It was believed that each society in the world has moved through similar stages of culture, which followed each other in the same order. European way of life was viewed at the top of this evolutionary process and the cultures of the primitive people were treated as representing the earliest stages in the culture of Human Kind.
In 1877, Morgan published his book entitled Ancient Society. In this book he proposed the idea that human society has passed though three major stages of cultural development. Each stage was marked by a major technological breakthrough and other concomitant changes such as the structure of family and the ownership of property, etc.
He named these stages as savagery, barberism and civilization. Later on Morgan’s ideas were used by Fredrich Engels and Karl Marx in a much politicized form.
Cultural parallels were thought to be the product of the idea of the psychic of Mankind—the widely held belief that in terms of psychic make up Man was same everywhere. Consequently, given the same problem.
Man would think out similar solutions. Thus, cultures were supposed to grow through evolution from simpler to complex and cultural parallels were explained to be the outcome of the ‘psychic unity of Mankind’.
If two cultures exhibited similar traits or institutions, the same were referred to as cases of convergent evolution.
Like Morgan, Tylor also emphasized three stages of evolution of culture in terms of Maternal- Maternal-Paternal and paternal stages. He made a similar study of the growth of religious and considered animistic polytheism as the earliest and the simplest form of religion.
This was followed by higher polytheistic ideology culminating into Monotheism. Similarly, A. C. Haddon traced the evolution of art forms from an early realistic stage through geometric to symbolic or abstract forms.
Evidence for all these assertions and conjectural reconstructions were collected from various cultures spread over time and space irrespective of their cultural context. Independent invention was the explanation for similarity of cultural parallelism, while developmental stages explained their differences.
Tylor recognized that culture contact led to the spread of elements from one society to the other a process known as cultural diffusion but in most cases, the uncritical use of the method of comparative analysis and their extremism in the espousal of independent evolution brought them into disrepute.
They closed their eyes to the obvious role of cultural borrowings. They blindly based their studies on the accounts of travelers and missionaries.
‘Visy watt applies their brains to other possible ways of cultural growth and other probable explanations of culture parallels. Assuming that 19th century European way of life represented the highest degree of perfection in the course of Cultural Revolution, they simply exhibited their ethnocentrism.
Universal and Multilinker Evolution:
Every one of the evolutionists also fit in Steward’s second (Universal) category-concerned with culture rather than cultures. Steward’s third type of evolutionism is called multilinker evolutionism which is ‘interested in particular cultures, but instead of finding local variations and diversity, it deals only with those limited parallels of forms function and sequence which have empirical validity.
Various scholars developed modified forms of evolutionism. There is a view that social institutions do not develop in an upward straight line but along parabolic curve.
That is an institution starts in particular form, develops into its opposite and then returns back to its original form but at a different higher level. In the recent past, American anthropologists have again become interested in the problems posed by early evolutionists.
They have been striving towards a new integrated approach in which theoretical contributions of the past formed a new and exciting synthesis taking clues from diffusions studies and also incorporating many acculturation studies of thirties and forties.
Julian Steward developed cultural ecological approach inquiring about the specific relationship of particulars technology to a particular environment. Similarly, borrowing the notion of cumulative development in human culture from the classical Evolutionism of the 19th century, Leslie White emphasized quantitative difference and developed scale ranging from small to large numbers.
Thus, Leslie White asserted that ‘Culture evolved as the amount of energy harnessed per capital, per year is increased’. Morton Frieda’s study of the evolution of social stratification also implied two measures, i.e. a ratio between the positions of prestige available for any given age-sex grade and the number of persons capable of filling them and a ration between strategic resources and the persons having access to them.
Since all these above factors appear to be mutually dependent, the possibility of establishing a master formula relating to all or several of these seems within our grasp.