Historical Functionalism By Franz Boas

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Beginning with historical particularism, it is the first American-born school of anthropology, founded by the “father of American Anthropology” Franz Boas. It was also born out of rejecting the previous social ideas of scientific racism as well as parallel evolution. Boas was originally trained in the physical sciences and shifted toward anthropology when he began to study Inuit migration patterns (McGee & Warms 2012: 112). He became an advocate of fieldwork, encouraging his students to collect detailed, in-depth studies of the culture being studied. Boas trained a number of great anthropologists that drew inspiration from him, one that included Alfred Kroeber. Kroeber was a theorist in historical particularism; however, he did stray from Boas…show more content…
Armchair anthropologists, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, and Herbert Spencer, who studied Nineteenth-Century Evolutionism, influenced functionalism theoretically (McGee & Warms 2012: 151). Functionalism did not collect data the same way nineteenth-century evolutionist did; it relied heavily on fieldwork, much like historical particularism. Functionalism viewed societies as timeless and therefor did not account for social change. One of the main key figures during the popularity of functionalism would be the “father of participant observation” Bronsiloaw Malinowski. Malinowski is important to functionalism like Boas is to historical particularism. Functionalism can be divided into two different branches. There is psychological functionalism, as well as structural functionalism. Psychological functionalism is interested how societies function to meet the psychological need as well as basic needs. This school of thought is linked to Malinowski. Malinowski believed that all cultures have the purpose to “satisfy seven needs: nutrition, reproduction, bodily comforts, safety, relaxation, movement and growth,” (McGee & Warms 2012: 152). This idea is based on psychological needs and not necessarily physical ones. Structural functionalism studies how societies maintain equilibrium and the status quo. A.R. Radcliffe-Brown is attributed to the school of structural functionalism along with influence from sociologist Emile Durkheim (McGee &…show more content…
Both schools of thought strongly suggest if not require their anthropologist to spend a long period of time with the people they are studying. Franz Boas worked closely with the Kwakiutl for his entire life (McGee & Warms 2012: 112). Similarly, Paul Radin worked with the Winnebago for approximately fifty years (McGee & Warms 2012: 116). It is also highly encouraged that the anthropologists should learn the local language and not rely solely on a translator to communicate with the natives. Boas affirmed, “the categories of language compel us to see the world arranged in certain definite conceptual groups” (Boas 2012: 124). Boas suggests that anthropologists must view their work from an emic perspective. An emic perspective is learning and understanding a culture by participating being enriched in the surroundings. The only way to fully understand and become part of the culture is to learn the language. Benjamin Whorf, a linguist who developed the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, also promoted the importance of language. He states that language shapes how humans perceive the world around them and also influence how they behave (Whorf 2012: 117). This idea of fieldwork is still valued and practiced in today’s anthropological studies. However, Boas’s student Kroeber differs slightly with this idea. Kroeber was not as interested with the idea of focusing
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