Spiro, Melford Elliot

views updated


SPIRO, MELFORD ELLIOT (1920– ), U.S. anthropologist. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Spiro received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1950. He taught at Connecticut University from 1952 to 1957; from 1957 to 1964 he was professor at Washington University, and from 1965 to 1967 at the University of Chicago. In 1968 he became a founding member of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego. After retiring from teaching, he was named professor emeritus of anthropology at ucsd.

Spiro's primary research interest is the comparative analysis of social systems, especially problems of cultural motivation and control, and the interrelation of personality, culture, and society. In a theoretical chapter in Studying Personality Cross-Culturally (ed. B. Kaplan, 1961), he discussed culture and personality study in relation to the central issue in the social sciences – the explanation of social cohesion and functioning. He saw personality and culture as systems of motivational tendencies. Among his studies were Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia (1956) and Children of the Kibbutz: A Study in Child Training and Personality (1958), based on his research in the kibbutz as a participant observer. He analyzed the child-rearing methods on the collective settlements and the outcome in the personality of the kibbutz child. He also conducted fieldwork in Micronesia and Burma. In 1991 he received the Distinguished Contribution Award from the Society for Psychological Anthropology.

Spiro's publications include Burmese Supernaturalism (1967), Buddhism and Society (1970), Gender and Culture: Kibbutz Women Revisited (1979), Oedipus in the Trobriands (1982), Culture and Human Nature (1987), and Gender Ideology and Psychological Reality (1997). He also edited Context and Meaning in Cultural Anthropology (1965).

[Ephraim Fischoff /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]