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Development of culture and society from simple to complex forms. Europeans had sought to explain the existence of various primitive societies, some believing that such societies represented the lost tribes of Israel, others speculating that primitive peoples had degenerated since the time of Adam from an originally barbarous to an even lowlier savage state. European society was taken to epitomize the highest state of existence, civilization. In the late 19th century, Edward Burnett Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan elaborated the theory of unilinear evolution, specifying criteria for categorizing cultures according to their standing within a fixed system of growth of humanity as a whole and examining the modes and mechanisms of this growth. A widespread reaction followed; Franz Boas introduced the culture history approach, which concentrated on fieldwork among native peoples to identify actual cultural and historical processes rather than speculative stages of growth. Leslie White, Julian Steward, and others sought to revive aspects of sociocultural evolutionism, positing a progression ranging from bands and tribes at one end to chiefdoms and states at the other. More recently some anthropologists have adopted a general systems approach, examining cultures as emergent systems. Others continue to reject evolutionary thinking and look instead at historical contingencies, contacts with other cultures, and the operation of cultural symbol systems. See also social Darwinism.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on sociocultural evolution, visit Britannica.com.
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