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A. R. Radcliffe-Brown

(1881—1955) social anthropologist


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(1881–1955)

Radcliffe-Brown was one of the most influential of the founding figures of social anthropology, through his teaching in universities in England, North America, South Africa, and Australia. He was less noted for his field studies (see The Andaman Islanders, 1922) than for his teaching, yet he was the first to have an anthropological training as an undergraduate at Cambridge, and the first to hold a Chair in Social Anthropology at Cape Town, Sydney, Oxford, and Chicago.

In his theoretical approach Radcliffe-Brown owed much to Émile Durkheim, stressing the importance of structure in society, and of the functions of different institutions. This has led to criticisms of his approach as too rigid and mechanistic. However, he was clearly an excellent teacher, his influence being represented more by the range of students he influenced than by his (relatively small) published output. He preferred to publish definitive studies of what he called ‘comparative sociology’ that set out the rules governing human social relationships. Probably the most widely read of these works is still Structure and Function in Primitive Society (1952), an accepted classic of social anthropology, setting out clearly many of the concepts that are now taken for granted in the discipline.

Subjects: Sociology.


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