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Chapter 2

ANT253H1 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Regular Sequence, Acculturation

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Marcel Danesi

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During second half of last century, famous investigators such as Spencer, Morgan, Taylor, and
Lubbock proposed the idea of general, uniform evolution of culture in which all parts of mankind
participated.(reword). This belief was contrasted in the newer development by Ratzel whose
interest in geography led him and other researchers to claim that ethnological research is based
primarily upon the concept of migration and diffusion rather than evolution. Each of these
studies is found upon a fundamental hypothesis very different from each other.
Evolutionary perspective
- Presumes that course of historical changes in cultural life of mankind follows definite
laws that are applicable everywhere and that cultural development is same among all
- Based on the observation of parallelism of development in different parts of the world
where similar cultures/customs are found in two very distant places
- They argue that the occurrence of these similarities distributed so irregularly cannot be
explained by diffusion
- However hypothesis implies the our modern western European civilization is the highest
up in terms of cultural development towards which all other primitive cultural types tend
- If we understand that there may be different ultimate and coexisting types of civilization
this theory of one general line of development cannot be maintained
Diffusion perspective
- The belief that the cultural similarities/differences in two different parts of the world
must be due to dissemination and migration
- Based on the observation that there are number of diverse and mutually independent
cultural traits that reappear in the same combinations in distant parts of the world
- It’s the theory that number of traits were developed in one place and carried to then
carried to other continents across the world through the means of migration
These two forms of extreme hypothesis are proposed with the hope of obtaining a consistent
picture of cultural development without any empirical evidence to support the claims.
Consider the following example:
Observation: There are certain similarities in different parts of the world between decorative
forms that are representative and others that are geometrical.
Inference from the evolutionary point of view:
- Decorative forms are arranged from most representative to geometrical
- They claim that there is a gradual transition from the representative forms to purely
geometric forms thus implying that geometrical designs originated from the
representative decorative form which gradually degenerated
- However, while this claim may not be wrong, this hypothesis has no supporting evidence.
It could very well be that the order is actually reversed where we begin with a simple
geometric design which as it develops and more traits are added, it evolves in to a
representative sequence. It could be claimed that this order hence mimics a historical
- This just goes on to show that within the evolutionary standpoint, you can look at it from
more than one perspective depending on your inference of history. They are both
potential explanations of what could be correct but neither theory can be established
without historical proof
Inference from origin through diffusion:
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