Absolute poverty A level of income below what is required to have a decent standard of living, sometimes measured at less than $1 per day.
Acculturation The process of acquiring a “second culture,” usually as an effect of sustained and imbalanced contact between two societies. Members of the “weaker” society are compelled to adopt aspects of the dominant society.
Acheulian The stone tool technology associated with Homo erectus, which involves a more complex flaking of bifacial implements.
Achieved status A social position or role that a person acquires through some effort or accomplishment of his or her own.
Adaptation Changes in a system, including a species, in response to changes in its context or environment so as to make that system or species more fit to survive in the context or environment.
Age grade system A non-kinship-based corporate system in which members, usually of one sex, are organized into groups or “grades” according to age and assigned roles and values as a group.
Agents of social control Individuals, groups, or roles that play a part in instilling social norms in members and protecting and perpetuating those norms through the use of their powers and sanctions.
Ambilineal descent A descent system in which individuals trace their membership through both “sides” or “lines” of the family, or optionally through one or the other.
Ambilocality A residence practice in which individuals may live after marriage with both “sides” of the family (perhaps alternating between them), or optionally with one or the other.
Ancestor spirits The spirits of dead family members who are believed to continue to reside near and interact with their living kin.
Animatism A type of religious belief where impersonal spiritual forces exist in the world and affect human life and behavior.
Animism A type of religious belief in which non-human species and phenomena have spiritual components that interact with and sanction humans.
Anthropological perspective The unique “angle” or point of view of anthropology, consisting of cross-cultural or comparative study, holism, and cultural relativism.
Anthropometry The measurement of human bodies to determine individual and group (“racial”) physical characteristics.
Anti-language A speech style used by individuals or groups in the performance of roles opposing or inverting the society outside of their group.
Apartheid In twentieth-century South Africa, the official policy of separating the races within their society legally and socially.
Archaeology The study of the diversity of human behavior in the past, based on the traces left behind by past humans or societies.
Arranged marriage A practice where family members (often parents) choose the partner for marriageable youths, sometimes with little or no input from or option for the partners themselves.
Artifacts Physical objects created by humans, often specifically the “portable” objects like tools, pottery, and jewelry (as opposed to the non-portable ones like buildings and roads).
Ascribed status A social characteristic that is attributed to a person without any effort on their part, either innate (e.g., sex or race) or acquired in the normal course of development (e.g., age).
Assimilation The social process by which individuals and groups are absorbed into another, usually dominant, cultural group.
Australopithecus A genus of the category Hominid, closely related to and earlier than genus Homo, to which modern humans belong.
Authority Legitimate power or power that an individual, group, or institution is felt to rightly possess and exercise on the grounds of age, knowledge, office, and so on.
Avunculocality A residence practice in which a married couple lives with or near an uncle, often a mother’s brother.(Back to the Top)
Band A political system or “level of political integration” where small, autonomous, and typically leaderless groups constitute local segments of a decentralized society.
Basic personality The psychological traits common to most or all of the members of a society (roughly synonymous with modal personality).
Berdache A gender concept in some Native American societies for biological males who adopt certain behavioral and personality characteristics of females.
Bilateral descent Relating to both “sides,” as in a kinship system, in which individuals regard kin related to the mother and to the father as socially equivalent.
Biocultural The mutual interaction between physical/biological and behavioral/ cultural factors, in which physical traits make certain behaviors possible, and behavior feeds back to influence physical traits.
Bipedalism The ability and tendency to walk on two feet.
Blackbirding The colonial practice of abducting the populations of areas, often islands, and resettling them as a labor force in some other part of the world.
Bound morpheme A morpheme that has meaning but only when it is used in conjunction with a word.
Brideprice See bridewealth.
Bride service The marriage wealth-exchange practice in which a man must labor for his wife’s kin for a certain period of time before he may assume rights over his wife.
Bridewealth The marriage wealth-exchange practice in which a man or his family must pay an amount of property to his wife’s kin before he may assume rights over his wife.(Back to the Top)
Caste A closed socio-economic status, often ascribed by birth.
Cephalic index A measurement of the skull/brain volume and shape, based on a ratio of the width of the head from ear to ear relative to the depth of the head from front to back.
Chiefdom A political system or “level of integration” in which a central office, often hereditary, possesses formal political power and social prestige through some degree of redistributive control over surplus and the ability to organize and manage labor.
Childrearing practices The methods employed by members of a society to care for children and to prepare those children to become future members of that society.
Civil war A violent conflict within a particular state or between corporate or identity groups within the state.
Civilization A form of society based on cities as the centers of administration and the focus of social life, usually dependent on intensive agriculture in the surrounding countryside.
Clan A kinship group, sometimes an assortment of lineages, whether or not it can trace its descent back to a common ancestor.
Clash of civilizations Huntington’s notion that the key forces in the future will not be societies or states but regional cultural entities (e.g., “Western civilization” or “Islam”); within a civilization a variety of cultural attitudes are shared, but between civilizations differences of attitude and interest will breed conflict.
Class An (at least ideally) open socio-economic status, which members can change through their own achievements.
Coercion Power based on the threat or use of force.
Colonialism The more or less organized system of occupation and exploitation of foreign territories through settlement and conquest, especially as practiced by Western states since 1492.
Colonies of exploitation Colonies in which few foreigners immigrate but the territory is still used for its resources, wealth, labor, markets, and/or strategic location.
Colonies of settlement Colonies in which many foreigners immigrate, sometimes such that they and their descendants become the majority population of the territory.
Colony A segment of a population (not exclusively a human population) that moves into and occupies territory not previously occupied by the population, often displacing or subduing the previous occupants.
Communal representation The political procedure of guaranteeing that groups (ethnic groups, language groups, races, religions) will have representation in governments by setting aside offices in the government specifically for those groups.
Competence In language, the mastery of the elements (sounds, semantics, and grammar) of a language to be able to make intelligible utterances.
Contagious magic The belief and practice that objects that come into contact with each other have some supernatural connection with each other.
Core In dependency/world systems theory, the states that make up the power center of the world system – essentially the rich industrial states and former colonialists.
Corporate group A social group that shares some degree of practical interest, identity, residence, and destiny.
Corvée A colonial practice in which local people were required to provide a period of labor to the administration as a sort of “tax.”
Counterculture A group or subset within a society that more or less intentionally adopts behaviors, beliefs, or practices that are at odds with or opposed to the mainstream of society.
Country Commonly used as a synonym for “nation” or “state,” more properly refers to the territory that a society or polity inhabits.
Creole A pidgin language that has become elaborated into a multi-functional language and distributed into a first language of the community.
Cross-cultural study The examination of a wide variety of societies when considering any particular cultural question, for purposes of comparison.
Cultural anthropology The study of the diversity of human behavior in the present.
Cultural assimilation A type of assimilation which refers specifically to the loss of distinctive cultural traits, such as language or religion.
Cultural evolutionism The early ethnological or anthropological position or theory that Culture started at some moment in the past and evolved from its “primitive” beginnings through a series of stages to achieve its “higher” or more modern form.
Cultural loss The process by which elements of a culture disappear over time, through natural/environmental changes, social pressures, or individual choices.
Cultural materialism The theory that practical/material/economic factors can explain some or all cultural phenomena.
Cultural ontology A society’s system of notions about what kinds of things (including kinds of people) exist in the world and their characteristics and social value. A socially specific way of categorizing and valuing the physical and social world.
Cultural relativism The reaction to the fact of cultural diversity in which one attempts to understand and judge the behavior of another culture in terms of its standards of good, normal, moral, legal, etc. rather than one’s own.
Cultural tourism The practice of “consuming” culture as a form of entertainment and education. Traveling to foreign societies to observe their ways of life (not always “traditional” but sometimes designed for the tourist) in an informal manner.
Culture and personality An early twentieth-century school of anthropology which investigated the relationship between individual/psychological processes and culture, often but not always from a psychoanalytic perspective, focusing on childhood experiences and childrearing practices.
Culture shock The surprise, confusion, and pain we feel when we encounter a way of life that is very foreign to our own.(Back to the Top)
Decentered The absence or denial of a particular society’s or culture’s perspective from which to view the world, usually associated with moving away from a Western or Eurocentric perspective. Could potentially imply the absence of any central perspective.
Deculturation See cultural loss.
Deism The form of theism or belief in god(s) which posits a creator god that does not take an active role or moral interest in human affairs.
Dependency theory The theory of “Third World” underdevelopment that attributes the poverty and weakness of certain states to their ongoing unfavorable relationship to richer and more powerful states. Poor/weak states continue to be dependent on rich/powerful (mostly Western) ones for capital, manufactured goods, and other key economic resources.
Descent The kinship principle of tracing membership in a kin-based corporate group through a sequence of ancestors.
Development A form of directed change in which a state tries to change its internal economy and society, and/or foreign states and institutions try to change it, to promote economic growth, industrialize and urbanize, and ideally achieve a higher standard of living for its inhabitants.
Development policy The general priorities and decisions set by a state or by development agencies to achieve economic, political, and social goals.
Development project A specific activity or task settled upon to achieve the economic, political, and social goals of a development policy. Such projects often include transportation, energy (especially hydro-electric), agricultural, and resettlement schemes.
Diaspora The dispersion of a social group from its historical homeland (often applied specifically to the Jewish community).
Diffusion The spread of a cultural trait (object, idea, practice, institution) from one society to another.
Diffusionism The early ethnological or anthropological position or theory that Culture, or specific cultural practices, objects, or institutions had appeared once or at most a few times and spread out from their original center.
Diglossia The use of two varieties of a language by members of a society for distinct functions or by distinct groups or classes of people.
Directed change A cultural process in which internal or external agents make more or less intentional, coordinated, and sustained modifications or reforms to a society and culture.
Displacement The linguistic feature that allows for communication about things that are “not here” in the sense of absent or out of view, past or future, conceptual or even imaginary.
Diseases of development The lifestyle-related diseases that are common in developed industrial societies and increasingly common in developing societies, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay, and obesity.
Diviner A religious specialist who uses one of many techniques to “read” information from the supernatural world.
Division of labor The differentiation of the economy into a set of distinct production tasks, which are assigned to different individuals, groups, or classes, usually creating economic and political inequalities.
Doctrine of discovery The European colonial principle that the state which “discovered” or arrived first in a new territory had the right to occupy and administer it without interference from other states.
Domestication The process of modification of plants and/or animals to establish human control over them, leading to agriculture and pastoralism.
Dominance The social relationship in which certain individuals have higher prestige or power in the group, allowing them to enjoy more or better resources as well as the deference of lower ranked members.
Double descent The kinship practice of reckoning one’s membership in kinship-based corporate groups through two lines of descent, ordinarily the mother’s and the father’s.
Dowry The marriage wealth-exchange practice in which the woman’s family is required to provide the husband with property (e.g., money, land, household goods) in order to make the marriage.
Dowry death The killing of wives because the husbands were not satisfied with the dowry payment they received, or else to free them to marry again and collect another dowry.(Back to the Top)
Ecofacts The environmental remains from past human social contexts, including wood, seeds, pollen, animal bones, and shells.
Encomienda In Latin American colonial history, a grant of land to a conqueror and explorer, much like medieval estates, which gave the grant-holder control over the land and its inhabitants.
Enculturation The process by which a person learns or acquires his or her culture, usually as a child. Also known as socialization.
Endogamy The marriage principle in which an individual marries someone who is in the same cultural category as himself or herself (e.g., marrying someone in one’s own race or religion).
Erectness The tendency to have an “upright” posture based on a spine that is vertical rather than parallel to the ground.
Ethnic group A corporate group based on some shared cultural traits – language, religion, history – which finds itself in competition with other groups for wealth, power, opportunity, and recognition. An ethnic group shares an identity and a destiny and therefore competes as a group.
Ethnicity The phenomenon of organizing around some aspect of shared culture to integrate an identity group, differentiate it from other groups, and compete in a multi-ethnic context for resources.
Ethnocentrism The attitude or belief that one’s own culture is the best or only one, and that one can understand or judge another culture in terms of one’s own.
Ethnocide The destruction of a group’s culture, without necessarily killing any of the members of the culture.
Ethnogenesis The process by which ethnic groups come into being and/or attain their cultural characteristics.
Ethnography A written account or description of a particular culture, usually including its environment, economic system, kinship arrangements, political systems, and religious beliefs, and often including some discussion of culture change.
Ethnoscience The anthropological theory or approach that investigates the native classification systems of societies to discover the concepts, terms, and categories by which they understand their world.
Eugenics The scientific practice of “improving” a population or species by selective breeding or genetic engineering, to breed out “bad” traits and breed in “good” ones.
Eunuch A gender category involving non-sexual individuals (usually men), who may be castrated or merely celibate, sterile, or lacking sexual desire.
Exogamy The marriage principle in which an individual marries someone who is not in the same cultural category as himself or herself (e.g., marrying someone of a different sex/gender).
Externalized control The source of social control that lies outside of the individual, in the form of individuals, groups, and institutions with the power to sanction behavior, such as parents, teachers, police, governments, and so on.(Back to the Top)
Facial angle The slope of the lower face and jaw away from the flatness of the forehead, used by “scientific racists” to measure the difference between races (the sharper the angle, the more “primitive” the face).
Features In archaeology, the large and non-portable objects or structures created and left by humans, including walls, buildings, roads, canals, and so on.
Female circumcision Also known as female genital mutilation, the practice of cutting off some or all of a female’s external genitalia, for purposes of “beauty” or the regulation of sexual sensations.
Female infanticide The overt killing or neglect until death of female babies. It may also take the form of preferential abortion.
Feminist anthropology The anthropological theory or approach that focuses on how gender relations are constructed in society and how those relations subsequently shape the society. Also examines how gender concepts have affected the science of anthropology itself – the questions it asks and the issues it emphasizes.
Fieldwork The anthropological method of traveling to the society one wants to study and living there for a prolonged period of time to collect data first hand.
First World A term not commonly used anymore for the rich, powerful states in the world that dominate the international political and economic arena and consist basically of the former colonial powers.
Folklore The “traditional,” usually oral literature of a society, consisting of various genres such as myth, legend, folktale, song, proverb, and many others.
Foot-binding A traditional Chinese practice of tying a young girl’s feet tightly so that her feet remained small (and often painful) into adulthood.
Foraging Also known as hunting and gathering, the production of food by collecting wild (undomesticated) animals and plants.
Formal sanction A method of social control employing rewards and punishments that are explicit and well known, often written down, and administered by special agents of control who possess the authority to administer them (such as the police or courts).
Fourth World A collective term for the “traditional,” often small-scale and indigenous non-state societies that live inside states (frequently created by colonialism) that they do not control and in which they are the minority and typically the poorest group.
Free morpheme A morpheme that has meaning in its own right, that can stand alone as a meaningful sound (for the most part, a word).
Functionalism The method, and eventually the theory, that a cultural trait can be investigated for the contribution it makes to the survival of individual humans, the operation of other cultural items, or the culture as a whole.
Fundamentalism A type of cultural/revitalization movement in which members attempt to address perceived social problems or disadvantages by restoring the perceived “fundamentals” or oldest, most important, and most “genuine” elements of culture.(Back to the Top)
Garbalogy The study of contemporary trash to examine how humans make, consume, and discard material objects in the present.
Gender The social categories based on physical sexual characteristics and the meanings, behaviors, and values associated with these categories.
Genealogy Kinship or “blood” and “marriage” information about a society.
Genocide The destruction of a group or society by harming, killing, or preventing the birth of its members.
Geopolitics The use of geographical territory for purposes of maintenance and projection of power; the control of strategic locations in the pursuit of political goals.
Ghost A religious or spiritual being, generally regarded to be the disembodied spiritual part of a deceased human.
Global apartheid The de facto division of the world’s states into rich, powerful, majority-white states and poor, weak and dependent majority-non-white states.
Glocalization A combination of the words “globalization” and “local,” which suggests the unique local and situated forms and effects of widespread and even global processes.
Grammar See syntax.
Gross national product (GNP) The total value of goods and services produced by a society or state.
Gross national product per capita The GNP of a state divided by its population.
Guided reinvention of culture The process by which individuals, ordinarily children, “acquire” ideas, concepts, and skills actively by observing the behavior of others, extracting meanings and rules, and testing those meanings and rules in social situations; fully competent members “guide” the learning by providing models of behavior and correction for inappropriate behaviors.(Back to the Top)
Hacienda The Spanish colonial practice in which land was granted as private property and in which these estates were run both for subsistence production and for the production of cash and export crops.
Hijra A gender concept in India for biological males who regard themselves as neither male nor female; they often play a social role at weddings and childbirths.
Holism The part of the “anthropological perspective” that involves consideration of every part of a culture in relation to every other part and to the whole.
Homo The genus that contains the modern human species (Homo sapiens) as well as several other extinct human species.
Homo erectus An extinct human species that lived from approximately 1.8 million years ago until a few hundred thousand years ago or perhaps even more recently.
Homo habilis An extinct human species that lived from over 2 million years ago until less than 2 million years ago. They are also known as the first stone toolmakers.
Homo sapiens The species name for modern humans.
Honor killing The killing, usually of females, when their behavior has brought shame or dishonor on a family, such as premarital sex or “dating” outside the preferred categories.
Honorifics Language forms specialized to indicate the relative social status or relationship of the speakers.
Horticulture A production system based on low-technology farming or gardening, without the use of plows, draft animals, irrigation, or fertilizers.
Household All the people who live in the same house or compound of houses and act for some or all purposes as a corporate group.
Hypergamy The marriage practice of marrying “up” with a spouse in a higher status, class, or caste than oneself.(Back to the Top)
Identity politics The organization and mobilization of groups and parties on the basis of shared cultural characteristics, such that these groups and parties are seen to share an “identity” and to pursue economic, political, and cultural goals for and in the name of those who share that identity.
Imperialism The pursuit of territorial and political domination of foreign lands and peoples (building an “empire”), known since ancient history but reaching its greatest extent in the late phase of European colonialism.
Import substitution A development policy aimed at producing domestically what the state or society currently imports from other states (i.e., substituting its own local products for imported products).
Incest taboo The near universal rule against marrying or having sex with “kin.”
Informal sanction A “reward” or “punishment” that is widely understood in a society but is not precisely defined, usually not written down, and for which no specialized role exists to administer the sanction.
Innovation The invention or discovery of a new cultural concept, idea, behavior, or object.
Intensive agriculture The production of food by use of complex and high-yield methods like irrigation, fertilizer, draft animals, and permanent fields.
Internal colonialism The practice in which a society (usually a state) penetrates and occupies territory within its jurisdiction (normally inside its borders) but that contains peoples who do not identify as and with the occupying society. In some usages, it can also refer to the condition in which colonized peoples internalize in their own minds and personalities the institutions and values of colonialism.
Internalized control A form or source of social control in which individuals make themselves conform to social expectations through the internalization of rules and norms; by enculturation, social rules and norms become part of the personalities of members.
Irredentism A revitalization movement to reclaim a lost homeland.(Back to the Top)
Jihad versus McWorld Benjamin Barber’s notion that two opposing but related forces operate in the modern world, one to integrate the world into a single market dominated by a few multinational corporations, and the other to disintegrate the world into exclusivist and often hostile cultural or national groups.(Back to the Top)
Kindred An ego-centered (that is, reckoned from the perspective of some particular individual) category of persons related by kinship, especially in bilateral societies, including members from “both sides” of the family in older and younger generations.
Kinesics The study of how body movements are used to communicate social information, sometimes referred to as “body language.”(Back to the Top)
Leveling mechanism A practice to establish or re-establish social equality or parity, usually by “bringing down” individuals or groups that threaten to get “above” or “better than” others.
Levirate A marriage practice in which the brother of a deceased man is expected to marry his brother’s widow.
Liminality The condition of being “in between” or “on the margins” of social roles, in particular of being in transition (as during ritual) between one social role and another.
Lineage A kinship-based corporate group composed of members related by descent from a known ancestor.
Linguistic anthropology The study of the diversity of human language in the past and present, and its relationship to social groups, practices, and values.
Linguistic relativity hypothesis The claim that language is not only a medium for communication about experience but actually a more or less powerful constituent of that experience. Language consists of concepts, relations, and values, and speakers of different languages approach and interpret reality through different sets of concepts, relations, and values. Also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.(Back to the Top)
Market-dominant minority “Ethnic minorities who, for widely varying reasons, tend under market conditions to dominate economically, often to a startling extent, the ‘indigenous’ majorities around them” (Chua 2003: 6).
Market exchange A form of distribution based on the use of a specialized location (the “marketplace”) and relatively impersonal principles of supply and demand and the pursuit of profit.
Marriage A cultural institution joining two or more persons into a socially recognized, long-term relationship for personal, sexual, childbearing, political, and/or economic purposes.
Marxist/critical anthropology The theory, based on the work of Karl Marx, which emphasizes the material and economic forces that underlie society, relying on notions of power and inequality, modes of production, and class relations and conflicts.
Matrilineal descent A descent system in which lineage relations are traced through a line of related females. Children belong to their mother’s corporate group.
Matrilocality The residence practice of living with or near the wife’s family after marriage.
Mercantilism An early modern European economic and political system in which wealth and power were determined by possession of gold and a favorable balance of trade with each other.
Microfinancing A recent development approach which provides very small loans directly to poor individuals or families in poor states so that they can start small businesses or expand their already-existing businesses.
Millenarianism A type of revitalization movement aimed at preparing for and perhaps bringing about the end of the “present era,” however that era is understood, and replacing it with a new and better existence.
Miscegenation A term for the undesirable effects of the mixing of different genetic types or populations, especially race groups. Often refers to the very notion of mixing the races.
Modal personality The statistically most commonly occurring personality traits in a society.
Mode of production The activities and tools a society employs to satisfy its material needs. The form of “work” or “labor” that is performed in a society.
Modernism A type of revitalization movement intended to adopt the characteristics of a foreign and “modern” society, in the process abandoning some or all of the “traditional” characteristics of the society undergoing the movement.
Modernization theory The theory that the improvement of economic and social conditions in poor states entails the creation of “modern” (generally understood as Western-like) institutions, values, and habits. Also, the specific processes or policies by which this form of social change can occur. W. W. Rostow offers one of the most complete and well-known modernization theories.
Moiety One of the “halves” of a society, when kin groups are combined in such a way as to create a binary division within society.
Monoculture The specialization of production of only one crop or product for which a territory is particularly suited. This can involve food crops like corn or rice, or raw materials like lumber, coffee, rubber, tea, and so on.
Monogamy The marriage rule in which an individual may have only one spouse.
Monotheism The form of theism that includes belief in only one god/goddess.
Morpheme The smallest bit of meaningful sound in a language, usually a word but also a prefix or suffix or other meaning-conveying sound that may be used in conjunction with a word.
Morphology The area of language dealing with how meaningful bits (usually but not exclusively words) are created and manipulated by the combination of language sounds.
Mousterian The stone tool technology associated with Neandertals, first appearing less than 130,000 years ago.
Multilateral development institutions Organizations like the World Bank (officially the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and the International Monetary Fund that were established and are funded and operated by more than one government for the purpose of disbursing money, advice, and technology in the pursuit of development.
Multinational state A state that contains some or all of two or more distinct nations or cultural groups.
Multiple modernities The perspective that “modernity” as known in the Western tradition is not the only possible form of modern society, and that other societies can and will devise their own particular experience of and response to modern/global forces.
Multi-state nation A nation or cultural group that is divided across two or more state borders.
Myth A narrative, usually of the activities of supernatural beings, often telling of how some or all of the natural or social world was established. In addition to an “explanation” of origins, it also provides a “charter” or model for how humans should live today.(Back to the Top)
Nation A corporate group that shares an identity based on such traits as history, culture, territory, and so on, and that recognizes a shared political destiny. A group that is politically mobilized to achieve certain goals, usually including political recognition, rights, and sometimes an independent state.
Nation-state A people with a shared identity and culture (a nation) who possess their own territory and state government, or a state-level political system that contains all and only members of one nation.
National character The alleged common personality characteristics of an entire society or country; especially applied to modern societies or nation-states.
Nationalism A social movement to achieve recognition, rights, and sometimes an independent state for a nation.
Nativism A type of revitalization movement aimed at perpetuating, restoring, or reviving “traditional” cultural practices or characteristics, which are thought to be the source of the group’s strength and to be threatened or lost.
Neandertal The species or subspecies of Homo that first appeared around 130,000 years ago and is associated with the cold climate of Europe. They became extinct in the last 35,000 to 40,000 years and are generally not regarded as direct human ancestors, although this interpretation is still somewhat controversial.
Neo-evolutionism The mid-twentieth-century revival of focus on the historical development of cultures and societies, as in the work of Leslie White and Julian Steward, which generally sought to repair the failings of nineteenth-century evolutionism by proposing specific processes and a “multilinear” path of change.
Neolithic The “New Stone” age, beginning around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago with the first animal and plant domestication.
Neolocality The residence practice in which married people start their own household apart from their parents’ or families’ households.
Noble savage The notion, often associated with Rousseau, that non-Western or “primitive” people are actually happier and more virtuous than Westerners. Based on the idea that humans are free and equal in “a state of nature” but that social institutions deprive them of that freedom and equality.(Back to the Top)
Office A more or less formal social position with specific rights and responsibilities. One source of “political” authority and social control.
Offshoot nation A national group that emerges as a local or historical branch of an older and larger group, eventually pursuing its own cultural and political identity and interests.
Oldowan The earliest known stone tool technology, associated with Homo habilis and named for the location of its discovery, Olduvai Gorge in East Africa.
One-world culture The idea that all of the peoples and cultures of the world are becoming (or should become) more similar, to the point at which all humans share a single culture. Often attributed to globalization and the universal access to technology and cultural images (like American movies), it assumes that disparate groups will continue to become more similar until all groups share the same basic values, tastes, and media.
Oracle A religious specialist (or any religious object or process) with the power to forecast the future or answer questions through communication with or manipulation of supernatural forces.
Overurbanization The growth of large cities without the infrastructure to handle the urban populations, especially when a disproportionate amount of the state’s population lives in one or a few such cities.
Pantheism A form of theism in which it is believed that “everything” is God, that the universe and all of the material world is the same thing as God, that God is “immanent” in and co-extensive with the physical world.
Paralanguage The qualities which speakers can add to language to modify the factual or social meaning of speech, such as tone of voice, volume, pitch, speed and cadence, and “non-linguistic” sounds like grunts and snickers.
Participant observation The anthropological field method in which we travel to the society we want to study and spend long periods of time there, not only watching but joining in their culture as much as possible.
Pastoralism A productive system based on domesticated animals as the main source of food.
Patrilineal descent A descent system in which lineage relations are traced through a line of related males. Children belong to their father’s corporate group.
Patrilocality The residence practice of living with or near the husband’s family after marriage.
Peasant An out-of-favor term for rural and agricultural peoples who live in but are peripheral to a centralized and often urbanized society. The peasants provide the food for the society but generally have the least power and wealth in the society.
Performatives Linguistic utterances that do not merely describe but actually accomplish a transformation in the social world.
Periphery In dependency or world systems theory, the societies and states that have the least wealth and power and the least influence on the practices and policies in the global economy.
Personality The ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving characteristic of a particular individual.
Persuasion A source of social and political power, based on the ability to move people to agree with or obey the persuader. Often exercised through linguistic skill (e.g., the ability to “give a good speech”) and the manipulation of resources and social relationships.
Phenotype The observable physical traits of an individual, based on the expression of the internal and not directly observable genetic make-up of the individual (the genotype).
Phoneme The smallest bit of sound in a language.
Phonology The study of the sounds used in a language.
Phratry A kinship-based corporate group composed of two or more clans that recognize common ancestry.
Physical anthropology The study of the diversity of human bodies in the past and present, including physical adaptation, group or “race” characteristics, and human evolution.
Pidgin A simplified version of a language that is usually used for limited purposes, such as trade and economic interactions, by non-native speakers of the language (as in Melanesian pidgin versions of English). Usually an incomplete language that is not the “first” language of any group.
Plural society A society that contains various cultural groups. Such groups often occupy “niches” in the broader social system, such that the groups do not interact with each other except in limited and often mutually exploitive ways.
Pluralism The co-existence of multiple social/cultural groups in the same society or state.
Polyandry The marriage rule in which a woman marries two or more men.
Polygyny The marriage rule in which a man marries two or more women.
Polytheism The religious belief in two or more gods.
Popular culture Often contrasted with “high” or “official” culture, the cultural practices and creations of “the people.” Often used as a pejorative term to indicate the poor quality and low intelligence of such culture, in the contemporary world it has also become an important and vibrant form of culture, although one that is not entirely “of the people,” in the sense that large corporations often create and disseminate it.
Post-modernism A form of life or way of thinking, and the theory of these, of the mid- to late twentieth century, in which earlier notions of unity, progress, reason, and the increasing integration of peoples and societies break down and are replaced by plurality, “irrationality” or emotion or tradition, decentering, and cultural disintegration.
Potential nation A group that has not yet achieved national integration and self-consciousness but that is in the process of achieving them or has the characteristics necessary to achieve them.
Pragmatics The rules or practices regarding how language is used in particular social situations to convey particular social information, such as the relative status or power of the speakers.
Prayer A form of linguistic religious ritual in which humans are believed to speak to and interact with supernatural beings.
Preferential cousin marriage The marriage principle that a person ought to marry a “cousin,” that is, a child of one’s mother’s sibling or one’s father’s sibling.
Prenational group A social group that has not yet achieved the mobilization and self-awareness that characterize a nation.
Priest A religious specialist, often full-time, who is trained in a religious tradition and acts as a functionary of a religious institution to lead ritual and perpetuate the religious institution.
Primary innovation The invention or discovery of a totally original cultural item, as opposed to secondary innovation.
Primary production The production of raw materials in the form of farming, mining, foresting, and so on.
Primate The term for the classification of mammals, including prosimians, monkeys, apes, and humans, that share a collection of physical characteristics including a distinct tooth pattern, five-fingered hands, a tendency toward erectness of the spine, large eyes and good vision, and a relatively large brain in relation to body weight, among others.
Primatology The study of the physical and behavioral characteristics of the category of species called primates.
Primitive mentality The idea, associated with Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, that non-Western and “primitive” peoples possessed a distinctly different, “pre-logical” mode of thought.
Productivity The capacity of language to combine meaningless sounds to create new words or to combine words to create new utterances.
Prophet A human who speaks for or receives messages from spirits.
Prosimian The category with the classification Primate that includes the least derived or “most primitive” species, such as lemurs, lorises, bush babies, galagas, and so on. Most have long tails and protruding snouts, but they exhibit other basic features of primates.
Proxemics The study of how cultures use personal space (or “proximity”).
Psychic unity of humanity The attitude that all humans regardless of culture share the same basic thought processes.
Psychological anthropology The subdiscipline within anthropology which explores the relationship between mental processes and cultural processes.
Purdah The practice of “wearing the veil” in many Muslim countries, in which women are expected to keep some parts of their body covered in public – in some instances the head, in other instances the entire body other than the eyes.(Back to the Top)
Racial assimilation A form of assimilation in which the physical traits of a group are lost through intermarriage.
Reciprocity A form of exchange that involves giving and receiving between relative equals and as part of a larger ongoing social relationship.
Redistribution A form of exchange that involves collection of surplus or wealth by a “central” individual, group, or institution that controls how the wealth is redistributed and used.
Relations of production In Marxist theory, the social roles and relationships that are generated by the mode of production, including such things as class, ownership, “management,” and in some lines of thinking “family.”
Relative poverty The possession of less money than others in the same society, or the inability to afford the standard of living of more comfortable individuals or that is believed to be possible or appropriate.
Residence The kinship principle concerning where people live, especially after marriage, and therefore what kinds of residential and corporate groups are found in the society and what tasks and values they are assigned.
Revitalization movement According to Wallace, the deliberate, organized, and self-conscious effort of a society to create a more satisfying culture.
Revolution A more or less sudden, complete, and often violent movement to change a political or social system.
Rite of intensification A form of ritual in which members of the society are brought into greater communion, in which social bonds are intensified.
Rite of passage A form of ritual intended to accompany or accomplish a change of status or role of the participants, such as initiation (change from youth to adult) or marriage.
Ritual Any type of formal, repetitive behavior that is felt to have significance beyond the actions themselves. In particular, religious ritual is often composed of symbols, re-enacts supernatural/mythical events, and is believed to have efficacy if performed correctly.(Back to the Top)
Sacrifice A ritual behavior in which something is destroyed or killed, in the belief that supernatural powers are somehow unleashed.
Sanction Any type of social pressure in the form of “reward” or “punishment” that can be imposed on people to influence and control their behavior.
Sati The traditional Indian practice in which a widow commits suicide by throwing herself on her dead husband’s funeral pyre.
Secondary innovation An invention or discovery that uses or combines existing ideas, objects, or techniques in novel arrangements.
Self The more or less enduring, bounded, and discrete part of an individual’s identity or personality, and the reflexive awareness of this aspect of oneself.
Self-determination The concept that groups with a distinct culture and identity have a right to choose their own political arrangements and their own collective destiny.
Semantics The study of meaning in language. See morphology.
Semi-periphery In world systems theory, the category of states that are not as poor and dependent as the periphery states but that are not as rich and influential as the core states.
Separatism A movement that has as its goal the cultural and/or political disengagement of two groups or societies. A separatist movement often struggles to detach its territory from a multicultural or plural state and establish its own state.
Serial monogamy The marriage practice of having only one spouse at a time but perhaps having more than one spouse, at different times, during one’s life.
Sexual dimorphism The occurrence of two physically distinct forms of a species, based on sexual characteristics as well as non-sexual ones such as body size.
Shaman A religious specialist, often part-time, who has personal power, based on unique life experiences or apprenticeship to a senior shaman, to communicate, interact, and sometimes struggle with supernatural beings or forces. Often a healer.
Slash-and-burn A horticultural practice in which trees and underbrush are cut, left to dry, and then burned as preparation for planting a garden. Also known as swidden.
Social assimilation A form of assimilation in which groups are integrated into the society (for instance, sharing the same jobs or the same neighborhoods), whether or not they share the same culture.
Social control The political and general social function of getting members of a group to conform to expectations and rules and to obey authorities. Includes inculcating of social values as well as punishment of deviance from expectations.
Social impact analysis A fieldwork study of the consequences that a development project or other social change policies have on the affected peoples.
Social mobility The possibility or ease with which one may change position in the social stratification system.
Social reproduction The maintenance and perpetuation of society beyond mere childbearing, including enculturation and teaching of members to take their place in society and day-to-day activities to allow members of the society to perform their specified tasks (including what is sometimes called “housework”).
Social stratification The division of a society into distinct and unequal groups or classes.
Socialization From an anthropological point of view, a synonym for enculturation.
Society A group of humans who live in relative proximity to each other, tend to marry each other more than people outside the group, and share a set of beliefs and behaviors.
Sociocultural appraisal A study examining the appropriateness of a development or other social change project, its likely impact on the various groups affected by it, and the distribution of the benefits that accrue from it.
Sociolinguistics See pragmatics.
Sorcerer A religious specialist who uses techniques, including spells and potions, to achieve supernatural effects.
Sororal polygyny The marriage practice in which a man marries two or more sisters.
Sororate A marriage practice in which a woman is expected to marry the husband of her sister in the event of the married sister’s death.
Soul A religious concept of a non-material component or components of a living human. It is widely believed that a soul survives the death of the body, at least temporarily, and continues in another form of existence.
Sphere of influence In European colonial practice, an area of foreign territory where the power and authority of one European state was recognized.
State A political system or level of integration in which a formal centralized government has power over a delimited territory to make and enforce laws, to establish currency and collect taxes, and to maintain an army and declare war.
State terrorism The use of force and terror by a state government against its own people – either a particular group or minority within the state or the entire population.
Structural assimilation See social assimilation.
Structural adjustment A development policy requiring that the governments which receive development aid must make certain changes to their economic and political practices, such as cutting spending, abolishing subsidies, deregulating business, privatizing previously state-run enterprises, and removing price controls.
Structural functionalism The theory that the function of a cultural trait, particularly an institution, is the creation and preservation of social order and social integration.
Structuralism The theory (associated most closely with Claude Lévi-Strauss) that the significance of an item (word, role, practice, belief) is not so much in the particular item but in its relationship to others. In other words, the “structure” of multiple items and the location of any one in relation to others is most important.
Structured interview A fieldwork method in which the anthropologist administers a prepared set of questions to an informant/consultant.
Subculture A group or subset within a society that is distinguished by some unique aspects of its behavior (such as clothing styles, linguistic usages, or beliefs and values).
Swidden See slash-and-burn.
Symbol An object, gesture, sound, or image that “stands for” some other idea or concept or object. Something that has “meaning,” particularly when the meaning is arbitrary and conventional, and thus culturally relative.
Symbolic anthropology The school of thought (often associated with Clifford Geertz and Victor Turner) that the main goal of anthropology is to elucidate the meanings within which humans live and behave. Rather than focusing on institutions and rules, it focuses on symbols and how symbols shape our experience and are manipulated by people in social situations.
Symbolic capital “Resources” that humans can use to influence situations and affect other people’s behavior that are not “material” or “economic.” These can include knowledge, social relationships/debts, prestige, and so on.
Sympathetic magic The belief and practice that objects which have something in common with each other (e.g., same shape or texture) have some supernatural connection with each other.
Syncretism A type of revitalization movement in which elements of two or more cultural sources are blended into a new and more satisfying cultural arrangement.
Syntax The rules in a language for how words are combined to make intelligible utterances of speech acts (for example, sentences). Also known as grammar.(Back to the Top)
Terra nullius The colonial doctrine of “empty land,” that colonized land was empty of human inhabitants and therefore could be claimed and settled by colonists.
Theism The religious belief in one or more god(s).
Third World A term sometimes used to refer to the economically poor, politically and militarily weak, relatively unstable, and dependent states of the world, most of which emerged from colonialism in fairly recent history.
Totemism A religious conception that human individuals or groups have a symbolic or spiritual connection with particular natural species, objects, or phenomena.
Tradition Some practice or idea or object that is (at least believed to be) continuous or associated with “the past.” A tradition may be very ancient or very recent, but as an ideological element it is often assumed to be important, authentic, and even “superior” to non-traditional (especially foreign) practices, ideas, and objects.
Travesti An alternate gender role in Brazil, in which males take on certain physical traits and sexual behaviors typically associated with females.
Tribe A political system or level of integration in which multiple local communities may be organized into a single system but in which political power is still relatively informal and usually flows from institutions that are not specifically political (such as elders, lineages, age sets, religious specialists, and so on).(Back to the Top)
Unilineal descent A principle in which individuals trace their ancestry through a “line” of related kin (typically a male or a female line) such that some “blood” relatives are included in the descent group or lineage and other relatives are excluded from it.
Unstructured interview A fieldwork method in which the anthropologist conducts a relatively free-flowing conversation with an informant/consultant, either without prepared questions or unconstrained by these questions.(Back to the Top)
Vitalism See modernism.
Vocalizations Non-linguistic sounds that can accompany and affect the meaning of speech.(Back to the Top)
Witch A religious specialist, often conceived as a human with a supernatural ability to harm others, sometimes through possession of an unnatural bodily organ or an unnatural personality. Sometimes viewed as an antisocial and even antihuman type who causes misfortune out of excessive greed or anger or jealousy.
World anthropologies The perspective that anthropology as developed and practiced in the West is not the only form of anthropology, and that other societies may develop and practice other types of anthropology based on their specific experiences and interests.
World systems theory The theory that explains the ongoing poverty and low standard of living in Third World states as the effect of external arrangements and relationships, specifically the global economic and political practices and institutions set up by the “core” of rich, powerful, industrialized states that function to their own advantage but to the disadvantage of the poor, weak, “peripheral” states.(Back to the Top)