Evolutionist School

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Evolutionist School


in ethnology, a trend that emerged during the formative period of ethnology as a science (second half of the 19th century) under the influence of the doctrine of evolution. Its chief representatives were J. Lubbock, J. McLennan, E. Tylor, and J. Frazer in Great Britain, A. Bastian, W. Wundt, and J. Lippert in Germany, L. H. Morgan in the United States, and D. N. Anuchin, M. M. Kovalevskii, the Kharuzins, and L. Ia. Shternberg in Russia.

The evolutionists considered the universal law of social development to be the evolution of culture from lower forms to higher forms, from savagery to civilization. They combined the progressive idea of the cultural unity of the human race and the use of ethnographic data, as well as mythological, archaeological, and other historical sources, to reconstruct early history with the mistaken assertion of the total similarity of the historical development of different peoples. They viewed history as the sum of the independent evolutions of separate elements of culture and social structure. Most proceeded not from a materialist understanding of the general laws of human history but from the idealist thesis of the “psychic unity” of the human race and its “elementary ideas” (Bastian), which form the basis of every culture. Morgan came close to the materialist explanation of history by examining social progress in relation to the development of the means of existence.

The classics of Marxism used Morgan’s works and the works of other evolutionists in formulating a truly scientific conception of prehistory. Beginning in the late 19th century, the main theses of the evolutionist school were revised in bourgeois ethnology (K. Starke and E. Westermarck). (SeeCULTURAL HISTORY, SCHOOL, OF, and FUNCTIONALISM.) In the mid-20th century, a trend has emerged in American ethnology that makes use of the principal theses of the evolutionist school and correlates them with the latest scientific findings (L. White, J. Steward’s neo-evolutionism).


Kosven, M. O. Matriarkhat: Istoriia problemy. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948.
Tokarev, S. A. Istoriia russkoi etnografii. Moscow, 1966.
Its, R. F. Vvedenie v etnografiiu. Leningrad, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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