Neoevolutionism

Essay by wes1406College, Undergraduate November 2004

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                 The theory of Neoevolutionism states that how culture develops is by giving general principles of its evolutionary process. This theory of cultural evolution was originally demonstrated in the 19th century. In the 1940s through the 1960s, Neoevolutionists tried to confront the weaknesses of earlier evolutionary theories and explain cultural change. They attempted to not rank cultures in terms of being better or worse. However, this Nineteenth-century Evolutionism was dismissed as unscientific in the early 20th century. Therefore, the topic of cultural evolution was then avoided by many anthropologists until the 1930s, when Neoevolutionism re-emerged. So it seems that it was the Neoevolutionary thinkers who brought back evolutionary thought and developed it to be acceptable by today's anthropologists. One of the main differences between Neoevolutionism and Nineteenth-century evolutionism is whether their data is empirical or not. Nineteenth-century evolutionism used valued judgment and assumptions for interpreting data, while Neoevolutionism relied on information that could be measured for analyzing the process of cultural evolution.

Evolutionary theory accepted among most anthropologists by the late 1960s. Some of the more prominent Neoevolutionary theorists are George Peter Murdock, Julian Steward, and Leslie White.

                 George Peter Murdock, an American anthropologist, lived from 1897 to 1985. Murdock taught at Yale and later became Mellon Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh in 1960. While head of Yale's Human Relations Area Files, he attempted to classify and index the known cultures of the world, and is best known for his cross-cultural study of African and Oceanic people. He also made considerable contributions to the study of kinship and social organization.

                 Julian Steward was born on January 31, 1902 in Washington, D.C., and lived until 1972. Steward attended the University of California at Berkeley as a college freshman where he first read the writings...