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Schools of Thought

  • Animism
    From Reader's Guide to the Social Sciences The notion of animism is not now widely used in anthropology and tends to be referred to more as a historical curiosity for what it can tell us about anthropological thought in the 19th century than for what it can say about the beliefs of people in the modern world.
  • Diffusionism
    From Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought Diffusionism is the term used by anthropologists and sociologists to account for the spread, through time, of aspects of culture—artistic traditions, language, music, myths, religious beliefs, social organization, technological ideas—from one society or group to another.
  • Evolutionism
    From Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought Evolutionism is a movement in anthropology and sociology which was much in vogue in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It refers to theories of change in which development is seen to go through stages of increasing complexity and diversification. It is closely related to the idea of progress and technology, which is most prevalent in capitalist society.
  • Functionalism
    From Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology Broadly speaking, ‘functionalism’ refers to a range of theories in the human sciences, all of which provide explanations of phenomena in terms of the function, or purpose, they purportedly serve.
  • Marxist anthropology
    From Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought. It developed out of two motives: the need to evaluate anthropology's historical relationship with colonialism, arising out of a discontent with earlier functionalist paradigms for the study of societies; and to conduct social enquiry with a greater sense of political and economic perspectives.
  • Postmodernism
    From Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology Anthropology in general has been viewed as a particularly sympathetic arena of the human sciences within which to pursue the postmodernist agenda, especially with regard to issues of ‘otherness’, critiques of the programmes of the Enlightenment and elaborations of the notion of culture.
  • Primitivism
    From Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought Primitivism, in anthropology, refers to a body of thought that there exist remote and exotic ‘primitive’: peoples whose lifestyles and technologies are considered to show marked contrast to those of modern societies.
  • Relativism
    From Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology The conventional cultural relativism that most anthropologists, British or American, take to work with them is a combination of two notions: first, that insofar as there are behavioural differences between various populations of people, these differences are the result of cultural (sometimes societal) variation rather than anything else; and, second, that such differences as do exist are deserving of respect and understanding in their own terms.
  • Structuralism
    From Reader's Guide to the Social Sciences Structuralism is the approach which seeks to isolate, and decode, deep structures of meaning, organised through systems of signs inherent in human behaviour (language, ritual, dress and so on).
  • Syncretism
    From Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought Syncretism is the process of mingling different philosophies, religions or traditions of belief and practice, resulting in hybrid forms.
  • Totemism
    From Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology J.F. McLennan (1869) posited a worldwide reverence for the ‘mystical power’ of living things, arguing that ‘there is no race of men that has not come through this primitive stage of speculative belief.'

Major Theorists

  • Ruth Fulton Benedict (1887-1948): Topic
  • Franz Boas (1858-1942): Topic
  • Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard (1902-1973)
  • Meyer Fortes (1906-1983)
  • Clifford Geertz (1926-2006)
  • Alfred Cort (or Court) Haddon (1855-1940)
  • Marvin Harris (1927-2001)
  • Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009): Topic
  • Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942): Topic
  • Margaret Mead (1901-1978): Topic
  • A.R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955)