About the blog

"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

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.