Historical Particularism

Historical Particularism
-Franz Boas, The Methods of Ethnology (1920)
-Alfred Louis Kroeber, Eighteen Professions (1915)
-Paul Radin, Right and Wrong (1927)
-Benjamin Whorf, The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language (1939)

Boas’ influence on American Anthro is very evident; Whorf’s is far less evident. Any idea as to why?

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  • Mark  On February 26, 2009 at 4:43 am

    From the readings it was hard to tell why Boas had the greater influence. But after a little internet surfing, it wasn’t hard to see why.

    Boas, first off, was a very outspoken man. I gathered this from light readings. I mean light in the strictest sense. He wasn’t afraid to rattle the cage of the establishment by challenging their ideals and definitely wasn’t worried that his ideologies were incorrect. Based from the short read that was assigned, he was not only confident in his writings but was a little boisterous/arrogant to a certain extent. Of course, rightfully so, but moving on. He helped found the American Anthropological Association, his writings helped move anthropology from a perspective of cultural evolution to one of cultural relativism, and the man has been coined the “father of anthropology”. All of these reasons, like stated in the question above, are why boas’ influence is so extremely evident in American Anthro.

    Now, for Whorf. Based on the manner in which the man wrote, he wasn’t as boisterous or outspoken as Boas. Now, this statement can be (and probably is) untrue. But I don’t see anyone else trying to take a shot at this (first one posting) so bugger off >_<. Haha, no, but from what I could garnish he was pretty factual, straight forward, and just presented the information as it was. How does this play a role? Well, from my perspective, Boas’ ideas were brought into the spotlight early by his personality and his hard hitting statements. Whorfs’ ideas, from what i could gather on the net, took a little longer to really be picked up by the anthropological mainstream. His widely known collection of work entitled Language, Thought and Reality did not surface until 1956, almost 15 years after his death.

    Whorfs ideas were just as valid and as true as Boas, and the men lived and wrote around the same time. The only major difference was the focus of anthropologists at the time. The focus was on debate that Boas had brought to the foreground over cultural evolution and relativism.

  • Jessica  On February 26, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Boas advocated a four-field perspective that included studying prehistory, linguistics, and physical anthropology in addition to the observation of culture. The term cultural relativism came into existence in the 1950s, and accurately describes Boas’ position. He disagreed with cultural evolutionists, who argued that all societies were following the same path from savagery to civilization. Instead, he thought cultures created themselves, and could only be understood with reference to their particular historical development. Boas’ ideas had more influence because they were less theoretical than Benjamin Whorf’s. Boas’ success was also situational- he decided to be a professor, and a large number of the anthropology students he taught were Jewish. Belonging to an ethnic minority that has been historically persecuted might have made his students more compassionate to people from different backgrounds. Whatever their reasons, they were less ready to accept the earlier theories of the nineteenth-century evolutionists. He, like Bob Dylan, “knew the times were a-changing”. Whorf, on the other hand, was not a teacher, and his ideas were harder to apply. Whorf provides examples from his work as an insurance inspector. He argued that an individual’s speech affects their actions, and influences their thoughts. He used gasoline drums in an example. Great care is exercised around a storage of gasoline drums, but if the drums are labeled “empty”, people are more likely to be careless. They may smoke or toss their cigarette stubs onto the floor. Empty is a virtual synonym for “null and void, negative, inert”, or is used to describe an empty container. The empty container still contained gas vapor, which is explosive. It isn’t known whether the worker’s behavior was driven by the data or if the data is just Whorf’s intrepretation. There might be other reasons why the worker acted the way he did. Whorf did not conduct an interview, so we don’t know the answer to this question. Though the relationship between language, thought, and behavior seems inuitively obvious, his theory is not proven. Linguists and psychologists have been experimenting with different aspects of Whorf’s ideas for fifty years without reaching any definitive conclusions.

  • Kathryne  On February 26, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    This is a very good point. Boas was a real pushy guy, and quite frankly did not give a whole hoot about what his peers thought of him for ripping their methodology. Everything this guy stood for is what we call American Anthropology today. We all know cultural relativism and the major sub-fields of anthropology. Boas was extremely modern in thought, probably because he was raised by the hippies of the 19th century. Boas abdicated for the separation of the study, as far away from the social and biological evolutionists who dominated the field at the time.

    Whorf was not as radical, but he also found merit in other areas of anthropology like Boas. Using the cognitive area of anthropology as his platform, Whorf used two theories to separate himself from those crazy linear evolutionists. Linguistic determinism was concerned with the individual and linguistic relativity focused on the society. So basically, he wanted Anthropologists to look at both the individual and the society they live in, which is now a normal concept to anthropologists. But, even so, his influence is just not there like Boas’s. Whorf proposed a new way of thinking, but Boas proposed a total overhaul of anthropology and the study’s organization.

    Basically, because of Boas’s guts, we have the model for today’s anthropology. And Whorf can also thank Boas’s guts for allowing modern methodology to be more widely accepted.

    • Kate  On September 18, 2010 at 7:01 am

      Just want to make a quick note that cultural relativism is a principle not a sub-field of anthropology. This by no means detracts from your argument just wanted to clarify.

  • KateK  On February 26, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I beleive Boas is very outspoken and not a afraid of critizing a theory. Boas came up with an idea that was absurd to earlier anthropologists that culture and civilization does not travel in a straight line but have different histories. His more holistic appoarch as been looked to for many generations of anthropologists.

    Whorf was not as “pushy” as Boas, which is something I can sympathize with. Since Boas is more boistorious than Whorf, Boas’s theory got more attaintion. However, Boas brought many different ideas and concepts to anthropology. He made anthropology more scientific with his thought of waiting for more inperical data to support a theory and his ideas about looking at one culture through its unique history.

  • Inconditus alio  On February 26, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Indeed with his concepts of non-unilineal culture change and his critical interpretation of others work Boas spoke his mind. Interestingly enough with his doctorate in physics he chose to study humans. Seeing an orthogenetic line towards western European civilization he did not, and many times attacked those whom championed the theory. With a solid methodology and mass collection of data it is understandable that he is regarded so highly in the field.

  • Elfego Franco  On February 26, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    I agree with everyone that a main cause for Boas’ influence being more evident had to do with the man’s confidence. He was not afraid to voice his theories and claims during a time when his work could have been constreued as alien.

    Upon studying the language of Native American people, Boas determined that language is determined by people’s cultures and lifeways. Whorf further supported this and determined that language determines thought or the way one perceives the world. You could say that Boas’ initial study came first and was used as a starting point for others to follow.

  • sunshinebtfly (Jennifer)  On February 27, 2009 at 12:36 am

    Sometimes it is the loud mouth of a group who gets all the credit because they are willing to speak up. In this case, I see it as introvert vs. extrovert. The extroverts of the world seem to get more attention because they choose to seek that attention. For example, Darwin almost missed out on the theory of evolution because he was afraid to publish his results. Only the strong survive is true in academia.
    Different conceptual views of the wolrd based on different linguistic traditions is true. Language and culture have gone together, regardless of whether the language was written or oral. I think that many Europeans felt that the hierarchy of culture (savage-barbarism-civilization) was based on written language, but there has not been a group of Homo sapiens without some way of communicating and some aspects of culture.
    Words are not just words, in Whorf’s opinion. The meaning is always derived from the culture.

  • theanthrogeek  On February 27, 2009 at 1:20 am

    In terms of Whorf and Boas, you also have to keep in mind that Whorf was a student of Boas.

  • Jessica  On March 5, 2009 at 4:17 am

    I think the reason Boas’ ideas are more well-known is that they are easier to grasp. The division of anthropology into four subfields is not difficult to understand. Cultural relativism answered the question anthropologists had asked since it became an academic discipline-Is the rest of the world like us? Can we be compared to them?-
    Whorf’s new concept, that language precedes thought, was not only new, it answered a question that hadn’t been considered before.

    Boas was also the first to publish his work. He founded the school of Historical Particularism. Whorf published later, within Boas’ school. His work, then, was secondary.

    Boas was also in a better position to be heard-he taught at a university, and had a strong cause-equal rights. Whorf worked for an insurance company, and was probably not publicly known. His work did not appeal to people’s emotion, or sense of right and wrong.

  • Gaudium  On March 5, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    I think in considering the effects of each man on anthropological thought, one must keep in mind the scope of the area each man was attempting to explain. Boas dealt with Anthropology more as a whole. He set forth the program as said earlier in the comments, and determined subfields that should be investigated. This is a rather large scope he affected with his ideas. Allowing more people to argue with him and, thus, more publicity for his ideas. Furthermore, one of the sub-fields he determined was linguistics, the area to which Whorf (mainly) contributed. Whorf wrote about language and thought specifically, and though he was a second generation student of Boas and incorporated Boas’ ideas in his interpretations, Whorf’s scope was much more limited.
    The timing of the publication of each man’s work should also be taken into account. Boas published earlier on, affecting the course of anthropology through writing and training others. Whorf’s ideas came from the Boasian tradtion, and thus could not be as sensational. The linguistic relativism Whorf championed was not as shocking or new as Boas’ ideas of cultural relativism, simply because Boas had already proposed the idea. It had gained support and opposition, and was already circulating. Linguistic determinism and relativism was just a new bent on an old idea.

  • Megan Scholl  On January 31, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Unfortunately, in my edition of the text, Whorf’s article is missing. I had to do a Google search to find it and was able to skim it that way. Of course, since the readings are so think anyway, it didn’t help. What really helped were the footnotes within Boas’ article and the other comments already posted here.

    In reading the footnotes you see again and again that Boas is referred to as having attacked someone. On page 132 of my text one of the footnotes says: “This paragraph is typical of Boas’ method of attack: he does not attack particular examples, but looks for flaws in methodology…he faults his opponents for sloppy thinking.” With Boas he found what he thought was faulty and made an example of it. One of the best ways to prove your point is to point out why someone else is wrong and use evidence or something similar to support your claims. Boas did this. He did this many times. Rather than spouting off what he believed, he took what others had said and repaired their cracks. Boas was very interested in getting in there and making himself known.

    Boas also published nearly 40 years before Whorf did. This is a huge gap in the time and by the time Whorf published, Boas’ ideas had already been out a good while. It’s hard for someone’s voice to be heard over a crowd that’s listening to someone else. I think the two main things working against Whorf were Boas’ methods of pushing his ideas and that Boas had already published before him.

  • Madoka  On February 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Franz Boas is famous as both the founder of modern anthropology and the father of American Anthropology. Boas gave modern anthropology its formal scientific methodology, patterned after the natural sciences, and he created culture ideas through learned behaviors. He was a mentor to a lot of the famous people in American anthropology, including Alfred Kroeber, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Robert Lowie, and Edward Sapir. Within these famous people, many of these went on influence evident to departments of anthropology at other universities. Boas spread his ideas through such important works as The Mind of Primitive Man (1911), Anthropology and Modern Life (1928), and Kwakiutl Ethnography (1966). Besides, he mentioned that in our daily life, our body organism is part of biology, but behaviors which you have decided yourself such as thought or intention is not related to biology. The concept of anthropology consists of this idea. Boas did not limit his outspoken opinion merely to methods of doing anthropology.
    I believe that Whorf achieved distinction in two different kinds of work. His working contribution was enough for him to be a full-time research professor, but he must have been spending a lot of time in his business pursuits at the same time. Although there were several offers of academic or scholarly research positions for him, he refused them and said that his own business situation gave him a more comfortable living and a freer opportunity to develop his intellectual interests in his own way.
    Both of them spent much time to develop each of their ideas. The difference is Boas exposed his concept to the public, while Whorf did not. I believe that is why Boas’ influence is much greater on American Anthropology than Whorf.

  • pachia  On February 2, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Since there’s already been so many thoughts ahead of mine on this page, i’ll be straightforward with what came to my mind as i read and uncovered some of the readings. I think Boa’s work was more influential was because he was the one who publicized more about his thoughts against the shift from the unilinial social evolution. Because unilinial social evolution was the big thing of the moment, Boas was widely known because of his disagreements, just as anyone who was a communist back then would be widely known. the second possibility that came to my mind why Wharf wasn’t as evident in the American anthro was due to status. The reading clearly stated that the rest of the authors in this section were students of Boas, making Wharf’s status as a subject to Boas only. well that’s my opinion. not that neither of them had a better idea but due to the fact of public appearance.

  • CorTney Parson  On February 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    I think Boas’ influence on on American Anthropology was much more evident when compared to Wharf’s because he for one, communicated with, taught, and introduced a numerous amount of people on various aspects of anthropology.. for example, he taught at Clark University, then later lectured at Columbia University where his student A.L Kroeber became an important influential figure in American anthropology.
    Therefore, Boas was very outspoken, influential, and much more knowledgeable in the area of anthropology, which is why i think he was extremely influential.

  • yer vue  On February 2, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    i think the reason why Boa’s influence on American Anthropology was more credible was because for one thing his historical background was credible, because he was well off with his education where he teached in two or more colleges teaching anthro. Not only did this show how credible his study was but he had follower (students) who believed and taught what they have learned from him like Kroeber. For example in method, The limitation of the comparative method”, showed how characteristic can be show through different process. i simply think that boas had more experience with this field and his historical background made a bid difference versus whorf, becaue her had more impacted from this source do to timing and the poeople he worked with.

  • Jason McClung  On February 3, 2010 at 2:10 am

    I don’t know if quantifying Boas’ outspoken nature versus Wharf’s is even possible, given that most anthropologists who publish are trying to speak out on something they understand.

    What I will concede, and what has been said before by people in this thread, is that Boas had the good fortune of being outspoken when anthropology was emerging from infancy. Getting in on the bottom floor with good ideas makes you a well known character. Hell, I’d heard Boas preached as a saint since I started my college career, and Wharf I learned about from this reading.

  • Adrianna Salinas  On February 9, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Boas’ was more influential because he viewed anthropology as a career, whereas, Whorf was content studying anthropological linguistics as a hobby. Also Boas’ views on ethnography were ground breaking. He felt that earlier “anthropologists” made presupposed assumptions about a particular group and coerced their data to match their assumptions. The greatest idea that Boas’ came up with was the idea of equality amongst all peoples. Before him theorists and evolutionists believed that any person that was not of European blood must be uncivilized. Boas’ was able to see earlier civilizations with a (somewhat) objective eye.

  • pao kue  On February 12, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Finally…I found the right page… actually I already found it but only saw comments from 2009. Anyway… most of the things I wanted to say have already been said by the people above me; however, I’ll give a quick thought. The reason why Boas is more well-known is because of his outspoken nature. He was not afraid to criticize others of their works and basically challenged saying that evolutionary culture and civilization of the human society does not travel in a unilinear straight line. To make it clear, Boas criticizes other anthropological work and theories of other anthropologist, but he never said that their way of thinking is wrong. He basically points out the flaws in their theories. Another case, as Jason had mentioned, is that Boas “had the fortune of being outspoken when anthropology was emerging from infancy,” making him well known. For example, a hundred years from now people will always remember that Boas is the first, or one of the first, to actually spoke out to other anthropologist of his ideas, and similar to how people will always know that the US was the first country to use nuclear weapons on Japan.

    On Wharf’s case… just as theanthrogeek has mentioned…

    In terms of Whorf and Boas, you also have to keep in mind that Whorf was a student of Boas….
    A professor of mine once mentioned that a good thing about having a student in science is that when his/her student achieves something, the professor also gets credit. In a way, Whorf’s ideas came from Boas and became secondary to his professor/mentor.

  • Charon193 (Christina Knapp)  On February 14, 2010 at 9:46 am

    I think the main reason that Boas is better known than Whorf or Kroeber is because Boas was the first to criticize the comparative method used by his predecessors. Plus Whorf and Kroeber were his students. Students are always in the shadows of the teacher. I’ll agree with yer vue, though, because Boas experience made that shadow even bigger. That, and it taught him to be objective. Whorf makes plenty of assumptions that tended to influence how he saw the data. Boas was the sort to gather tons of data first, then make assumptions based on what the data showed him. I also agree with CourTney’s idea that his position as a teacher allowed him to exude much influence in anthropology. As a teacher, he would be able to reach the communtiy through his students and what he taught them. By molding how the students did anthropology work, he could change how the world did anthropology, or at least America. After all, it is the youth of today that will inherit tomorrow.

  • Josie Weatherford  On February 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    this theory of anthropology reminds me of Jared Diamond a lot because he likes looking at the past to explain civilizations without giving it a biased viewpoint. because each society is guided by the environmental factors and the migrations and movements of people within the society, creating an exchange of ideas and material things. I feel that i subscribe to this theory more than the last two we have covered.

  • Nicole Giglio  On February 21, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    I agree with Jason on the fact that Boas’ outspoken personality may or may not have made him the father of anthropology. His ideas were sound, and he pieced apart other emerging anthropologists’ ideas which were not. I had to also agree on the fact that I’ve heard about Boas in every anthropology course I’ve taken at State, but never a word about Wharf and I’m three classes away from finishing the degree. It’s obvious that a lot of anthropologists put worth in what he created in theory, rightfully so. The fact that he exposed himself so greatly to the public in his time may be why he has lasted as such a revolutionary in the field to this day.

  • Pirate Kim (Jill)  On February 22, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    The difference I see between the two is that Boas was mainly concerned with the methodology’s in the field of Anthropology. The collection of a vast amount of data was needed not only to back up any theory, but would be more helpful to construct an evolutionary model of humans. The theories of the time Boas thought to be of no standing due to being based on generalizations rather than on loads of data. While Whorf’s theory of language and how it affects actions and influences thought was not the main focus of anthropology at the time, it nonetheless was not as straigtforward as Boas’s work. Boas was also more influential due to historical particularism in which cultures can only be understood with regards to their historical development. This was more readily understood by the Anthropology community since it was part of their debate at this time. He did state in the article that language determines he categories we use to think, so as Whorf was a student of his, he developed a theory that may help to understand this, but it was not well understood during this time.

  • Patrick Stumpf  On February 22, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    I agree that Boas has become more important, partially because Boas spent such a long time at an esteemed American Institution like Columbia. Many individuals in the long list of his students include Whorf and Kroeber as well as other legendary figures. It seems to me that he is also important simply because of his response to Anthropologists, like Spencer, who believed that all societies evolved in the same fashon. What is so fascinating about Boas as well is the fact that he uses raw data and his intellectual trade to, not only set a precedence for Anthropology as a scientific pursuit, but also a moral one. His methodologies were also slightly revolutionary for the time.

  • Miroslav Miskovic  On July 26, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Scientific-technological revolution and the historical consciousness.The way how the mankind developed through last 40 000 years,axpressed in terms of semiotics.

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