Adam Kuper’s iconoclastic intellectual history argues that the idea of “primitive society” is a western myth. The “primitive” is imagined as the opposite of the “civilised”. But this is a protean myth. As ideas about civilisation change, so the image of primitive society must be adjusted.
By way of fascinating account of classic texts in anthropology, ancient history and law, Kuper reveals how this myth underpinned academic research and inspired political programmes. Its ancestry is traced back to classical western beliefs about barbarians and savages, and Kuper also tackles the latest version of the myth, the idea of a global identity of “indigenous peoples”.
The Reinvention of Primitive Society is a key text in the history of anthropology, and will interest anyone who has puzzled about the very idea of “primitive society” – and so, by implication, about “civilisation”.
Table of Contents
PART ONE: THE IDEA OF PRIMITIVE SOCIETY
1. The Myth of Primitive Society
2. Barbarian, Savage, Primitive
PART TWO: ANCIENT LAW, ANCIENT SOCIETY AND TOTEMISM
3. Henry Maine’s Patriarchal Theory
4. Lewis Henry Morgan and Ancient Society
5. The Question of Totemism
PART THREE: EVOLUTION AND DIFFUSION – BOAS, RIVERS AND RADCLIFFE-BROWN
6. The Boasians and the Critique of Evolutionism
7. From Rivers to Radcliffe-Brown
PART FOUR: DESCENT AND ALLIANCE
8. Descent Theory: a Phoenix From the Ashes
9. Towards the Intellect: Alliance Theory and Totemism
PART FIVE: BACK TO THE BEGINNING
10. The return of the native
Adam Kuper is a centennial professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, and a visiting professor at Boston University, USA. A specialist on the ethnography of Southern Africa, he has written widely on the history and theory of anthropology.