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(ĕthnŏl`əjē), scientific study of the origin and functioning of human cultures. It is usually considered one of the major branches of cultural anthropologyanthropology,
classification and analysis of humans and their society, descriptively, culturally, historically, and physically. Its unique contribution to studying the bonds of human social relations has been the distinctive concept of culture.
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, the other two being anthropological archaeology and anthropological linguistics. In the 19th cent. ethnology was historically oriented and offered explanations for extant cultures, languages, and races in terms of diffusion, migration, and other historical processes. In the 20th and 21st cent. ethnology has focused on the comparative study of past and contemporary cultures. Since cultural phenomena can seldom be studied under conditions of experiment or control, comparative data from the total range of human behavior helps the ethnologist to avoid those assumptions about human nature that may be implicit in the dictates of any single culture.


See R. H. Lowie, The History of Ethnological Theory (1938); E. A. Hoebel, Man in the Primitive World (1949, 2d ed. 1958); M. Mead, People and Places (1959); B. Schwartz, Culture and Society (1968); C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Culture (1973); E. Hatch, Theories of Man and Culture (1973).

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the comparative historical study of peoples and cultures within their environments.

In the USA and parts of Europe ‘ethnology’ has sometimes served as an all-encompassing concept for human studies, including various mixes of archaeology, study of material culture, linguistics, sociology together with social, cultural, and physical anthropology, which may also include sociology as a sub-part.

There has been resistance to such an overarching view. British social anthropology for example, has usually distanced itself from the all-encompassing ‘grand’ historical view implied by the ethnological enterprise. RADCLIFFE-BROWN and others advocated ethnographic studies of the social organization of peoples in the ‘here and now’ as a methodological departure from ethnologies, and historicism, although retaining a concern for comparative study.

In contrast, American cultural anthropology, following the lead of BOAS and of Kroeber (Anthropology: Race, Language, Culture, Psychology, 1923) has championed the ambitious all-encompassing broad sweep of ethnological enquiry alongside ethnographic studies, as nothing less than the classification and taxonomization of the ‘total’ history of humankind in all its physical, material and cultural manifestations.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000


The science that deals with the study of the origin, distribution, and relations of races or ethnic groups of humankind.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


the branch of anthropology that deals with races and peoples, their relations to one another, their origins, and their distinctive characteristics
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
With such a breadth of material, it is interesting to consider why, in an age when ethnology was largely conducted through surveys, Richards escaped the attention of ethnologists such as Alfred Howitt, Edward H Curr and RH Mathews, none of whom refer to, or cite, Richards in their published works.
By inviting ethnologists to read the debate in this context, Wendling might also be opening the door to challenging perception of intellectual posterities, especially that of Huizinga.
Colin Taylor, the English ethnologist of the Plains Indians, who died in September 2004.
Arranged by region, each group of tales is preceded by a careful explanation of its sources, its original language, and of the ethnologists' efforts to transcribe and/or translate it.
The volume is of especial interest to art historians and ethnologists.
The book is written in Swedish and contains chapters by a Nordic cross-scientific network of gender researchers that includes historians, ethnologists, folklore researchers and a legal expert.
Convinced that the scientific racialism of the American School's ethnologists was being put to the service of legitimating racial hierarchies in the United States, Douglass proclaimed that "the whole argument in defense of slavery, becomes utterly worthless the moment the African is proved to be equally a man with the Anglo-Saxon" (Papers 2: 506).
Actually, it is less an evaluation of his life and works than a defence of Leenhardt against presumed attacks, attributed mainly to Alban Bensa and Roger Boulay, two French contemporary ethnologists with whom Guiart violently disagrees.
Unlike other ethnologists, whose studies of Native religion consisted largely of descriptions of public ceremony with only superficial and dubious explanations, La Flesche collected information about the secret clan initiations and included the lengthy Osage ritual texts which contained the rationale and explanation of their religion.
Today, on the other hand, it is to be found nowhere at all, not even among ethnologists, who appear with any intellectual label whatever, but above all not as practitioners of a science.
Ethnologists are people who study human cultures and describe how they run.