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"The “Anthropology for Beginners” blog by Suman Nath is one of the most user/reader friendly sites relative to such an endeavor." - Global Oxford "This blog contains lots of study materials on Anthropology and related topics" - University of Kassel University of Houston includes Anthropology for beginners in their recommended reading list. This is a humble endeavour to collect study materials on anthropology and then share it with interested others. How to use: 1. One can see materials by clicking "Blog Archives" which is arranged chronologically. 2. Or can search in the search box provided by using key words. I have not tried to be exhaustive, but its just elementary materials which will help newcomers to build up their materials better. Because of the rising number of requests from people across the world, Anthropology for beginners has started a youtube channel. Those who are willing to have some explanations to the materials available in this blog can subscribe to this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_cq5vZOzI9aDstQEkru_MQ/videos Watch the introductory video to get an overview of the youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY9DOnD0Uxo You can write me about the posts. Feel free to write me at sumananthro1@gmail.com Best, Suman

Monday 7 September 2020

Sustainable Development


Sustainable development: 1

Key Features of Sustainable Development. 1

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 2

Approaches to sustainability and development: 3

Neo-liberal/ free market approach: 3

Reformist and interventionist approaches: 3

Radical approaches: 3

Sustainable development:

Sustainability can be defined as the practice of maintaining world processes of productivity indefinitely—natural or human-made—by replacing resources used with resources of equal or greater value without degrading or endangering natural biotic systems. Sustainable development ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social, political, and economic challenges faced by humanity (Kahle and Gurel-Atay 2014). In 1980 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published a world conservation strategy that included one of the first references to sustainable development as a global priority and introduced the term "sustainable development" (Sachs 2015). Two years later, the United Nations World Charter for Nature raised five principles of conservation by which human conduct affecting nature is to be guided and judged. In 1987 the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development released the report Our Common Future, commonly called the Brundtland Report. The report included what is now one of the most widely recognised definitions of sustainable development.

Alternatively Sustainable development is defined as a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

·          The concept of 'needs', in particular, the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and

·          The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.

[World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (1987)]


Key Features of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development can be achieved if we follow the following points,

·          Restricting human being from over-exploitation of the environmental resources both at individual level and as a corporate.

·          Technological development should be input effective and not input utilizing. Therefore, ensuring technology that minimises the use of finite resources and maximises the output.

·          The rate of consumption should not surpass the rate of salvation.

·          For renewable resources, the rate of consumption should not surpass the rate of production of renewable substitutes.

·          Minimisation of all kinds of pollutants and safer disposal of waste.

·          Sensible use of Natural Resources.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

The SDGs are:

1.       Complete eradication of poverty

2.       No hunger

3.       Good health and well-being

4.       Quality education and life-long learning opportunity for all

5.       Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girl

6.       Ensure availability and sustainable management of water for all

7.       Ensure the availability of reliable, affordable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

8.       Promote sustained inclusive and sustainable economic growth. Full and productive and descent work for all.

9.       Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

10.   Reduce inequality within and among countries

11.   Make cities and human settlement inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable for all

12.   Ensure sustainable production and consumption pattern

13.   Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact

14.   Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development

15.   Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial eco-systems, sustainably mange forest, combat desertification, halt reverse land degradation and halt bio-diversity loss.

16.   Promote inclusive and peaceful societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

17.   Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

(Accessed from https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html)


The 17 SDGs are integrated—that is, they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Through the pledge to Leave No One Behind, countries have committed to fast-track progress for those furthest behind first. That is why the SDGs are designed to bring the world to several life-changing ‘zeros’, including zero poverty, hunger, AIDS and discrimination against women and girls.

Everyone is needed to reach these ambitious targets. The creativity, knowhow, technology and financial resources from all of society is necessary to achieve the SDGs in every context.

Approaches to sustainability and development:

Sustainable development is based on environmental theories of economic development. Based on them the policies and programmes of the development of a state is often decided. These theories range from welfare state  models of economic activity to radical approach that suggests to overthrow the capitalist system and live life according to ecological principles. There are several trends, here we will discuss broadly three major categories of development approach that address the issues of sustainability. These are:

·          Free-market/neo-liberal

·          Reformist and interventionist

·          Radical

Neo-liberal/ free market approach:

Proponents of the free market believe that trade is not the cause of environmental degradation and that capitalism encourages the rational use of resources under conditions of free market competition and the specialisation of production through comparative advantage (Ricardo 1973). For free-marketers, economic globalisation is an opportunity to rationalise the use of resources. Restrictions on trade would merely lead to economic decline, which would in turn devastate environment and human societies. Because, degradation of economic growth would mean that people will less care about environment and will try to meet their immediate need without thinking about the environmental sustainability. As scholars like Gouldson and Murphy (1997) show, free-market principle suggest that trade and environment conservation is in a win-win situation, as profit generated can be channelized into environmental conservation.

They believe in converting common properties like sea to be converted into the concept of private properties so that over-exploitation can be stopped.

Reformist and interventionist approaches:

Reformist approach provides incentives or penalties for consumers and producers to move towards environmentally friendly economic behaviour. This may be in the form of financial instruments such as subsidies (reward) or taxation (punishment). Interventionist approaches attempt to achieve environmentally friendly development by making legislation changes. Taxes and subsidies are used to alter the economic behaviour and development approaches by manipulating markets. It is a strict form of control involving legal penalties for ‘dirty’ producers.

Radical approaches:

Radical approaches like ‘deep green’, eco-centric’ and ‘deep ecology’ suggest that western consumption patterns are environmentally unsustainable and undesirable. Driven by capitalism’s imperative for continuously expanding demand rather than any relation to meeting human needs, ‘consumptive growth doesn’t make people happier […] people would actually be better off, Greens argue, if they consumed less and concentrated more on genuine well-being: on personal development, on relationships with others and social belonging’ (Jacobs 1997: 50).

 Further reading: 




Wednesday 26 August 2020

Development Anthropology and Anthropology of Development


Development Anthropology Vs Anthropology of Development

Development has been seen as a mechanism of social change which is a) associated with postwar reconstruction of  underdeveloped areas of the world, b) a mechanism of  domination of south by north, i.e. neo colonialism, and c) something that has a close link with capitalism’s need for new markets. Famous anthropologist Arturo Escobar (1991) attacked anthropologists working in development for failing to react to changes taking place within anthropology, for questionable methodological practices and –most damningly – for reproducing discourses of modernisation and development. In a later work Escobar (1995) suggests that development makes anthropological encounters with third world others possible – just as colonialism once did. Rather than challenging it, anthropologists overlook the ways in which development operates as an arena of cultural contestation and identity construction.


Escobar has been one of the major effects in the development linked discourses of anthropology which then divided into two major approaches. One approach has been development anthropology, and the other became anthropology of development.

Development anthropology: Anthropologists working in development field

Development anthropology refers to the role played by the anthropologists in the field of executing development projects. The role anthropologists play in facilitating economic growth, designing and implementation of specific policies and plans whether at the level of the state, donor agencies or indigenous social movements. These can have either positive or negative or both on the people who experience them. Development is a series of events and actions, as well as a particular disxourse or ideological construct.

Anthropologists are now employed in growing numbers by development agencies, organisations and private consultancy firms. A discussion of applied anthropology does not therefore simply raise questions of what a professional anthropologist might do. The type of work which professional anthropologists are asked to undertake can vary considerably. They may include applied research to produce supporting data for planned interventions; contributions to the appraisal and evaluation planning of development projects; or attempting to build local participation into the project. Assignments can vary from a short consultancy job lasting a few weeks, to a placement on a project for several years as one of the full-time staff.  

Some of the important positions that anthropologists are occupying in development agencies are:

1.       Social Development Advisors (SDA).

2.       Consultants

3.       Research officers

4.       Counsellors

5.       Advocacy role

Apart from the strict routine duties of anthropologists in development agencies, they are increasingly becoming a mediator between the developers and those to be ‘developed.’ Anthropologists are trained sceptics: they tend to argue that situations and ideas are usually more complicated than is immediately apparent; they believe that no fact or detail is too trivial to be considered; they may prefer quality to quantity; they are rarely ready to offer conclusions or advice in terms of straightforward course of action.

Anthropologists are well equipped to monitor the process of project implementation, which in effect is the task of monitoring social change. To do this, a combination of national and expatriate anthropologists, with boith men and women involved, will be able to draw on their different skills and perspectives in order to present different, though mutually reinforcing, analyses of events.

Anthropologists are involved in project design, appraisal and evaluation by national and international NGOs and aid agencies. Since the second world war the notion of the project has become central to mainstream development activity, whether centred on large scale infrastructural work such as building of a dam or bridge or softer areas such as health or education provision. Projects tend to pass through a series of staged activities, often known as the project cycle.

By the 1960s and 1970s, the World Bank and United Nations were promoting what they termed “Integrated Rural Development”, in which conventional planning methods were cast aside in favour of a measure of community participation in setting needs and a more comprehensive approach to tackling problems on a number of sectoral fronts simultaneously.

In consequence, a number of anthropologists were employed in carrying out impact studies among the local community to whether or not prohect’s objectives have been met.

The appearance of what has been termed ‘advocacy anthropology’ by its practitioners (Miller 1995) has involved itself with the efforts of indigenous people to gain more control over their lives (Escober 1992).


Anthropology of development: Importance of anthropology in development

Anthropologists have long made practical contributions to planned change and policy. However, many have also studied development as a field of academic enquiry in itself. These studies have challenged the dominant development discourses, its key assumptions, representations, and paved for alternative ways for development. This is known as the anthropology of development. It sees development linked policies as cultural constructs and aims to explore their impact both theoretically and empirically. Major issues which call for an anthropology of development include:

  1. The social and cultural effects of economic change
  2. The social and cultural effects of development projects

The social and cultural effects of economic change

Although the study of economic change has not always been academically fashionable, individual anthropologists have long been grappling with it. There are several works anthropological in nature which focus on the social and cultural effects of economic change.

Rural to urban migration and detribalisation:

There are several anthropological studies in Africa focusing on the influence of urbanism over rural life. Wilson (1941, 1942) argues that while Central African society was normally in a state of equilibrium, destabilising changes in African society was brought by increasing influence of capitalist production within the region, and growing rural to urban migration. Richards (1939), Schapera (1947) focus on many villages which lost their male labour force, most migrants could not sent enough resource for their families, and there was a large scale ‘cultural decay.’ Murray (1981) focus on oscillating migration resulting in marital disharmony, in other words the capital accumulated at the urban core was at the expense of rural periphery.

Agriculture change: polarisation

Clifford Geertz (1963a) focus on the Indonesian agriculture change in Agriculture Involution. With a historical reference of Indonesian agriculture, Geertz shows that colonial policies encouraged the development of a partial cash economy in which peasant farmers were forced to pay taxes to support plantation production for export. In consequence, majority of farmers could not produce surplus.

Epstein (1962) in Economic Development and Social Change in South India and in 1973 South India: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow discusses the effects of the introduction of new irrigation techniques and the growing importance of cash cropping. In the village of Wangala, where farmers were increasingly producing for and profiting from local sugar refinery, the changes had not led to major social readjustment. The village continued to have limited link to outside economy and social structure remained unaltered. In contrast in the second village Dalena, which had remained a dry land enclave in the midst of an irrigated belt, male farmers were encouraged to move away from the relatively unprofitable agricultural pursuits and participate in other ways in the burgeoning economy which surrounded them. Some became traders, or worked in white-collar jobs in the local town. These multiple economic changes led to the breakdown of the hereditary political, social and ritual obligations, the changing status of local caste groups and the rise of new forms of hierarchy.

Capitalism and ‘world systems’:

With increasing integration among the worlds, researchers increasing focus on relationship of local communities and cultures to the global political economy. This can be linked to the growing dominance during the 1970s of theories of dependency, and especially to Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory (Wallerstein, 1974), as well as the use of Marxism in the 1970s and 1980s by some anthropologists, for example Bloch, 1983. The emphasis is now on the ways in which societies on the periphery had long been integrated into capitalism, and on the cultural expressions of economic and political dependency and/or resistance.

A classic attempt to fuse neo-Marxist political economy with anthropological perspectives is Eric Wolf’s (1982) Europe and people without history. This is an ambitious attempt to place the history of the world’s peoples within the context of global capitalism, showing how the history of capitalism has tied even the most apparently remote areas and social groups into the system.

Drawing more directly from Neo-Marxist theories of dependency, an important study by anthropologist working in Latin America is by Michael Taussig’s (1980) The devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America. This is an account of the cultural as well as economic integration of Columbian peasants and of Bolivian tin miners in the money economy and proletarian wage labour. The Columbian peasants who seasonally sell their labour to plantations present the plantation economy and profits made from it as tied to the capitalist system and thus to the devil. Plantations are conceptualised as quite separate from the peasants’ own land; in the former, profit making requires deals to be made with the devil, whereas in the latter it does not. In the Bolivian tin mines, workers worship Tio (the devil), who Taussig argues is a spiritual embodiment of capitalism and a way of mediating pre-capitalist beliefs with the introduction of wage labour and industrialisation.

Gender issues:

During 1970s a new generation of feminist minded anthropologists like Sachs (1975), Leacock (1972) started working on what became known as GAD (Gender and Development). Some feminist anthropologists focus on the restudy of the subjects of ethnographic classics from a feminist perspective. The feminisation of subsistence has been one of the major arguments of these anthropologists. Moore (1988) for example showed that:

  1. Since women have reproductive as well are productive duties they are less free to produce cash crops. Thus while men could experiment with new technologies and production for exchange, women must first and foremost produce the subsistence foods on which their household depend.
  2. Male labour migration leaves women behind to carry the burden of supporting the subsistence sector.

The social and cultural effects of development projects

One of the most common criticisms made by anthropologists of development planning is that it is done in a ‘top-down’ manner. Planning is done at a distant office, and hence, often the plan does not match the local requirements. Robert Chamber’s (1983) Rural Development: Putting the Last First is a seminal statement of this position and draws heavily upon the insights of anthropology. Chambers attacks the biased preconceptions of development planners, most of whom have only a very shaky understanding of rural life in so-called developing societies (Chambers, 1983, 1993). The only solution as Chambers argues is to ‘put the poor first’ and, most importantly, enable them to participate in projects of their own design and appraisal.

Tony Barnett’s (1977) The Gezira Scheme: An Illusion of Development is a classic critique of top-down development. Gezira scheme was a massive project of developing irrigation facility for cotton production in Sudan. Despite of apparent well being of Sudanese people the project failed, stagnated, and became dependent. Barnett argues that the workers were not allowed to have more land or sell it. The Gezira board was paternalistic and authoritarian, based on British effort to control ‘black’ labourers. This meant that cultivators had few incentives to be innovative, and the entire cotton product was dependent on foreign markets.

Barbara Rogers (1980) in The Domestication of Women argues that Western development planners make a range of Western and thus patriarchal, assumptions about gender relations in developing countries. It is often assumed, for example that farmers are male, that women do not do heavy productive work and that nuclear families are the norm. Through andocentric and biased research such as the use of national accounting procedures and surveys which assume that men are household heads, women become invisible. Women are thus systematically discriminated against, not least because there is discrimination within the development agencies themselves. The answer Rogers argues, is not simply more projects for women, for these often produce a ‘new segregation’ in which women are simply trained in domestic science or given sewing machines for income generation. Instead, gender awareness must be build into planning procedures, a process which will necessarily involve reform of the development institutions involved.

Day (1981) in a work on irrigation projects in the Gambia shows that by assuming that men controlled land, labour and income, the projects failed to increase national rice production and increased women’s dependency on men. Within the farming system of Mandinka, crop production is traditionally dominated by collective production for household consumption (maruo), but also involves separate cultivation by men and women on land they are allocated by the household head in return for their maruo labour (Kamanyango). Crops from this land are the property of the male or female cultivators. However, under rice irrigation projects sponsored by Taiwan (1966 – 74), Taiwan (1973 – 76), and China (1975 – 79), only men were given Kamanyango rights to irrigated land. In other irrigated plots designated as maruo, men increasingly used women’s skilled collective labour, but were able to pay them low wages because of the lack of other income generating opportunities available to women. Women’s traditional rights were thus systematically undermined by the projects, a process which had started during the colonial period, when once more the reciprocal rights and duties of farming were undermined by policies which encouraged male farmers to produce cash crops and failed to recognise the central role of female producers.

Anthropology of Success and failure:

Closely related to anthropological critiques of top-down planning is the criticism that planners fail to acknowledge adequately the importance, and potential of local knowledge. Instead, projects often involve the assumption that western or urban knowledge is superior to the knowledge of the people to be developed. They are regarded as ignorant, although the anthropologists have repeatedly shown, they have their own areas of appropriate expertise. Development projects often fail because of the ignorance of planners rather than the ignorance of the beneficiaries. This might inolve a range of factors, such as local ecological conditions, the availability of particular resources, physical and climatic conditions and so on. Mamdani’s classic analysis of the failure of the Khanna study, an attempt to introduce birth control to the Indian village of Manupur, is a fascinating account of developmental to-downism and ignorance (Mamdani, 1972). Because of cultural and economic value of having as many children as possible, Mamdani argues that population programmes are unlikely to have much success in rural India. The programme planners in the Khanna study, however, assumed that villagers’ rejection of contraception was due to ‘ignorance’, thus completely ignoring the social and economic realities of the village. Similarly Abhijit V Banerjee and Easther Duflo (2011) report the rural Indian villagers’ sense of insecurity to be one of the reasons for bigger families. They argue the children in rural India is seen as investment for old age pension, i.e. the more you have children the more the chance that you will be taken care of in old age. Once again, anthropological methods and questions, rather than bureaucratic planning, reveal the true constraints on successful development.

Considering development as a discourse much in the manner Foucault argues in his Order of things (1970) that fields of knowledge, their classification and hierarchic presentation in different periods is socially, historically and politically constructed and are therefore neither objective nor neutral. Considering development as discourse raises important questions about the nature of developmental knowledge and its interface with other representations of reality. Anthropology can have an important role here; first, in demonstrating that there are many other ways of knowing, and second, in showing what happens when different knowledges meet. In another contribution to the growing postmodern anthropology of development, for example, the relationship between scientific and local knowledge within development practice is explored.


Class lecture on Development Anthropology and Anthropology of Development

Saturday 22 August 2020

Tribe: Anthropological notions


Different words like French Tribu, English Tribe and Latin Tribus were used to designate social divisions among the Roman population. Similarly the Greek word Phule also represented Indo-European Social Organisations. The word "tribe" has a long and ignoble history and remains one of the most variably used terms within and outside of anthropology (Helm 1968). Anthropologists often use it as a catch-all substitute for "primitive," avoiding the invidious comparison of "nonstate." But most who use the term analytically narrow it to mean some form of political unit, as distinct from "ethnie" or "nation," which suggest a cultural identity.

The foundation structure of the tribe is Kinship. The smaller Kinship unites were known as Genos in Greek and Gens in Latin. Scottish people used to call them Clan. One can only be a member of a clan if s/he is connected through kinship relationships. A person is a member of a tribe by birth. Each of these clans had a separate name and a tribe constituted a number of clans. Since, tribal system is pre-state condition, there is no centralised administration among the tribal societies. The social order is maintained by the kinship organisations. Kin rules framed primarily on the basis of systems of affinity and consanguinity were used to determine the right over a geographical location or selection of the headman.

Tribe as a Pre-political and pre-contractual society and in the evolutionary schema

It was L.H. Morgan’s Ancient Society (1861) and Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (1871) that made investigation on Tribal society a systematic enterprise. Morgan emphasised that even though there is a general absence of state system, yet, tribes are quite organised and disciplined society. He noted that there is a general absence of hierarchical division between Clans and Lineages. Emile Durkheim has termed such solidarity as between clans as Mechanical solidarity.

About a century later than what was written by Morgan, Marhshal Sahalins and Elman Service have tried to classify pre-industrial societies. Service (1962) followed a long tradition in positing tribe as a stage in political evolution falling between more independent BANDS and more centralized and hierarchical CHIEFDOMS. Sahlins (1968b) also saw tribes as evolutionary predecessors of states but was more concerned with mechanisms of integration than boundaries. Here tribes were seen as unified and bounded by kinship or other ties and constituted the broadest level of cooperation in a segmented hierarchy of functions.

They have classified societies according to the relative socio-political complexity into four major categories. These are a) Band, b) tribe, c) chiefdom, and d) state.

Band is the simplest form of social organisation. Its simple amalgamation of a number of families. The population of a band is quite small, usually range between 10 to 50. The concept of a single leader or headman is absent. The leadership is rather situational and it is never transmitted from one generation to the next. A band collects food from a designated locale. Since, band societies are always foragers, they are most often than not seen as roaming from one to place to another to collect their resources. Because of such movement, there is a general lack of the concept of private property system among the bands. Every member of a band has the equal usufructuary rights over every resources of the region where they inhabit. The kinship ties are usually patriarchal, but there is a relative prevalence of gender equality. In India we have Onge, Jaroa, Cholanakan, Birhar as bands. Africa has !Kung (bushmen), Mubti Pygmy. The patriarchal nature of band suggests that the contention that early men had matriarchy may not be true.

Tribe is relatively more complex. Tribe system is also pre-state and pre-inustrial entity. Tribes have team-leaders of headmen but they do not have institutional mechanism to maintain power relations within the society. Their economy is based on animal husbandry or farming. The primary difference between band and tribe lie in the existence of social segments. The presence of social segments and their integration is what characterises a tribe. It should be remembered that state system has developed about 4000 years ago, but human society survived without them for thousands of years. Even today, there are tribal and band societies which is surviving alongside the state. Therefore, it is important to understand what inner system has enabled these people to keep their social system intact for so many years. E.E. Evans-Pritchard has tried to explain this puzzle by his study of Nuer in Sudan, Africa. Prichard shows that Nuer are divided into different lineages. These lineages do not have hierarchy in terms of economy, politics, ideology or economy. They do not have much of interdependence, yet, together they form the tribe Nuer. Using classical Participant Observation method, following Malinowskian method Evans-Pritchard argued that there are conflicts between these lineages but then by some unwritten agreement and rules the conflicts are resolved. Sahalins in 1960s have argued that Nuers could beat Dinkas because of their effective lineage systems.

In india the Nagas, in Africa the Zulus and Asantis represents typical tribal system.

Chiefdom system is formed if one of the lineages among a tribe claims supremacy. For a variety of reasons ranging from natural to technological, it is seen that often among many lineages one becomes more powerful. They can achieve it by acquiring a relatively higher social prestige and position or by winning a war with others. In this way a new family system can be developed. After a few generations this family/lineage can become the king’s family. This is a system of state formation which is evidenced in Peru the Inca family. This has been studied by Robert Leonard Carneiro. Similarly Romila Thapar has studied the formation of state in Ganga-Yamuna valley and argued along this line.  

By contrast, Fried (1967, 1975) disputed the evolutionary existence of such bounded groups, arguing instead that tribes arose from interactions with existing states. Despite their differences, all three agreed that boundedness of tribes was a result of external conflict, or WAR.


Youtube class lectures on Anthropological notions of Tribe:

Class I

Class II

Sunday 2 February 2020

19th Century Evolutionism: TYLOR AND MORGAN

The concept of social evolution is one of the most important in the history of the social sciences. In the nineteenth century the disciplines of sociology and anthropology were greatly devoted to studying the evolution of human societies from their earliest and simplest forms to the present day. Social evolution is today only one among many issues pursued by sociologists and anthropologists, but it remains an important concern nonetheless.


"social evolution" refers to social changes that exhibit some sort of directionality or linear sequence. In addition, it is usually thought to involve transformations in the form or type of society or one of its subunits (qualitative change), and not just changes in degree or extent (quantitative change). Theories of social evolution are thus theories that concentrate on identifying and explaining directional sequences of qualitative social change. Many scholars have claimed that an evolutionary theory assumes some sort of teleological unfolding of potentialities that are latent in social life, but this is not so. Many evolutionary theories including most of the recent ones have not rested on this assumption. It has also frequently been assumed that evolutionary theories postulate a rigid sequence of stages through which all societies must move, and that evolutionary theories deny the possibility of regression, or even of long-term steady states, in social life. But these, too, are misconceptions. Most evolutionary theories propose flexible typologies that give to history a certain open-ended quality, and most likewise see social continuity and regression as important social phenomena that, like evolution, cry out for explanation.

L.H. Morgan:


Morgan developed a different conception of social evolution, which was set forth in his Ancient society (1877). He traced out three major "ethnical periods" in human history. Savagery, Barbarism, and Civilization. These are essentially stages of technological development in which humans moved from primitive hunter gatherers to societies based on complex agriculture and writing. Morgan also examined the evolution of government the family, and property. In his analysis of governmental institutions, to which he devoted great attention, he conceived of two main evolutionary plans of government: societas consists of relatively democratic and egalitarian societies that are organized around kinship relations; civitas, by contrast, is characterized by property and territory as the integrating principles of society. Social and economic inequalities are widespread, and the state has come into existence.


Morgan's first book, on the Iroquois, grew out of a secret society he and his friends formed in Aurora called the Grand Order of the Iroquois (GOI). The GOI patterned itself upon the Iroquois League, which was a confederacy uniting the five nations of the Iroquois (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca; a sixth, Tuscarora, was added later). As constitutionalist for the GOI Morgan made researches into the Iroquois League, including fieldwork assisted by Ely S. Parker, a Seneca. This became the basis of his book. At bottom, he found that the Iroquois League rested upon kinship relations in the form of matrilineal clans; that the eight clans (Wolf, Bear, etc.) were found in each of the Iroquois nations; and that the 50 chiefships that made up the deliberating body of the League were owned by particular matrilineal clan segments, so that they passed not from father to son but from mother's brother to sister's son. Furthermore, the Iroquois LONGHOUSE brought members of a clan segment together into a single household. These matters of Iroquois sociopolitical structure, plus his study of Iroquois material culture based on items he commissioned and collected for the state Cabinet of Natural History, form the substance of League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee, or Iroquois, which remains the best single book on Iroquois culture. Morgan came to hypothesize that the Iroquois pattern of social organization would be found among all Indian groups and would prove their common origin. But when he tested his ideas out on the Ojibwa of Michigan's Upper Peninsula he found that they had clans but were decidedly patrilineal, not matrilineal. There was another feature of Iroquois kinship, however, that he also found among the Ojibwa: Classificatory Kinship. Thus among the Iroquois the father's brother was called "father," and the mother's sister was called "mother." Finding the same pattern in Ojibwa, which falls in a different language family, Morgan concluded that he had come across a method of demonstrating historical relationships among American Indian groups beyond the powers of linguistics to do so.
Using this "new instrument for ethnology" to give scientific proof of the unity and Asiatic origin of the American Indians was the object of a big book on Kinship, the Systems of consanguinity. In a series of field trips to the west during the period 1859-62 he amassed information making up a table of kinship terms for over 200 genealogical positions for 80 Indian groups. He extended the comparison to other parts of the world by sending his printed questionnaire to missionaries, scholars, and US consuls in many places. In the book he showed that the "classificatory" pattern of kinship is not only common among American Indians but is found among Tamils and other groups of India and, more generally, of Asia and Oceania, and that it is different from the "descriptive" pattern of Europe and the Middle East   thus proving unity and Asiatic origin of the Indians. Although Morgan's proof is no longer considered valid, he identified the major types of kinship system and devised methods to describe and analyze kinship systems that remain widely in use today.
The third book, Ancient society, is Morgan's summing up of the results of his anthropological research and thought on the broadest canvas of time and space. It is a work of high Victorian social Evolutionism that traces the progress of the human family from savagery through barbarism to civilization, in respect of technology, political organization, kinship, and ideas of property. Like comparable works of his British contemporaries it is the story of progress on a grand scale; as a class these works are responses to the dramatic backward lengthening of human history with the discovery, at Brixham Cave and other sites, of human remains with the bones of extinct animals (Trautmann 1992). Society had progressed from a hunting-and-gathering stage (which he denoted by the term “savagery”) to a stage of settled agriculture (“barbarism”) and then on to an urban society possessing a more advanced agriculture (“civilization”). He illustrated these developmental stages with examples drawn from various cultures.
His scheme is roughly as the following
Natural Subsistence,
at least 60,000 years.
First distinction of man from the other animals. Fruits and Roots, tropical or subtropical habitats, at least partial tree-dwellinggesture languageintelligence, Consanguine Family.
Fish SubsistenceUse of Fire, spread of man worldwide along shorelines, monosyllabic language, Punaluan Family.
Weapons: bow and arrow, club, spear; addition of game to diet, cannibalism, syllabical language, Syndyasmian Family, organization into gentes, phratries and tribes, worship of the elements.
35,000 years.
Horticulture: maize, bean, squash, tobacco; art of pottery, tribal confederacy, finger weaving, blow-gun, village stockade, tribal games, element worship, Great Spirit, formation of Aryan and Semitic families.
Domestication of animals among the Semitic and Aryan families: goat, sheep, horse, ass, cow, dog; milk, making bronze, irrigation, great joint tenement houses in the nature of fortresses.
Cultivation of cereals and plants by the Aryans, smelting iron ore, poetry, mythology, walled cities, wheeled vehicles, metallic armor and weapons (bronze and iron), the forge, potter's wheel, grain mill, loom weaving, forging, monogamian familyindividual property, municipal life, popular assembly.
Field Agriculture,
5000 years.
Plow with an iron point, iron implements, animal power, unlimited subsistence, phonetic alphabet, writingArabic numerals, the military art, the city, commerce, coinage, the state, founded upon territory and upon property, the bridge, arch, crane, water-wheel, sewer.
Gothic architecture, feudal aristocracy with hereditary titles of rank, hierarchy under the headship of a pope.
Telegraph, coal gas, spinning-jenny, power loom, steam engine, telescope, printing, canal lock, compass, gunpowder, photography, modern science, religious freedom, public schools, representative democracy, classes, different types of law.

Morgan's book was closely read by Karl Marx, whose notes (Marx 1972) show that he was interested in the most technical aspects of Morgan's kinship work; after Marx's death Friedrich Engels wrote up the marxist reading of Morgan's social evolutionism (Engels 1902). Morgan's book was attractive to Marx because it held out the promise of a scientific history and seemed to prove that bourgeois norms of property and family had been preceded by the "communism in living" exemplified by the Iroquois longhouse. And the proof had come from someone who was not a socialist but a Presbyterian and a Republican, and so was disinterested. In this way Morgan became authoritative in the anthropology of countries with marxist regimes.

E. B. Tylor:


Tylor (1871) is famous for his use of "survivals" as a basis for demonstrating evolutionary sequences. These are aspects of culture that have been carried into stages of social evolution beyond the one in which they originated. For Tylor, they proved that contemporary stages of culture had evolved from earlier ones. Tylor's evolutionism, much more than Spencer's or Morgan's, concentrated on the evolution of the mental and ideational aspects of social life, especially on religion.


E. B. Tylor was responsible for developing a theory of social EVOLUTION that laid the basis for treating anthropology as a science in the nineteenth century. The theory, outlined in his two-volume Primitive culture (1871), laid out an idea of progress in which human societies evolved and improved through time.
Tylor was well exposed to the discovery of archaeological evidences all documented in his travel book Anahuac which is published in 1861. His primary interest in anthropology was in linguistics, mythology, and folklore. He was influenced by discoveries in geology, archaeology and palaeonotology as well as the dominant paradigm of Evolusionism. Meanwhile in 1865, Darwin’s neighbor, anthropologist John Lubbock invented the word Neolithic. Accordingly the progress of humans from palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic stanges of the stone age was established and the afterwards copper, bronze and iron followed.
In his two volume masterpiece Primitive Culture (1871) Tylor traced the development of religious thoughts from Animism through polytheism to monotheism, from religious forms which depended non anthropomorphism and concrete rituals to the more refined and abstracted religious practice of Victorian Protestatns. Tylor used comparative method, producing hundreds of examples from every part of the world to demonstrate the existence of Psychic Unity of Mankind as it manifested in each stage of religious and cultural evolution.
Tylor argued that all human beings had similar intellectual potential. He rejected the notion, common at the time, that contemporary primitive societies had degenerated after a common Biblical origin. As a basis for demonstrating his evolutionary sequences, Tylor employed what he called the "doctrine of survivals." Survivals were obsolete or archaic aspects of culture preserved from one stage of social evolution into another. Living cultural fossils, they could provide clues to the past and proved that contemporary stages of culture must have evolved from earlier ones.
Tylor's evolutionism differed from that of Spencer and Morgan by concentrating more on such humanist topics as the evolution of Religion, particularly Animism, and less on material culture. He defined animism as the belief in spiritual beings and argued it was the basis of all religions, developing an elaborate evolutionary sequence that ran from a multiplicity of spirits to monotheism.