Culture and Evolution : Essays in the History of Anthropology

He asks anthropologists to think again about the peculiar combination of progressive and conservative arguments that anthropological theories of culture and race seem always to reproduce.”—Richard Handler, University of Virginia

Race, Culture, and Evolution Essays in the History of Anthropology by Stocking, George W., Jr

The earliest stage of savagery featured largely in Tylor’s study of culture; the term itself derives from the Latin for forest-dweller, and at the time it had both neutral and positive connotations as well as the negative ones that remain today. Societies within each stage have superficial differences masking their fundamental similarity, and the anthropologist’s job is to identify the latter. Determining where the group stood on the hierarchical ladder of cultural development provided the context for interpreting all aspects of the society by comparing it with others on the same rung around the world. One of the most prominent consequences of this logic was the familiar practice in Victorian museums of displaying together all objects of one type from around the world, arranged to illustrate the intrinsic cultural evolution of a musical instrument, bowls, or spears, for example. A cursory glance at most illustrated anthropological books from the time, such as Friedrich Ratzel’s The History of Mankind (1885-86), demonstrates the same principle at work.


Race, culture, and evolution: essays in the history of anthropology

GENERAL AND ETHNOLOGY: Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology.

While a foundational figure in cultural anthropology, Tylor thought about culture in radically different terms than we do today. He accepted the premise that all societies develop in the same way and insisted on the universal progression of human civilization from savage to barbarian to civilized. Nowhere in his writing does the plural “cultures” appear. In his view, culture is synonymous with civilization, rather than something particular to unique societies, and, so, his definition refers to “Culture or civilization.” In part, his universalist view stemmed from his Quaker upbringing, which upheld the value of a universal humanity, and indeed Tylor’s refusal to accept the concept of race as scientifically significant in the study of culture was unusual in Victorian science.


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Stocking writes very clearly; attacks important topics—race and evolution, the influence of scientism, the interaction between anthropology and other disciplines; and is methodologically very sophisticated.

Essays in the History of Anthropology: With a New ..

Stocking, George W. “Matthew Arnold, E. B. Tylor, and the Uses of Invention.” Race, Culture and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology. New York: Free Press, 1968. 69-90. Print.