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Goldenweiser, Alexander Alexandrovich


GOLDENWEISER, ALEXANDER ALEXANDROVICH (1880–1936), U.S. anthropologist. Born in Kiev, Russia, the son of Alexander Solomonovich *Goldenweiser, Goldenweiser studied anthropology under Franz *Boas, and later taught anthropology and other social sciences at various institutions including Columbia University, the New School for Social Research, and the University of Oregon in Portland. He followed Boas in his attacks on certain intellectual positions then prevalent, such as unilinear evolutionism, geographical and biological determinism, and extreme diffusionism. Described by a contemporary as "the most philosophical of American anthropologists," Goldenweiser did little field work except for several brief trips to the Grand River Iroquois Reservation in Ontario. His main contributions were to anthropological and social theory, as in his article "The Principle of Limited Possibilities in the Development of Culture" in the Journal of American Folklore, 26 (1913), in which he sought to explain convergences among traits of different cultures as the result of a natural limitation on the number of possible forms. In addition, he contributed to the elucidation of such basic concepts as culture, culture patterns, and especially, totemism, the subject of his best-known monograph in which he rejected Durkheim's theory of the totemic origin of religion. He concerned himself too with various themes in the history of thought and helped organize the Encyclopedia of Social Science, for which he wrote a number of articles.


dab, 22 (1958), 244–5; iess, 6 (1968), 196–7.

[Ephraim Fischoff]

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