elements of both. Moreover,
the distinction does more than posit a contrast between "ourselves"
and "the other". Both Durkheim and many of his successors, right
up to Louis Dumont (see Chapter 6), were intrigued by the complexities
of traditional Indian society, and maintained that its caste system expressed
an advanced form of organic complexity.
last, and perhaps greatest work, Les formes élémentaires
de la vie réligieuse (1915; The Elementary Forms of Religious
Life, 1995) was published just two years before his death. Here, he
attempts to grasp the meaning of "solidarity" itself, of the very force
that keeps society together. Solidarity, Durkheim argues, arises from collective representations then as now a controversial term.
These are symbolic "images" or "models" of social
life that are shared by a group. Such "images" develop through
interpersonal relationships, but attain a supra-individual, objective
character. They make up an all-embracing, virtual, "socially constructed"
reality that echoes Kant and Hegel, and which to the people who live in
the society appear just as real as material world. But they are not objective
images of this world. They are moral entities, with power over the emotions.
Religion becomes an important object of inquiry for Durkheim, because
it is here, more than anywhere else, that the emotional attachment of
individuals to collective representations is established and strengthened.This
attachment is primarily formed in ritual, in which religion is
expressed through physical interaction and solidarity becomes a direct,
bodily experience. Ritual hedges itself off from profane daily
life, drawing a protective magic circle around its own, forbidden, sacred domain. This demarcation allows the experience of ritual to be intensified
until an almost mystical union is achieved. Bringing the memory of this
experience back into everyday life, we remember how the world truly is.
ritual had long attracted the interest of anthropologists, who had documented
it in a wide range of empirical forms. The problem of understanding social
integration in stateless societies had been an important (though often
implicit) concern in evolutionism. And bewilderment at the exotic symbols
and customs of "the others" was the point of departure of all
anthropological inquiry. Now Durkheim seemed to offer an analytical tool
that would bring all these interests together. "The exotic"
could be understood as an integrated system of collective representations,
whose function was to create social solidarity. And religion, the most
mystifyingly "exotic" phenomenon of all, turned out to be the rational
dynamo driving this entire process.
anthropologists embraced Durkheim early in the twentieth century (Chapter
3), they found countless applications for his theory, in the study of
religion, legal systems and not least kinship. Indeed, Durkheim
is therefore often described as the founder of structural-functionalism,
though properly this was a purely British school, developed by Malinowski
and Radcliffe-Brown. But Durkeim and the "British School" agreed that
social phenomena and their attendent collective representations were objectively
existing entities. In Durkheims Règles de la méthode
sociologique (1895; Rules of Sociological Method, 1976), he
argues that social phenomena should be studies "as things" (comme
des choses) and describes individuals more as the products
of society than as its producers. His contemporary, Max Weber, the last
great, classical sociologist with a place in the anthropological pantheon,
presents a contrast in more than one way.
Max Weber grew up
in a prosperous and authoritarian Prussian family, was educated at the
universities of Berlin, Heidelberg and Göttingen, and rose rapidly
in the German academic world. He was appointed professor at age 31 (in
1895), and in the course of a few years, published learned works about
topics as diverse as the fall of the Roman Empire and agricultural problems
in contemporary eastern Germany. From his mother, who was raised in a
strict, Calvinist home, he had inherited ideals of ascetism and strict
work discipline, which he put into practice in his academic life. In 1898,
after only three active years, he suffered a mental breakdown, and was
able to resume work only after another five years had passed. Immediately
after his recovery, Weber wrote the book that many consider his finest: Die protestantische Ethik und der "Geist" der Kapitalismus (190405; The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,
1976). This is a work of cultural and economic history which explores
the roots of European modernity. Weber argues that the Calvinists (and
other puritan Christians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) formulated
a view of life that corresponded closely to the image of the perfect entrepreneur.
The Calvinists believed that human life was predestined, that a few were
singled by God for salvation, but it was impossible for human beings to
comprehend who or why this should be. The God of Calvin was cold and stern.
He demanded obedience, but would not explain his reasons. According to
Weber (and we sense that he may here be speaking from personal experience),
this ambiguity, coupled to the merciless doctrine, created an unbearable
tension in the life of Calvinists. Looking for solutions, it occured to
them that hard work coupled with a frugal lifestyle could only bring them
closer to Gods grace. They were enjoined to produce results, but
forbidden to taste the fruits of their labour. Instead, they reinvested
them in their enterprise, generating a spiral of increasing profits to
the glory of God.
point is not necessarily that Calvinism was the cause of capitalism.
There were many reasons why capitalism arose, and reinvestment was by
no means an invention of Calvins. The point was rather that Calvinism
(and in a broader sense, protestantism as a whole) formulated an explicit
ideology that justified and even glorified the capitalist ethic.
Germany the humanities or, literally, "spiritual sciences" (Geisteswissenschaften),
had great prestige, and hermeneutics was considered a natural component
of a cultured education. And it was hermeneutics, the science of understanding
and interpreting the viewpoint of an alien culture, person or text, that
inspired Weber to search for the motivations behind actions, for
how a certain way of acting could make sense to individuals. Weber is,
in this perspective, an early representative of what will later be called methodological individualism. It is not the system or the whole
that interests him, but the fact that when individuals do things,
they have reasons for doing it. Webers sociology is therefore
associated with the German word Verstehen (understanding). It is
an "understanding" and "empathic" sociology, which seeks to "put itself
in the others shoes", by grasping her motives, the choices she confronts
and the responses that would be natural for her, given the concrete circumstances
of her life. Verstehen, in other words, implies a focus on what
the world means for individuals, and what kind of meaning it has.
What Weber himself
sought to understand, however, was above all, power. Power was a major
theme in Marx also (in Durkheim it plays a minor role), but the two men
gave the word very different meanings. Marx had described power as based
on control of the means of production, and therefore associated with property.
Power is contested, overthrown, and society is changed so far Marx
and Weber agreed perfectly. But according to Marx, change does not arise
from individuals pursuing values and stribing for goals, but from slow-moving
structural conflicts in the hidden depths of the social system. Marx saw
power as an anonymous force, concealing its true face behind the veil
of ideology. Weber focused on the effects of individual strategies to
Like his contemporaries,
the diffusionists, Weber was opposed to abstract, "experience distant"
theoretical schemes. What mattered was the particular, the historical
coincidence. Weber saw nothing unreasonable in supposing that power and
property were often linked, but he declined to generalise further. Power,
as he defines it, is the ability to get someone to do something that he
would not otherwise have done. Legitimate power (or authority)
is power based on a minimum of physical coercion and violence, that has
been accepted as a legal, moral, natural or god-given fact of life by
a populace who has been taught to believe that this is so. In his second
great work, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (published posthumously
in 1922; Economy and Society, 1968), Weber goes on to describe
three ideal types of legitimate power. The "ideal type" is another
important Weberian neologism: It refers to simplified models that may
be applied to the real world, to reveal specific aspects of its functioning
thus, the "ideal types" themselves have no empirical reality. Webers
three ideal types of legitimate power may briefly be described as follows: Traditional authority is power legitimised by ritual and kinship. Bureaucratic authority is power legitimised through formalised
administration. Charismatic authority is the power of the prophet
or the revolutionary to "sway the masses". The three types, Weber emphasises,
may well coexist within a single society. Now, the first two types look
suspiciously similar to the primitive/modern dichotomies proposed by Main,
Tönnies or Durkheim. But the third type is an innovation. It bears
witness to the fact that Weber, towards the end of his life, had read
Nietzsche and Freud, two contemporary thinkers from the German language
area, who argued the primacy of the individual with great force. There
is a kind of power, Weber is telling us, that unpredictable and individual,
that is based on the seductive abilities of the exceptional individual,
rather than on property (Marx) or stable norms (Durkheim).
Thus, for Weber
society was a more individual and less collective endeavour than for Marx
or Durkheim. Society is not, as in Durkheim, a moral order that is given
once and for all. Neither is it, as in Marx, a product of ponderous collective
forces that individuals can neither understand nor influence. It is an
ad hoc order, that is generated when different people with different interests
and values meet, quarrel, and try (ultimately by force) to convince one
another and arrive at some kind of agreement. Thus, Weber sees competition
and conflict as potential sources of constructive change. Here he is in
agreement with Marx, and in opposition to Durkheim, who assumed that change
and disaster were practically synonymous. But in Weber, conflicts are
not, as in Marx, vast and impersonal, but enacted by individuals. Thus,
while Marx and Durkheim each developed a distinct brand of methodological
collectivism, which studies society primarily as an integrated whole
Weber announced a methodological individualism that accepted
that societies could be confusing, inconsistent, and unpredictable.
of Webers legacy into anthropology was less direct than that of
Durkheim, who himself was instrumental in founding modern French anthropology.
Although he quickly became a key figure in international sociology, Webers
impact on anthropology came largely after the Second World War. It is
a testimony to his great breadth as a theorist that otherwise very different
anthropologists, such as hermeneutician Clifford Geertz and methodological
individualist Fredrik Barth, are both deeply indebted to Weber, but for
By the turn of the
twentieth century, the Continental sociologists were engaged in a lively
discourse on issues of social theory, attaining levels of sophistications
that anthropologists could not pretend to. In our own day, Marx, Durkheim
and Weber are far more frequently cited by anthropologists than Morgan,
Bastian or Tylor, who would soon be effectively discredited by the followers
of Durkheim. Soon, now, the impact of Durkheim would shake anthropology
deeply, while Weber and Marx still lurk in the scenes, only appearing,
as major influences after the Second World War.
Still, the heritage
of nineteenth-century anthropology is richer than often supposed. Evolutionism
never disappeared completely, and has had several influential twentieth-century
proponents. Diffusionism, is, as we have hinted above, still a force to
be reckoned with. Many concepts have survived, and are still avidly used:
Maines distinction between contract and status, Tylors definition
of culture, Bastians incipient cultural are all "survivals"
(to use a native term) of Victorian anthropology. It is nevertheless only
with the developments described in the next chapter that social and cultural
anthropology appeares on the stage, as we know it today.