Victor de MUNCK : Introduction : Units for Describing and Analyzing Culture and Society

Journal article by Victor De Munck ;

Published in Ethnology, Vol. 39, 2000.

Cross-cultural research currently has a refugee status in anthropology. I explain why this is so by briefly tracing the history of cross-cultural research from the time of Tylor to the present. The main problem for ethnologists has been to define and develop adequate and equivalent cultural units for cross-cultural comparison. I argue that this is also a problem for ethnographers. I conclude with a brief review of the articles in this edition, each of which takes a different approach to addressing the cultural units problem. (Cultural units, ethnology, ethnography, method, nomothetic theories)

In 1889, Sir Edward Tylor gave the first presentation of a cross-cultural study in anthropology. For Tylor, anthropology had two complementary missions : ethnography and ethnology. Ethnography has dominated the field while ethnology has been shunted aside to near-refugee status. One would think that scholars would avail themselves of cross-cultural databases such as the electronic version of the Human Relations Area Files (e-HRAF) or the World Atlas in order to propose and test nomothetic theories. Further, one would think that as ethnographic fieldwork becomes more hazardous and expensive (Howell 1990), there would be a corresponding turn to cross-cultural analysis. But this has not occurred.

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