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Essay on Evolutionism

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Essay Critically discuss the Nineteenth Century theory of Evolutionism in relation to the social development of cultures. Critically discuss the Nineteenth Century theory of Evolutionism in relation to the special development of cultures. Anthropology originated in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Missionaries, traders and travellers in Africa, North America, the pacific and elsewhere provided the first great anthropological works. Anthropology is the holistic study of the biological, social and cultural aspects of mankind, paying particular attention to the relationships between our physical and cultural natures and between culture and the environment. Anthropology is basically the study of the human species and its immediate ancestors. Early ‘thinkers’ such as Hume, Smith and Montesquieu wrote about primitive institutions which they argued about amongst themselves. Their conclusions were not based on any scientific that could be tested but from principles found in their own culture. They laid the foundations for modern social anthropology believing that universal laws found in nature could be applied to human society. The thinkers were concerned with social evolution and progress. The term evolution was popularized during the 19th century by Herbert Spencer to mean cultural evolution. Evolutionists were those who believed that the cultures and life forms being studied are evolving to a particular form. Evolutionism is the idea that this universe is the result of random cosmic accidents, life arose spontaneously through chemical processes and all life forms are related and share a common ancestor. Evolution is a process of formation, growth and development from generation to generation. Socio-cultural evolutionism describes how cultures and societies have changed over time. In the nineteenth century Edward B. Tylor maintained that culture evolved from simple to complex and all societies passed through three basic stages of development which was originally suggested by Montesquieu. The three stages are called the lines of human progress which states that man evolved from savagery to barbarism and finally to civilization. Man became civilized after discovering pottery. To account for cultural variation different societies were at different stages of evolution. Simpler people of the day had not yet reached higher stages. Some societies were more evolve than others. Evolutionists believed Western Europe had evolved from a backward society to a more advanced society. Simpler contemporary societies were thought to resemble ancient societies. More advanced societies exhibited traces of earlier customs that survived in present day cultures, this was known as ‘survival. ’ Pottery is an example of survival, earlier people made their cooking pots out of clay, today pots are most often made with metal because they are most durable but dishes are preferred to be made out of clay. Tylor correlates the three levels of social evolution to types of religion: savages practicing animatism, barbarians practicing polytheism, and civilized man practicing monotheism. Tylor formulated a definition of culture: “Culture or civilization is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society,” Tylor believed that because of the basic similarities common to all peoples, different societies often find the same solutions to the same problems independently. Tylor also noted that different cultural traits may spread from one society to another by a simple means of diffusion which means the borrowing by one culture of a trait belonging to another as the result of contact between the two societies. Lewis H. Morgan was one of the most influential evolutionary theorists of the nineteenth century. In his book Ancient Society, he divided the lines of human progress into the three stages and further divided savagery and barbarism into upper, middle and lower segments. Each stage was distinguished by technological development and connected in patterns of subsistence, marriage, family, and political organization. Middle savagery was marked by the acquisition of a fish diet and the discovery of fire, upper savagery by the bow and arrow, lower barbarism by pottery, middle barbarism by animal domestication and irrigated agriculture, upper barbarism by the manufacture of iron, and civilization by the alphabet. Morgan believed family units became smaller and self contained as society became more developed. Johann J. Bachofen developed a theory of evolution of kinship systems which was agreed upon by Morgan. Morgan believed in the theory of ‘primitive promiscuity,’ which means that human society had no sexual prohibitions and no real family structure. Primitive promiscuity can be divided into ‘matriliny’ where descent was traced through the female only, ‘patriliny’ where descent was traces through the male only and ‘polyandry’ were several husbands shred one wife. Morgan believed that family units became progressively smaller and more self-contained as human society developed. However, his postulated sequence for the evolution of the family is not supported by the enormous amount of ethnographic data that has been collected since his time. For example, no recent society that Morgan would call savage indulges in group marriage or allows brother-sister mating. Modern social anthropologists regard these reconstructions as over amplifications of events that can never be known in detail. The efforts of early writers were only historical enquiries. At this stage it became clear that there was no evidence which could detail the earliest stages of society and few societies developed in total isolation of other human cultures or outside influence. The evolutionists became unpopular by the nd of the nineteenth century. The school of Diffusionists became popular, they brelieved tahat cultural change and progress were mainly due to borrowing because items of culture were mainly transmitted from one society to another. Despite the errors of the nineteenth century scholars, modern social anthropology owes much to their efforts because of their interest in the social institutions of different societies and the methods used to draw conclusions. The current anthropological view concentrates mainly on the institutionalized aspects (kinship, marriage and religion) of culture taking into account systems of belief, values and ideas. Modern anthropology relys mainly on fieldwork which is the gathering of data which organizes, describes, analyzea and interprets to build and present that account which may be in the form of a book, article or film. The latest investigations regarding early humans is that mankind started at hthe bottom of the scale and worked their way up from savagery to civilization through the slow gain of knowledge. Reference: * Introduction to anthropology 101 (course book 2010) * Culture vs civilization http://www. edwardjayne. com/culture/fallacy. html * http://www. as. ua. edu/ant/Faculty/murphy/436/evol. htm * Wikipedia *
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