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Historical ethnology


Cross-cultural studies


Ethnology is generally regarded as one of the major subdivisions of cultural anthropology, the others being anthropological archeology and anthropological linguistics. Anthropology is prefixed to the latter two terms because they refer to the archeology and linguistics largely of preliterate and preindustrial peoples. The archeology of classical Greece and the linguistics of contemporary France would rarely, if ever, be taught in an anthropology department. The claim that anthropology embraces all peoples past and present has been exaggerated by some anthropologists, although the present trend, especially in ethnology, is toward giving attention to a wider range of peoples. In the United States today, but less so in Europe, ethnology is joined to social anthropology. [see ANTHROPOLOGY, articles on CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY and SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY.]

Interesting insight into the scope of ethnology can be gained by looking at the names of early anthropological societies. In 1843 the Ethnological Society was founded in England, and in that same year it published the first edition of its guide to field work, an inventory of data to be obtained. This guide included some material on all fields of anthropology but gave the most space to social anthropology. In 1863 the Anthropological Society was founded in England; this was a group of former members of the Ethnological Society who wanted to stress political issues, such as slavery, more heavily. In 1871 the two societies joined to form the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, to which name the word “Royal” was prefixed in 1907. In the United States, the American Ethnological Society was founded in 1842, the Anthropological Society of Washington in 1879, and the American Anthropological Association in 1902. In France, the Societe Ethnologique de Paris was established in 1838 and the Societe d’Anthropologie de Paris in 1858. In Germany, the Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie, und Urgeschichte was founded in 1869.

It is clear from these examples that “ethnology” was used as a blanket term to cover the entire range of the subject we now label “anthropology” and that the latter term came to be used in the wider sense at a later date. Through much of the nineteenth century the concepts of biological race, language, and culture were confused; one was inferred from the other, and reconstructions of human development combined all three aspects. Ethnology was historically oriented from the start and attempted to account for extant races, languages, and cultures in terms of migration, diffusion, and other historical processes [see DIFFUSION].

In the twentieth century, “ethnology” has come to mean the comparative study of documented and contemporary cultures and has largely excluded their bioanthropology, archeology, and linguistics. “Ethnography,” in contrast, is best used to describe the study of the culture of a single tribe or society; but because almost all ethnographies make comparisons at least with neighboring peoples, the distinction between ethnography and ethnology is not sharp and may be compared to that between geography and geology. This article is limited almost completely to comparative ethnology.

Oscar Lewis (1956) gives an excellent idea of the contemporary scope of comparative ethnology. Comparisons may range from two ethnic units (societies) to hundreds, the largest sample so far being Murdock’s “Ethnographic Atlas” (Murdock et al. 1962–1966), which is approaching one thousand ethnic units. They may deal with a few adjacent peoples, or a larger number in a culture area, a continent, a hemisphere, or the entire world. The content to be compared may vary from a single culture element to a long list of elements and assemblages of them covering practically every aspect of culture. Verne Ray’s list of 7,633 culture elements for the plateau area of North America (1942) is the longest enumerated list so far, and Murdock’s world-wide “Ethnographic Atlas” has reached nearly one thousand culture trait categories. Data for comparison may be based on library research, field research, or a combination of the two. The purpose of comparisons may be limited to uncovering the range and kind of variations for the subject at hand and to locating them in space and time; or it may be aimed at establishing culture area groupings, cross-cultural regularities, evolutionary trends, or other hypotheses. The research design may range all the way from a few illustrations of loose-jointed generalizations to a rigid statistical method.

The subject coverage of ethnology includes that of social anthropology and sociology, but it is much broader. For instance, ethnology also includes technology and crafts, plastic and graphic arts, music, dancing, oral literature, dream analysis, religion, world view, ethics, and ethnomedicine. For a much longer list of the subject content of ethnology, see the Outline of Cultural Materials (Yale Univ. 1938).

The dominant trend in nineteenth-century ethnology–social anthropology was an evolutionary explanation of how things came to be as they are. In its most extreme form, unilinear evolution, it was assumed that culture change came about largely from causes operating within single societies and that all peoples would, sooner or later, evolve through a half-dozen or more stages of development in the same sequence if their progress were not interrupted by some catastrophe, such as military invasion by an alien power [see EVOLUTION, article on CULTURAL EVOLUTION].

Historical ethnology

Toward the end of the nineteenth century two schools of ethnology were founded, one by Boas in the United States and the other by Ratzel and Frobenius in Germany. Both schools emphasized the historical processes of diffusion and migration. Boas’ best demonstrations of the process of relay diffusion are to be found in his comparative studies of North American Indian folklore (1895; 1916). By tracing motifs and tale types among groups of contiguous tribes, he showed the overwhelming tendency of these phenomena to cluster into areal types which crosscut language-family boundaries, thus suggesting diffusion. If such material were independently invented over and over again, tribes separated by great distances would exhibit as many resemblances in folklore as neighboring tribes do; but because contiguous tribes shared much more folklore inventory than distant tribes did, diffusion was the obvious explanation.

Boas’ diffusion emphasis was most fully developed by A. L. Kroeber and by Clark Wissler, trained as a psychologist but long curator of anthropology in the American Museum of Natural History. Although the earliest American culture area scheme was that of Livingstone Farrand (1904), his work had less impact than that of Kroeber and Wissler. In 1904 Kroeber was the first to classify California Indian cultures, and in 1906 Wissler was the first to mention major North American areas. Wissler (1917) published the first map of culture areas for the hemisphere, and Kroeber (1923) followed Wissler closely in a parallel scheme. In these and later works both authors postulated that the most significant aspects of culture in each area arose at the center and tended to diffuse outward toward the margins. On the assumption that all aspects of culture diffused at about the same rate, the age-area hypothesis, by which the age of a culture trait or complex was determined by the extent of its geographical distribution, was employed by both men.

In addition to the scheme of 15 culture areas for the two American continents endorsed by both men, each also regarded the area from Mexico to Peru as the culture center of a vast Pan-American culture area. Kroeber (1923, fig. 35) presented a large histogram in which the supposedly oldest traits occurred at the bottom, as in archeological stratification, and the youngest at the top. Age was determined largely by the extent of geographical distribution, but typological complexity was also taken into account, as well as a little direct sequential evidence from archeology. Although the horizontal dimension represented dispersal of the culture elements by diffusion and migration, the vertical dimension clearly showed an evolution from the simple to the complex. Thus, in Mexico the sequence included basketry, shamanism, and family groups in the earliest level; then patrilineal clans, simple weaving frame, domesticated plants, pottery, solstitial calendar, stone buildings, town life, cotton growing and loom weaving, matrilineal clans, textile clothing, priesthood, confederacy, sculpture, metallurgy, markets, human sacrifice, temples, empire, mathematics, astronomy, cycle calendar, writing, and books, in that order. Kroeber rejected nineteenth-century unilinear evolution and the theory of many independent origins of cultural resemblances, but he constructed a new kind of evolution with few independent origins and many diffusions and migrations from tribe to tribe and area to area. The age-area hypothesis demands a sequential arrangement of the material, and when this shows a temporal progression in complexity, it becomes evolutionary.

A major weakness of culture area and age-area theory is that culture areas are of varying sizes. Local developments may originate in the “centers” of small areas and tend to spread toward the margins, but at the same time new culture elements and assemblages may arise in the “centers” of larger culture areas and spread by diffusion or migration to the smaller ones, thus mixing elements of internal and external origin; and still more invention may occur in “centers” of each hemisphere and spread widely throughout many culture areas of different sizes in the same hemisphere. The hope of unscrambling this sort of mixture without the help of archeology and historical linguistics is dim. [see ARCHEOLOGY; HISTORY, article on CULTURE HISTORY; LINGUISTICS, article on HISTORICAL LINGUISTICS.]

Wissler’s derivation of historical inferences from geographical distributions was so bold an attempt that he was heavily criticized, especially by Dixon (1928). Kroeber, in contrast, modified his views as new evidence came to light, and in 1939 he published his well-received “Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America.” This was fundamentally an intuitive scheme of culture areas without detailed supporting geographical or historical evidence. Between the time this book was finished –1931–and the time it was published–1939– Kroeber supervised the University of California Culture Element Survey, which, with the help of 13 field workers, collected responses to questionnaires from old informants in 254 localities in western North America, from the continental divide to the Pacific and from the Mexican border to Alaska. This was aimed at collecting enough data to produce a definitive taxonomy of the nineteenth-century cultures, which Kroeber hoped would lead to a fuller set of interpretations. After all this effort, interest in areal classification ebbed to the extent that no one has yet used this vast quantity of data to produce a much superior areal scheme based on a wealth of specific detail. The largest comparative study incorporating this culture element material is still that of Driver (1941), who limited his subject coverage to girls’ puberty rites [see CULTURE AREA; KROEBER; WISSLER].

In Germany, Friedrich Ratzel (1887) introduced the “criterion of form,” which argued that all specific resemblances in the form of two or more museum objects, other than those determined by the material from which they were made or the use to which they were put, must be explained by a single origin and subsequent diffusion to the localities from which the museum specimens were obtained in the field, no matter how widely separated these localities might be. This was a much more extreme diffusionist position than that of Boas, Boas’ pupils, or even Wissler. Frobenius (1898) was the first to use the term Kulturkreis, best translated as “culture area” or “culture region”; he also introduced the criterion of quantity, which argued that the larger the number of arbitrary resemblances not due to the nature of the material or the use to which the object was put, the stronger the case for diffusion.

Two early applications of the Kulturkreis rules for determining areal clusters, time sequences, and dispersal, those of Graebner (1905) and Ankermann (1905), were fairly well received and not much less tenable than the works of Wissler. They, too, emphasized material culture and arranged their data in a series of temporal strata, or Schichten. Neither author gave any explicit technique for packaging culture elements into Kreise or Schichten, but Czekanowski (1911) showed clearly that the reality of Ankermann’s two African Kreise could be demonstrated with a correlation technique. Using Yule’s Q coefficient, Czekanowski intercorrelated Ankermann’s 17 traits of material culture among 47 African tribes and arranged the correlations in a single matrix which clearly showed two distinct intertrait clusters. When mapped, these clusters yielded a twofold areal classification, which conformed to Ankermann’s intuitive grouping.

Although no one today subscribes to the idea of single origin and subsequent world-wide dispersal by migration and diffusion of any of the Kreise or Schichten of, say, Schmidt and Koppers (1924), some of the correlations and functional associations of the Kreise and Schichten have been confirmed or repostulated by later researchers of different schools. For example, the correlation between moieties and matrilineal descent, challenged by Lowie (1937, p. 182), has been confirmed by Murdock (1949, p. 49). The functional complex of hoe farming by women, matrilocal residence, matrilineal descent, monogamy, and bride service, and the temporal sequence from division of labor to residence to descent has been confirmed or postulated by Murdock (1949), Driver (1956), and Aberle (1961).

The world-wide inferred temporal strata of the Kulturkreis school produce an evolution which differs from that of the nineteenth century in calling for single origins or a very small number of independent origins and subsequent dispersal of the phenomena by migration and diffusion; but since such dispersals are multiple, they overlap each other geographically and produce a “layer cake” of temporal stages. Kroeber and Wissler confined their postulated dispersals to a culture area or a hemisphere for the most part, while Schmidt and Koppers more often included the entire world [see GRAEBNER; KOPPERS; RATZEL; SCHMIDT].

Kroeber’s interest in culture areas and diffusion stimulated Clements (Clements et al. 1926; Clements 1928; 1931) and Driver (see Driver & Kroeber 1932) to determine areal groupings of ethnic units by intercorrelating their inventories of culture traits. These papers were read by three young men in Europe who were familiar with Kulturkreis theory and the intertrait correlations of Czekanowski (1911). Almost simultaneously they published four papers which combined the intertrait correlations of Czekanowski with the intertribe correlations of Kroeber, Clements, and Driver (Furer-Haimendorf 1934; Klimek 1935; Milke 1935; Klimek & Milke 1935). They computed the coefficient Q<, for three sets of traits: intertribe, intertrait, and tribal cluster with trait cluster. All three assembled their coefficients in rectangular matrices and converted them to shades of gray (as Czekanowski had done in 1911) for quick comprehension. They also mapped their clusters. Interpretation of the resemblances and the groupings was limited to historical factors, but because all of these studies were confined to small regions of culture area size, this wholesale historical explanation was probably not far from the truth although incomplete. A simplified explanation in English of their technique may be found in Driver (1961).

Knowledge of statistical mechanics was so scant among ethnologists of both schools that few at the time understood that these studies integrated the approaches of the American culture area and the German Kulturkreis schools. They offered an objective method for determining both intertribal (culture area) and intertrait (Kulturschicht-Kulturkreis) groupings. If every writer in these schools had empirically demonstrated his intertribal and intertrait groupings in this manner, the differences between the schools would have been less marked and much useless polemic would not have been written. Differences in interpretation of the data grouped in these ways still exist, but the reality of the groupings themselves could have been established objectively.

Driver, in his “Girls’ Puberty Rites in Western North America” (1941), used a multiple clustering technique parallel to that of the Europeans, but his interpretation of the results went beyond any of that group. His area was larger and posed more problems of interpretation. He distinguished several kinds of resemblances: universals, cultural heritages spread by migrations, relayed diffusions, and convergences. He pointed out (1) that elements of universal or near universal occurrence should not be used to establish historical connection between ethnic units in limited areas; (2) that elements closely associated with a language family might be regarded as a cultural heritage from the protoculture associated with the protolanguage of the group; (3) that continuously distributed resemblances which crossed over language-family boundaries were best regarded as diffusions; and (4) that the group ceremony for pubescent girls among the Apacheans represented an independent origin and a convergence with that held in southern California. He also wrote a chapter on the psychological aspects of menstrual taboos, described the functional position and significance of the girls’ puberty rite in each of the subareas into which the entire area had been divided, and assessed the influence of geographical environment on the data.


In addition to the American and German historical schools just described, there arose in the early part of this century the functional schools, which rebelled against not only the nineteenth-century unilinear evolutionists but also the culture historicalists. Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown are both identified as functionalists, although some significant divergences exist. Malinowski was generally both antihistorical and anticomparative, while Radcliffe-Brown was antihistorical (except in his later years) but never anticomparative. For this reason the latter figures more prominently in comparative ethnology and will be singled out for brief appraisal here.

Radcliffe-Brown discovered a number of generalizations that would now be called correlations. One of the earliest (1913) was his discovery that preferred marriage to a first cross-cousin was associated with kinship terminology of one type, while preferred marriage to a second cross-cousin was found with kinship terminology of another type. This and other perfect or high correlations are given in his important The Social Organization of Australian Tribes (1931), where he used the term “correlation” but did not compute any coefficients. In 1935 he wrote: “. . . we can expect to find, in the majority of human societies, a fairly close correlation between the terminological classification of kindred or relatives and the social classification,” as revealed “in the attitudes and behavior of relatives to one another” (Radcliffe-Brown 1935, p. 531). His greatest contribution lies in the emphasis on this relationship.

The principal opponent of Radcliffe-Brown was Kroeber, who said:

Kin-term systems, . . . are subject to modification from within and without. There is always a sufficient number of such “accidents” to disguise the basic patterns more or less. . . . the essential features of the pattern are . . . likely to be the ones which have the greatest historic depth. The search for them therefore implies a willingness and ability to view data historically. Without such willingness, it is as good as impossible to separate the significant from the trivial . . . and the work done becomes merely sociological, an affair of schemes. . . . (Kroeber 1934, pp. 21–22)

This position is echoed by E. W. GifFord, a colleague of Kroeber, who wrote: “… kinship systems are first of all linguistic phenomena … and only secondarily social phenomena. As such they … constitute an archaic and highly refractory nucleus, which yields unevenly and only here and there to influences from … social structure” (Gifford 1940, pp. 193–194). Kroeber (1936) modified his view in the direction of that of Radcliffe-Brown in a conciliatory paper, and a year later (1937) made the first reconstruction of a protokinship terminology for a language family.

No historian of ethnological thought has yet pointed out that the opposing views of Radcliffe-Brown and Kroeber stem directly from the areas with which each was most familiar. The kinship terminologies and social organization of native Australia are among the most highly integrated of any in the world. High correlations are the rule rather than the exception. California native cultures, in contrast, are among the least integrated in this respect, and correlations are low or nonexistent, as Tax (1937), a pupil of Radcliffe-Brown, showed in an excellent and very thorough study. Australia remained one of the most isolated areas in the world, with little contact with the outside, while California, in contrast, has been exposed to contact on all sides except the Pacific, and the multiplicity of language families and phyla suggests much migration into and out of the area. Australian social organizations and languages had centuries and millennia to simmer down and become integrated, while those of California were constantly being disturbed by intrusions from without. Radcliffe-Brown and Kroeber both failed to understand the limitations of their samples, and it was not until Murdock’s Social Structure (1949) that an adequate sample and statistical technique were combined to produce more tenable generalizations on this subject [see KINSHIP].

Cross-cultural studies

In the United States cross-cultural studies were founded by G. P. Murdock and carried on by his pupils, including J. W. M. Whiting, Whiting’s pupils, and others. Murdock has concentrated on kinship and social organization, and his Social Structure (1949) is a monumental work in its field. He studied the association between rules of marriage, residence, and descent, as well as kinship terminology, in 250 societies in all the major areas of the world. He used no explicit sampling technique, but his selection was large and widely distributed, and his results have not been seriously challenged to date. Using functional theory, he ran off a list of hypotheses and then confirmed most of them with the Q coefficient of association and chi-square. His general conclusions were that the semantic categories of kinship terms are the result of social organization rather than the cause, and that they are determined principally by forms of marital residence and rules of descent. Marriage prescriptions showed practically no correlation with kinship terminology, while residence and descent yielded many significant correlations.

Murdock further postulated three kinds of developmental cycles, two of which began with the dominance of one sex in the economy, followed by corresponding forms of residence, descent, and kinship terminology. Thus a patri-dominated economy would give rise to patrilocal residence, patrilineal descent, and Iroquoian or Omaha kinship categories. In a similar fashion a matri-dominated economy would produce matrilocal residence, matrilineal descent, and Iroquoian or Crow kinship classification. A sexually balanced economy, in turn, would give rise to bilocal residence, bilateral descent, and Eskimo or Hawaiian kinship terminology. This cyclical theory was confirmed statistically by Driver (1956), who found that the correlations based on about 250 North American peoples could be arranged in a matrix which could be explained in this way. However, Driver failed to measure the potency of genetic factors at this time, although he did so in 1966 in a more methodologically rigorous study (Driver 1966).

Whiting and his followers have centered their interests in the socialization process, the ways and means by which a child acquires the culture in which he is born and reared. The basic work in this field is Whiting and Child (1953). Before their work, good field studies in this subject were so rare that the authors were able to assemble fewer than fifty societies for their comparisons. They used no sampling technique because the total number of tribes was so small, but since every continental area in the world, plus Oceania, was represented, their sample is a rough approximation to a random one. Three “judges” carefully read the same field reports and coded the various societies independently on multistep rating scales. The published ratings are the scores of all three judges combined by summation.

Whiting and Child tested a number of neo-Freudian hypotheses with this method. For instance, they divided severity of socialization into the following five aspects, each of which was rated separately by each of the “judges”: anal, oral, sexual, dependence, aggression. The ratings on these five aspects were intercorrelated, and the highest positive correlation turned out to be that between the oral and dependence aspects. These ratings were also correlated with other aspects of culture; for instance, amount of oral socialization anxiety correlated with presence of oral explanations of illness showed a high degree of relationship. On the other hand, they found a zero correlation between anal socialization anxiety and anal explanations of illness. [see SOCIALIZATION.]

A later and more transparent study by Whiting, Kluckhohn, and Anthony (1958) revealed a positive correlation between male initiation ceremonies at puberty, patrilocal residence, exclusive mother–infant sleeping arrangements, and a long post partum sex taboo. These variables are also positively correlated with a long lactation period and other kinds of long and close association of the infant with the mother. The authors’ explanation was that the resulting strong attachment to the mother had to be broken by an initiation rite which separated the boy from his mother entirely and prepared him for an adult masculine role. Societies which lacked the long and close association of mother and young son did not need an initiation because there was no strong attachment to sever. Although the results achieved so far in this difficult field of psychological ethnology are less impressive than those in the field of social organization, the difference is due to the inherent complexities of the problems and the scarcity of field material rather than to methodology.

These cross-cultural studies of world-wide scope stem from the evolutionary interests of the nineteenth century. When Tylor (1888) read his now famous paper in which he anticipated correlation methods, Francis Gallon challenged the historical independence of Tylor’s 350 cases (societies). Tylor’s use of probabilities and his conclusion that, for instance, mother-in-law–son-in-law avoidance was caused by matrilocal residence implied that this form of residence occurred first in each society and that it gave rise to this form of avoidance independently over and over again in each society where the avoidance was found. This is a functional-causal-evolutionary explanation. When such explanations include the Oedipus complex or the incest taboo, they may be called psychofunctional-causal-evolutionary. The contrasting explanation has been called geographical-historical, historical, or genetic; it holds that once a custom becomes established, it may be relayed from society to society by means of intermarriage and other kinds of contact. It is not necessary to postulate any necessary antecedent because a behavior may spread like a fashion. Continuity of geographical distribution is generally regarded as evidence of such diffusion. Tylor failed to provide an answer to the question Gallon raised, and it plagued cross-cullural research until the 1950s.

Stephens in 1959 paired his 56 societies on the basis of membership in the same genetic language family and geographical proximity, and he concluded that geographical–historical factors determined about as much association as did psycho-functional ones. Landauer and Whiting (1964) compared, in a similar way, associations found within culture areas with those found across culture areas and concluded that the latter were relatively free of historical factors. Raoul Naroll (1961) and Naroll and D’Andrade (1963) have developed other specific techniques to show the effect of genetic versus psychofunctional-evolutionary factors on correlations. Their general conclusion is that both kinds of explanations must be used to account for most correlations and that they are of about equal potency. Cultural behaviors with functional or causal relationships, such as unilateral descent, cross-cousin marriage, and corresponding types of kinship terminology, tend to diffuse as a unit; or if part of such an assemblage is already present, the other members will diffuse more readily because they are compatible with it. Thus both internal and external factors determine the cultural inventory of societies.

Driver (1966) employed still another method and found that genetic factors were a little more powerful than psychofunctional-evolutionary ones but that both were at work. He used a sample of 277 peoples from native North America alone and postulated only four or five historically independent origins of the kin avoidances, which formed the subject of his study. This was determined by a combination of areal clustering, culture-area membership, and language-family affiliation. If other areas show a similar number of origins, this would add up to no more than about twenty for the world. With only twenty cases for a test of the significance of correlations involving kin avoidances, it would require a rather high correlation to achieve significance. Many of the cross-cultural correlations so far computed, for which significance is claimed on the assumption of the historical independence of every positive instance, would by this criterion be judged to be not significant at all.

The principal weakness of most cross-cultural studies so far is that their instances hop, skip, and jump across the map in such a manner that continuity of geographical distribution and other clues to genetic explanations are missing. A world-wide study of a well-reported subject, such as kinship behavior, would require data from at least a thousand societies in order to insure sufficient geographical continuity to permit valid inferences about the number of independent origins of the phenomena. This has not yet been achieved.

Although significant positive correlations in cross-cultural research are relatively easy to find, causal relationships are more difficult to establish, and the direction of causation is still more elusive. Nevertheless, progress has been made in this respect. The direction of causation and sequence of stages in evolution have been determined by constructing a Guttman cumulative scale (Carneiro & Tobias 1963), and the direction of cycling by arranging correlations in a temporal matrix (Driver 1956; Ascher & Ascher 1963; Blalock 1960).

Naroll (1964) has drawn attention to the many problems surrounding the nature of the ethnic unit used in cross-cultural research. Because this is the unit counted in all intertrait cross-cultural correlations, its definition is crucial to such studies. Although there were more differences than agreements in the comments on this article, the major issues are now aboveboard, and refinements of definitions of ethnic units will surely follow. The nature of culture traits or variables also needs to be re-evaluated.

Coult and Habenstein (1965) give over 500 pages of cross tabulations of raw frequencies, phi-coefficients, and tests of significance for the 210 culture categories and 565 ethnic units of Murdock’s 1957 sample.

Textor (1966) offers a still more massive package of similar measures computed largely from the data of Murdock’s 1962–1966 sample. These two compilations provide important sources of reference to tens of thousands of relationships which can test many hypotheses, but they are so myopic that they may obscure some of the broader relationships within the data.

Sawyer and Levine (1966) have reduced Murdock’s 1957 sample to thirty variables, intercorrelated and factor-analyzed these variables, and produced some compact generalizations about the whole sample which run only to article length. They have also run the same correlations separately for each of the six areas into which Murdock divided the world and have found rather marked areal differences. Some correlations are significantly positive in one area and significantly negative in another, or zero in one area and significantly positive or negative in another. Such areal differences can only be explained by ecological and historical factors. They cast doubt on the importance of universal “laws” or regularities but do not demolish such concepts entirely. What is needed next is a series of correlation studies intermediate between the highly particularized computer print-outs and the grosser generalizations.

It is thus apparent that recent studies have made considerable gains in understanding both genetic and evolutionary relationships and in the statistical rigor with which these relationships have been demonstrated. Although few ethnologists claim that their explanations of relationships among the cultures of nonliterate peoples are of timeless infallibility, validation of hypotheses has reached a respectable level which compares favorably with that of other behavioral sciences.




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"Ethnology." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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ethnology (ĕthnŏl´əjē), scientific study of the origin and functioning of human cultures. It is usually considered one of the major branches of cultural anthropology, the other two being anthropological archaeology and anthropological linguistics. In the 19th cent. ethnology was historically oriented and offered explanations for extant cultures, languages, and races in terms of diffusion, migration, and other historical processes. In the 20th cent. ethnology has focused on the comparative study of past and contemporary cultures. Since cultural phenomena can seldom be studied under conditions of experiment or control, comparative data from the total range of human behavior helps the ethnologist to avoid those assumptions about human nature that may be implicit in the dictates of any single culture.

See R. H. Lowie, The History of Ethnological Theory (1938); E. A. Hoebel, Man in the Primitive World (1949, 2d ed. 1958); M. Mead, People and Places (1959); B. Schwartz, Culture and Society (1968); C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Culture (1973); E. Hatch, Theories of Man and Culture (1973).

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"ethnology." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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eth·nol·o·gy / e[unvoicedth]ˈnäləjē/ • n. the study of the characteristics of various peoples and the differences and relationships between them. DERIVATIVES: eth·no·log·ic / ˌe[unvoicedth]nəˈläjik/ adj. eth·no·log·i·cal / ˌe[unvoicedth]nəˈläjikəl/ adj. eth·no·log·i·cal·ly / ˌe[unvoicedth]nəˈläjik(ə)lē/ adv. eth·nol·o·gist / -jist/ n.

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"ethnology." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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ethnology (eth-nol-ŏji) n. the study of the different races of mankind, concerned mainly with cultural and social differences between groups and the problems that arise from their particular ways of life.
ethnic (eth-nik) adj.

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"ethnology." A Dictionary of Nursing. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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ethnology Comparative study of cultures. Historical ethnology was developed in the late 19th century in an attempt to trace cultural diffusion.

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"ethnology." World Encyclopedia. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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