Cultural and Biological Diversity Across Time and Space

During the 19th century cultural anthropology was being separated from biological anthropology. The proposed separation acted as an aid in attempts to further justify the connections between the cultural and the biological in understanding. In New Look Same Idea the early ideas of Herbert Spencer along with numerous other early cultural evolutionists believed in the separating of the two fields. This allowed them the ability to better justify the believed “natural” hierarchy that was present among differing cultural groups. The comparative method was utilized and provided the mindset that the though they were now identified as separate the biological and the social were interrelated and allowed for certain “races” to “evolve” past others who had reached their maximum peak. The comparative method was presented during this time and later criticized for allowing the early anthropologist and ethnologist to remain vulnerable between his science and his assumptions. The formation of ethnography is later formed as the practice of writing on other cultures. Social ability during this time was largely understood as stemming from the biological theory.

Terms carrying ethnocentric ideologies were set in place to explain race identification as fact. Progress was defined as the order of phases that cultures went through to obtain higher levels in the social order. If man was able to free himself from aspects that were decidedly defined as subjecting the individual or culture to “slavish toil” he would then be able to develop cultural advancements, but only to the extent of what his biologic makeup would allow. Industrialization was introduced as a way to measure a cultures ability to fully utilize and exploit their environment. To these early claims, the environment played no effect in how a people acted, only reflected their inability to adjust to a situation.

In continuing with this comparison of the biological categorization setting constraints on the cultural ability of a person or group, it was believed the mind which was housed in the brain was the organ responsible for complexity. Physical traits such as cranial structure were believed to show levels of ability through structure and weight. The strong man’s burden among many of the phrases developed proposed that superior races had the responsibility to spread their knowledge of progress to the lower races in order to continue the trajectory of unlimited growth. Later beliefs from anthropologists rejected cranial size but continued the belief of social hierarchy by attributing racial hierarchy to unwillingness to apply mental effort to better the cultures or individuals situation. This idea actually reflects in the current day mindset of the poor. The idea that simply needing to work harder to achieve success is projected as the main factor in being poor.

There are clear shifts from the previously understood racial categorization that was present during the 19th century. The ideas and beliefs of Herbert Spencer, John Wesley Powell, and W J McGee, among many others, that social evolution stemmed from the biological theory of decent which incorporated personal beliefs of progress was a reflection of one culture and has gone on to be challenged.

New Look Same Idea ANP 320