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Westermarck, Edward Alexander

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between institutions, across a range of societies, isolated from the social system of which they formed a part) was superseded by functional approaches in the 1920s and 1930s, which analysed local communities as functioning wholes, and his magnum opus is today of only historical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).

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Westermarck, Edward Alexander

Edward Alexander Westermarck (vĕs´tərmärk, wĕs´–), 1862–1939, Finnish social philosopher and anthropologist. He was professor of sociology at the Univ. of London (1907–30) and professor of philosophy at the Åbo Akademi (until 1935). Westermarck was an authority on the history of morals and of marriage customs, his best-known work being The History of Human Marriage, written in English (1891; 5th ed., 3 vol., 1921). On it he based A Short History of Marriage (1926). He wrote several books on Moroccan customs. Other books (all in English) include The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (2 vol., 1906–8; 2d ed. 1912–17), Ethical Relativity (1932), The Future of Marriage in Western Civilization (1936), and Christianity and Morals (1939).

See his autobiography (tr. 1929).

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