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A few weeks ago we saw Boas practically erase Morgan from anthropological consciousness. Now, we're reading White, who would like to erase Boas and resurrect Morgan. Do you think he succeeds? Why does White think Morgan is worth saving? If you had to take sides, where would you stand?


White believes that Morgan is worth saving because he believes in cultural evolution through advancement in technology to produce more energy. He argues that “Culture develops when the amount of energy harnessed by man per capita per year is increased; or as the efficiency of the technological means of putting this energy to work is increased; or, as both factors are simultaneously increased” (232). Although he criticizes that writing is not a motive force, other than that he supports Morgan’s stages of evolution and explains that even from energy consumption point of view, culture evolved from nothing to domestication of animal/harvesting to use of fuel/ machinery. He believes that culture exists to make life more secure for humans. I believe that White succeeds in giving a contemporary version of Morgan’s unilinear evolution that can be respected as a different approach to culture. He negates Boasian thoughts and bashes Boas’ historical particularism. If I was to take sides, I would stand with Boas. Every culture is advanced in its own way. It adapted to its own environment. Why are human organism and habitat excluded from the “study of development of culture”? I don’t quite understand why habitat can be thought as constant if we are studying culture as a whole. The argument that culture functions to improve security of human life seems weak. Does every technological advancement really give more security to human? Creation of weapons (especially weapons of mass destruction) I would say has created more insecurity than security. Do we really need technological advancement? I think I would still feel secure and happy without all the excessive technology that we have.White mentions that social organization functions to organize to get food defend and to protect. If so, why would you want to advance to the next stage of evolution if you already have a social organization that can guarantee your food and security (in its own way)? If we didn’t advance from the Agriculturural stage from 2000BC until 1800AD, doesn’t that mean that for such a long time people were secure about food and protection? I believe that there is no need for a culture to strive to maximize the use of energy and efficiency and thus, cannot support White's idea.


Allison Moss

I think White's essay is really interesting, but I'd side with Boas as well. Some of the arguments that White bases his entire article on are problematic, like assuming that "we are not able to attribute differences in culture to differences in physique (or "mentality")" (230). I think culture definitely affects both physique and mentality--in previous classes we discussed how basically everything is a social fact, to use Durkheim's terminology. Further, normative behavior, like what and when to eat, healing methods, etc., is dictated by culture and will shape the physical and mental health of an individual within that culture.


That aside, I think White's classification of the evolution of culture into specific laws is questionable. In order to encompass all of human culture, he made the laws so general that it seems pointless to even read about them. It just seems like each culture shapes itself so differently from others, and it would be impossible to draw up pertinent scientific laws that address all aspects of every existing culture.


Basically, I don't think White succeeds in erasing Boas--he even recants the argument made in this reading later in life, as he realizes that the existence of maladaptive cultures indicate flaws in his theory that culture evolves to serve the needs of man. According to the footnotes, White said "Culture goes its own way in accordance with laws of its own. Man lives within the embrace of cultural systems, and enjoys or suffers whatever they mete out to him" (233). Ultimately, White doesn't even take White's side.


Chelsey Megli

I'm not sure with whom I'd side. White brings up some great points and I think his argument is important to create an opposing boundary the modern anthropologist can bounce off on. It seems like almost all anthropological theory has two extremes and I think the White is creating an opposition to Boas by using Morgan and bringing him back into relevancy. Morgan's original ideas may have been rooted in ethnocentrism, but that doesn't mean that some part of them was valid. White brought those ideas into new light so that their principles could be duly analyzed. I think the best way to maneuver between all these theories is to find a happy medium, which White's use of Morgan now allows.


As for the development of culture/society. I think there are definite trends and developments that happen and, while not universal, do occur in a majority of those situations (urbanization, paternalism, etc.). I ultimately side with the Boasian belief that no way of living is inheritely better than another, but I thank White for allowing me to have a method for recognizing the patterns that do exist and their relation to how societies (not one type, but those that are similar which can be grouped together) evolve.


Lindsey Scott

I think that White succeeds to a certain degree. He manages to bring Morgan's ideas back into play by putting a modern look on Morgan's unilinear theory, and allows us to view Morgan's ideas in a new light. But does he succeed in fully resurrecting Morgan? I don't think so. Unilinear evolution has pretty much fallen out of favor with most anthropologists. And while it is true that societies do all go through certain stages to get where they are today, it is near impossible for every one of them to go through the same process.


I would have to side with Boas on this one. As Morgan and White both seem eager to point out, cultures do go through certain trends and similarities. But for Morgan's theory to be correct, every culture would have to follow the same rules, the same path. The way I see it, if cultures were to follow Morgan's unilinear evolution, they would all end up at the same result thus making us the same all over the world. Since that is obviously not the case, I would say that Morgan's theory is flawed somewhere.


Alexandra Gagne

It is clear from many of White's theories that he was greatly influenced by Morgan. Unlike his Boasian contemporaries, and American anthropologists for that matter, White resurrected these ideas that so many had tried to erase. It is obvious why Morgan is so quickly rejected by modern anthropologists- his ideas on ethnical seem extremely ethnocentric. However, one can not write him off completely. In ways he took careful notice of the well being of 'primitive' societies- he feared globalization would upset the cultural balance and progression of societies, and detriment 'primitive' cultures in the meantime.


White analysis of of cultures on page 235 results in a description greatly reflect Morgan's periods. His focus on the mathematical aspects of anthropology reflect Morgan's idea that efficient use of land creates a most stable life. White find his theories appealing because they are applicable to his general outlook on cultures. White saw the study of culture as a true, hard science. Therefore, many of his claims are based on principles borrowed from the natural sciences. "Darwin could tell us the consequences of variations, but he could not tell us how these variations were produced...The culturologist knows more about cultural evolution than the biologist... knows about biological evolution" (p. 233).


White's theories seem to be somewhat of a stretch for me to be completely convinced. He does, however, make a better case than Morgan. His relating of culture and the natural sciences just does not seem reasonable to me. After reading the article, I still can't bring myself to believe that there is a hierarchical progression of societies that can be categorized by efficiency and mathematics. In this case, I would much rather save Boas and risk erasing Morgan.


Lauren Deal


White's incorporation of Morgan is really not surprising to me based on the focus of both of their theories on the relationship between people and their environments. For White, cultural development stems from people adapting to their surrounding, developing new technologies and maximizing useable energy. The mechanism for this is technological advancement plain and simple. Looking back at Morgan’s work we can see that for him technological advancements were central to ethnical periods as well. White even engages in Morganian rhetoric saying that “man, after having won his way up through Savagery and Barabarism, is not likely to stop, when at last he finds himself upon the very threshold of Civilization” (242). Reawakening Morgan is in fact essential to supporting his theory.

Where I actually think Morgan did a better job than White, despite all we could say about Morgan as racist and ethnocentric, is that he did not separate the many facets of human cultural and behavior from one another so as to make one preeminent and predominant. In his evolutionary scheme, all parts of culture developed in step with one another. No one was seen as causal over the others. This for me is one of White’s biggest flaws.

In sum, do I think White should bring back Morgan? I think White could stand to take another look at Morgan to see how throwing things all aspects of culture except for tools and subsistence on the back burner is problematic. Then again, he could look at Boas et. al and not have reopen such a dangerous can of worms.


Erin Neill

White makes an attempt to highlight the importance of the work of Morgan and is successful at drawing parallels between his work and theories and those of Morgan.  White tries to prove that Morgan's work made a valuable contribution and should therefore be saved and in discussing it, is successful at making it relevant again. White and Morgan share many views as the the evolution of human culture, although not all. White writes that there are elements of Morgan's theories that he does not agree with, and recognizes certain failings in Morgan's theories.  Ultimately, White's own discussion of evolution of culture seems to be unfinished and unrefined as well as clearly not applicable to society as a whole.

It seems to me that the theories of Morgan should not be dismissed entirely, as simply understanding them can help to enhance the understanding of certain phenomenon.  The history of anthropology is a reflection of cultural changes and therefore to dismiss an entire way of thought seems detrimental.  White makes some interesting arguments concerning cultural developments, but one is unable to apply them to our entire world's population and I find my self on the side of Boas. 




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