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.

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