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Systems-Thinking and Robert Redfield November 9, 2010

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
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Robert Redfield

Robert Redfield (1897-1958) earned his degree in sociology and anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1920.  More than any anthropologist of his generation, argues Clifford Wilcox, Redfield adopted a “pronounced sociological approach to anthropology.” According to Wilcox, two broad intellectual currents influenced Redfield’s development: “the deep-seated critique of civilization that emerged among European and American intellectuals following World War I,” and “his father-in-law, University of Chicago sociologist Robert E. Park ” (Social Anthropology, xiv.)

In contrast to the assertive Victorian belief in progress, in the period following the First World War, intellectuals began to “question the nature not only of Western civilization, but of civilization itself, particularly the equation of civilization with progress.”  Among those who penned withering critiques of civilization were Oswald Spengler and Edward Sapir. (more…)

Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown June 30, 2010

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
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Like nearly all sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, and social theorists in the twentieth century, Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown (born 17 January 1881 in Birmingham – died 24 October 1955 in London)  spent much of his career describing what his anthropology was not.  Adam Kuper similarly attempts to disentangle the misunderstood Radcliffe-Brown from the true theorist.

While the misappropriations of Radcliffe-Brown’s theories are not interesting from the standpoint of the anthropologist or ostensibly to the student of the history of anthropology, as Kuper explains, Radcliffe-Brown’s influence among subsequent national generations of anthropologists is. Kuper laments that Radcliffe-Brown has been ridiculed as a “displaced naturalist” who mistakenly applied physiological and physical models to the study of social structures.  What matters more for Kuper was the “direct inspiration” his kinship studies had on the work of Fred Eggan, Meyer Fortes, and Sol Tax. Radcliffe-Brown also  emerged as the “hero” of Levi-Strauss’ Totemism as well as “strongly influencing” Victor Turner and other important later twentieth century anthropologists.  In conclusion, Radcliffe-Brown’s “profound” yet in many cases second-hand or indirect influence on subsequent generations has made his work difficult to objectively apprise.  His “structural positivism” while “unfashionable” was not necessarily “untenable” (The Social Anthropology of Radcliffe-Brown , 1977, p. 1) (more…)