Some Anthropological Theories

School Major Assumption Principal Advocates

Unilineal evolution

All societies pass through a series of stages.

Tylor, Morgan

Historical particularism (American) Direct fieldwork is necessary before theorizing of cultural development. Boas, Kroeber


Culture can be understood by how it serves human biological and psychological needs.


Structural functionalism

The primary function of different elements of culture is to keep the entire social system in a steady state, or to maintain social equilibrium.



Cultures evolve in direct proportion to their capacity to harness energy.

White, Steward

French structuralism

Human cultures are shaped by pre-programmed codes of the human mind.



The ethnographer must describe a culture in terms of native categories (emic) rather than in terms of his/her own categories (etic).

Sturtevant, Goodenough

Cultural materialism

Human groups adapt to the conditions in their natural environments.


Interpretive anthropology

Human behaviour stems from the way people perceive and classify the world around them.


After Ferraro (1995:57) and Peoples/Bailey (2000:51-63)

Created 1999-09-20; last updated 2013-01-08