Gerold Firl and ethnographic data

Daniel Maltz (
27 Sep 1996 18:49:09 GMT

Since neither Gerold nor Bryant seem to understand my point about
the inadequacy of Elman Service's _Profiles in Ethnology_ as an
authoritative source, I will make one attempt to explain myself.

_Profiles in Ethnology_ is not a scholarly work. It was never
meant to be. It is a collection of short ethnographic sketches
published in 1963. It was meant to be used to provide some
minimal ethnographic data for students in an introductory level
course in cultural anthropology. In particular, it was meant to
be used in courses sharing Service's theoretical orientation,
illustrating different levels of social/technological evolution.

For several years now, Gerold Firl has been posting a variety of
theoretical arguments, supposedly rooted in ethnographic data.
No matter what the argument, no matter what the theoretical
orientation of those who read his arguments, trained
anthropologists have challenged most if not all of his arguments
on the inadequacy of his data, his lack of understanding of basic
ethnographic material, and his misunderstanding of basic
anthropological concepts. The most he ever seems to cite as
backup is Service's same elementary text from 1963. This is not

I did get myself involved in one extended debate with Mr. Firl,
about a year ago. It did not concern aboriginal Australians, as
he seems to remember, but rather basic kinship theory and the
differences between matrilineal and patrilineal kinship. When
trying to debate with him, I soon discovered that his knowledge
of the ethnographic literature was rudimentary at best. I also
discovered that he didn't understand basic terms. When I
realized that he considered urban Afro-American kinship to be an
example of matrilineality and would not be persuaded otherwise, I
gave up the debate as futile.

At that time I suggested that if he wished to engage in sensible
debate on anthropological topics, he should enroll in some
introductory anthropology courses and do a little bit of basic
reading. My opinion has not changed. People without a minimal
background in the field of anthropology should not be trying to
construct major ethnographic arguments and wasting everyone
else's time.