Edward Alexander Westermarck

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Westermarck, Edward Alexander (1862–1939) A Finnish sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher, who (as a Professor at the London School of Economics) was one of the founders of academic sociology in Britain. His bestknown work is The History of Human Marriage (1891) in which, using an early form of comparative anthropological study, he attempted to refute the (then fashionable) thesis that our earliest human ancestors lived in sexual promiscuity. Together with Franz Boas, Westermarck was a pioneer of fieldwork (mainly in Morocco), who communicated directly with his subjects, attempting to learn their languages and at least observe (if not participate in) their culture at first hand. His decontextualized use of the comparative method (aimed at uncovering correlations between institutions, across a range of societies, isolated from the social system of which they formed a part) was superseded by functional approaches in the 1920s and 1930s, which analysed local communities as functioning wholes, and his magnum opus is today of only historical interest. His other books included The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas (1912) and The Future of Marriage in Western Civilization (1936).