Tag Archives: Boas

Historical Particularism: Boas, Kroeber and Whorf


Franz Boas changed American anthropology by introducing a new perspective of historical integration in understanding society. He discredits the method of evolutionary theories and stresses on the importance of conducting ethnography studies based on collective data and observation. Boas was concerned with social development and historical changes that effected individuals of society and how those changes affected society back. He says that culture can be understood if we accept that societies could reach the same level of culture development through different paths. Boas was indifferent to theory and thought that it was a premature method of ethnography instead using inductive reasoning to make sense of his findings, while others would develop a theory before conducting research. What comes first the chicken or the egg?

Some of his students:      
Margaret Mead                        Ruth Benedict
Ashley Montagu                      Alfred L. Kroeber
Edward Sapir                           Melville Herskovits
Gilberto Freyre                        Zora Neale Hurston

A.L Kroeber like Boas believed that it was necessary to have a historical perspective to understand culture. However, unlike Boas he didn’t believe individuals play a significant role in cultural development and change but instead saw that historical trends in society determine individual accomplishment. His concepts argued that culture cannot be reduced to individual psychology and that culture is a pattern that exceeds and control individuals which determines their human behavior. What is the implication of Kroeber’s use of “super organic” to describe culture and society?

Not to be confused with Star Trek’s “Worf”(on the right), Whorf (on the left)  believed that the language you speak influences you cognitively and affects the way you see the world. He states that linguistics can influence one’s world perceptions on a small and large linguistic scale and that speakers of different languages act differently because their L1’s create different conceptual worlds. Which came first, the cultural norms or the language? Are we shaped by our language which shapes our culture or does our culture shape our language?