Re: Anthro's most important contribution to society

Dave Rindos (arkeo4@UNIWA.UWA.EDU.AU)
Wed, 12 Apr 1995 07:48:31 +0800

On Tue, 11 Apr 1995, Michelle B. Golden wrote:

> Wasn't it anthro that came up with the the unilinear models in the first
> place (eg Spencer, Tylor, et al)?

No. Without getting long-winded (easy for me), and without boring people
with Plato, Aristotle and all those other good old boys, anthropology's
predarwinian evolutionary theory is probably best understood by seeing it
as an scientific living fossil. This is likely especially true of those
theoretical schools which proclaim the loudest that they are not part of
the scientific tradition.

Progressivist, unlinear, adapatationist, and externally driven evolution
was, in fact, THE SOLE biological model until selectionism finally became
normative (by the 1940's or so). The previous half-century saw
selectionism as a major, but not sole, causal theory for understanding
change in the biological worlds. In other words, most modern
anthropological views of cultural change are antique models for biological

Contemporary "humanistic" models for cultural change, in particular, are
NO MORE than 18th and 19th century models for biological change applied to
the cultural sphere. Of course, throughout most of its history, which
pretty well began in the early 19th Cent, anthropology had been (very self
consciously) PART of biology. I assume the modern tendency to (oftentimes
stridently) deny/repudiate/reject the biological and scientific nature of
the field arises from the paradigm discrepency that has arisen between the
now rejected 19th century causual models (which continue to be used as
explanatory models in modern anthropology) and the very different 20/21st
century models for causation which are typical of modern biology.

I have often wondered if the scholars who were "driven out" of biology by
this developing paradigm shift moved to, or "colonised", anthropology
which then became a refugium for the "old school" in evolutionary thought.
Looking to the chain of teachers and students from, say, 1850 to 1950
might give us a lot of insight into this conjecture. It certainly would
be amusing, as well as instructive, to find a phyletic link between, say,
PoMo stuff and the scientific theorists of the early 1800's. I bet we'd
find it.....

who actually managed to keep it short!!