The Approach of the 19th Century Evolutionary Towards Anthropology

Maine, who had worked in India, proposed a distinction between status and con­tract societies, a conceptual pair which is reminiscent of many later distinctions between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ societies.

In status- based or traditional societies, Maine argued, kinship was usually crucial in determining one’s position in society; in contract-based so­cieties, on the contrary, it would rather be the individual achievements of persons that provided them with their positions.”

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The contribution by Morgan to early anthropology was, how­ever, a beginning of the theory of social evolution. The theory says that anthropology studies the human society which has passed through the stages of savagery, barbarism and civilization. At the sav­agery stage human beings had an economy characterized by subsistence.

Man earned his livelihood through hunting and food gathering. At the stage of barbarism agriculture and animal husbandry were the sources of living while those societies which reached the stage of civilization, developed literacy, technology, industry and the state.

The theory expounded by Morgan was one; there were other theories too; for instance, Westermark set out the theory of human marriage; Brifault propounded the theory of family.

What we intend to conclude here is that there was a team of evolutionists which estab­lished theories of culture, including religion and other fields of social anthropology.

These evolutionists included W.H.R. Rivers, Tylor, Frazer, William James, A.C. Haddon and Charles Seligman. All these early social anthropologists defined social anthropology as a science of social evolution.

In other words, social anthropology studies the ori­gin and evolution of social institutions such as society, religion, marriage, kinship and so on.