The Building of British Social Anthropology: W.H.R. Rivers by Ian Langham

By Ian Langham

The nature of that transition to adulthood [a transition concerning "The acquisition of this type of paradigm that identifies tough puzzles, offers clues to their answer, and promises that the really shrewdpermanent practitioner will succeed") merits fuller dialogue than it has bought during this booklet, really from these concerned about the advance of the modern social sciences. (Thomas S. Kuhn, 1969, Postscript to The constitution of medical Revolutions. ) the 1st or 3 a long time of the twentieth-century represents a shadowy interval within the historical past of technology. for many modern scientists, the interval is a bit too distant to be the topic of a fIrst-hand oral culture; whereas even as it isn't suffIciently distant to have got the epic and oversimplifIed contour of background which has been remodeled into mythol­ ogy. Historians of technological know-how, against this, who are looking to loose themselves from the mythology that's used to legitimize the current nation of the self-discipline, have an interest in researching what rather occurred, and the way it was once looked on the time. For them the character of technological know-how within the early twentieth-century is obscured by means of what they regard as its proximity in time, and they're disturbed through a basic loss of intensity in scholarly paintings within the zone, which makes it diffI­ cult to determine the interval in right perspective.

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Extra info for The Building of British Social Anthropology: W.H.R. Rivers and his Cambridge Disciples in The Development of Kinship Studies, 1898–1931

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When a social or cultural anthropologist first attempts to seriously study the workings of preliterate society, she/he will be struck by the observation that, in such societies, the wellsprings of social action would seem to be far more kinship-oriented than they are in the West. More specifically, values and imperatives deriving from one's perception of the identity and status of one's kinsmen, would seem to dominate aboriginal social behaviour. Ask a non-Westernized aboriginal why he performs almost any of the acts which make up his social life, and one will characteristically be rewarded by an answer which attributes his motivations to actual or perceived ties of blood or marriage.

The fIrst was Robertson Smith, with whom Frazer had become friendly as a young man. 42 Here the crucial influence was Primitive OJlture. As might have been expected if these influences were operative, Frazer's greatest contribution to the discipline was in the fIeld of the evolution of religion. His most famous work, The Golden Bough, ostensibly set out to elucidate an ancient myth concerned with the rule of priestly succession in a sacred grove at Nemi, in the Alban hills of Italy. However, in the third edition, Frazer w~s to admit that this objective was merely an excuse for a more global task: While nominally investigating a particular problem of ancient mythology, I have really been discussing questions of more general interest which concern the gradual evolution of human thought from savagery to civilization.

34 Robertson Smith was fully aware that the attribution of such kinship bonds is not necessarily indicative of real genetic relationship, but may have occurred for purely social reasons. However, despite the attaining of such important insights, the overall trend of the argument in Robertson Smith's book is disappointing. Time and again he will astutely remark upon some important fact about Arabian kinship, but will then proceed to expend his energies in attempting to demonstrate that it supports the views of McLennan.

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