Stefan Bargheer. Anthropology at War: Robert H. Lowie and the Transformation of the Culture Concept, 1904-1954

Monday, October 26, 2015 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

Monday, October 26, 2-3:30pm in 402 Barrows
 

Anthropology at War: Robert H. Lowie and the Transformation of the Culture Concept, 1904-1954

The paper investigates the transformation of the concept of culture in American anthropology in the first half of the twentieth century. It uses the work of the cultural anthropologist Robert H. Lowie and its changing resonance over time as a window into this development. Lowie was part of the first generation of students of Franz Boas who stood at the wake of the professionalization of anthropology and its emergence as an independent scientific discipline. The concept of culture as put forward in his publications was central to this development. Three elements stood out in Lowie’s account of culture – it was marked by individual variation within populations, overlap between these populations, and change over time. Yet its initial resonance notwithstanding, the culture concept that prevailed in the discipline over time went into a different direction as the result of the experience of two world wars and American anthropologists’ involvement in the war effort. It was advanced by the second generation of Boas’ students such as Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. This generation of scholars stressed the homogeneity of cultures, their boundedness in space, and stability over time. This paper teases out the different approaches available within cultural anthropology in the first half of the twentieth century and the crucial impact of the two world wars in determining which of these possibilities became institutionalized and remembered within the discipline in the long run.

Stefan Bargheer is an assistant professor of sociology at UCLA, specializing in historical sociology, cultural sociology, and the sociology of science and technology. He works among others on the development of the notion of culture throughout the twentieth century social sciences and the transformation of moral values in relation to changes in scientific knowledge across academic disciplines.