Short Essay on Modern Social Anthropology

He conducted field research by himself and founded modern American cultural anthropology. Alfred Kroeber, Ruth Benedict and Margarete Mead were students of Boas. Boas con­tributed substantially to the field of anthropology.

His most important contribution seems to be the doctrine of ‘cultural relativ­ism’. It is a concept which argues that each group should be studied according to its own culture. In other words, culture is specific to a group. Even today, Boas’ contribution of cultural relativism is considered.

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Franz Boas (1859-1941) was born in Germany. Though his initial train­ing was in geography, at a later stage he turned to social anthropology. In his later life he migrated to the US and took its citizenship.

Boas is called the founder of Modern American Anthropology. His fields of specialization include ethnology, linguistics, archaeology, and physi­cal anthropology.

Boas has contributed richly to the domain of cultural relativism. He emphasized cultural variation and uniqueness of each culture. He advocated that anthropology should study the indigenous popula­tions. For him, anthropology is a social science of primitives and tribals.

Erred to be an indispensable methodological tool of social and cultural anthropology. Thus, Boas defined anthropology as a social science of culture study. This is one aspect of modern anthropology.

Malinowski hailed from Poland who later on immigrated to Britain in 1910. He is known for his work on the Trobrianders living in the islands of New Guinea. He conducted fieldwork among these tribals between 1915 and 1918.

This kind of work, where he had close and enduring contact with the local community, contributed a lot to the knowledge kit of social anthropology and sociology.

As a matter of fact, the method of functionalism which Robert Merton developed in sociology draws heavily from Malinowski. He emphasized the impor­tance of studying the interrelationships of various aspects of society, and therefore, held that long field studies were absolutely necessary.

According to Malinowski, social anthropology is concerned with the interrelationships of various parts of tribal society. In other words, tribal economy, politics, kin are all interrelated. Social anthropology is interested to study functional relations among the members of tribal society.

Yet another thinker who substantially contributed to British so­cial anthropology and helped to define it was A.R. Radcliffe-Brown. He was profoundly inspired by Durkheim’s writings on social integra­tion.

Durkheim made important studies about the division of labour in primitive societies and about religion and totemism. Radcliffe- Brown was a functionalist and considered society as an organic whole.

He is said to be the founder of structural-functionalism in anthropol­ogy. This is a doctrine about the ways in which the various institutions of a society contribute to its stability. Malinowski was no

Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955) is said to be the founder of the British school of anthropology. He was influenced by Durk­heim’s theory, which he applied and developed in his own empirical analyses. His prominent works include The Andaman Islanders (1922) and The Social Anthropology of Australian Tribes (1931).

Radcliffe-Brown is known for developing structural functionalism in social anthropology. Through this doctrine, he explains the integra­tion of societies and thus shows the interrelations between social institutions. According to him, social anthropology defines primitive society in terms of its functional interrelations.

Structural-functionalist, although he described himself as a functional­ist. Radcliffe-Brown and his followers regarded individuals and their actions as ‘side-effects’ of society, whose deepest meaning constituted in contributing to social integration, Malinowski was instead inclined to argue that society exists to satisfy the needs of the individuals.

The contrast between these leading in early modern anthropology can be traced up to this very day: some tend to regard society as an unin­tended consequence of the actions of individuals, whereas, others regard persons largely as products of their society.

Besides Boas, Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown, there are also oth­ers who have shaped the subject matter and definition of modern social anthropology. These include Marcel Mauss, Levy-Bruhl and Sig- mund Freud.

As pointed out earlier, social anthropology, as we find it in India and other Asian countries, is the offspring of British social anthropol­ogy. In order to define social anthropology in a scientific and precise way, Evans-Pritchard makes a list of the titles of theses which were awarded degrees. All these titles indicate the kinds of work social an­thropologists were doing.

On the strength of the research work done, it could be said that the students of social anthropology are concerned with the study of political institutions, religious institutions, class dis­tinctions based on colour, sex, or rank, economic institutions, legal or quasi-legal institutions, and marriage, and also of social adaptation, and of the entire social organization or structure, of one or other peo­ple. On the basis of the sample of these titles Evans-Pritchard observes:

Social anthropology, thus, not only covers societies round the globe but also a number of different studies. Social anthropologists study a primitive society in the same way whether it is in Polynesia, Africa,

E.E. Evans-Pritchard (1902-78) was a student of Malinowski. At a later period he came closer to the structural-functional school which was originated by Radcliffe-Brown. He is well known in social anthropol­ogy for his classical monographs on the African tribes Azande and Nuer.

He was also influenced by Mauss and Levy-Bruhl. In his last in­nings of life he rejected anthropology as a natural science and argued it to be viewed as one of the humanities.

or Lapland; and whatever they are writing about-a kinship system, a religious cult or a political institution it is examined in its relation to the total social structure in which it is contained.

Evans-Pritchard’s approach to the understanding of the subject draws only from the earlier modern anthropologists, mainly, Mali­nowski and Radcliffe-Brown. His definition does not go further: it is the study of the interrelations in a primitive society.

Evans-Pritchard was the product of the forties. During this decade and earlier also, the British colonial empire had wider horizons ex­tending to India and Africa. The prevailing social reality, therefore, inspired Evans-Pritchard and his generation to define social anthro­pology in terms of the social status of primitive societies.

It also brought home the fact that fieldwork in colonial societies was easier to carry out. For instance, in India, the British administrators-turned- anthropologists never had to bear the brunt of the rough and tough life of India’s villages. The fieldwork was done by the petty Indian bu­reaucrats.

Evans-Pritchard’s approach to social anthropology was quite suitable not only to him but also other British social anthropolo­gists. His definition was, thus, historically conditioned.