This post continues a primer on Cultural Anthropology for friends in the Agile community who have shown curiosity in the discipline’s perspectives on culture change.

cult anthro

 Recap:  Anthropology distinguished itself from the other branches of social science by attempting to retain a comprehensive view of humankind and by an emphasis on empirical data.   For Early Attempts at Explaining Cultural Differences, and Data Gathering, see earlier post:

The influence of 20th century politics focused attention on the interplay between individuals and institutions.  This phase of the discipline’s development pushed themes like social control to the forefront.

“How contradictory it is to admit that the individual is himself the author of a machine which has for its essential role his domination and constraint.” Emile Durkheim

Durkheim’s main theme was social solidarity.  He wanted to understand how a society holds its members together and prevents alienation.

“The most important spiritual mechanism is the one which obliges us to make a return gift for a gift received.” Marcel Mauss


Mauss analyzed gift-giving.  He outlined rituals of exchange which form a kind of “moral economy” that can influence status in a hierarchy.

“An institution is a group of people united or organized for a purpose.  They have a charter or explanation, and they have the technology with which to achieve, or strive to achieve, that purpose.” Bronislaw Malinowski

Malinowski raised the standards for exacting fieldwork.  He focused on how culture functions to help man achieve seven basic needs: nutrition, reproduction, bodily comforts, safety, relaxation, movement and growth.

“An economic system is is a set of relations between persons and groups which maintains and is maintained by the circulation of goods and services.” A.R. Radcliffe-Brown

Radcliffe-Brown put forward the the view that all parts of a social system work together with harmony or internal consistency.  This he called Functional Unity.

The next post in this series is Cultures Respond to Complexity.   For additional information, see these resources:

High Points in Anthropology

Conformity and Conflict, Readings in Cultural Anthropology

The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in Complex Society

The Anthropology Network, an open LinkedIn Group

Anthropology and Design, an openLinkedIn Group


Cultural Anthropology is the Flagship Journal for the Society of Cultural Anthropology

This series on Anthro for Agile is intended to provide an index of ideas to help ground and articulate cultural change efforts.   SPECIAL THANKS to Lisette Sutherland of who requested the references.   She has a talk available on Tribal Leadership, and the two of us are presently collecting case studies on Remote Collaborations.  Tweet to me @artsint and Lisette @lightling.