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Human Universals Paperback – January 1, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0070082090 ISBN-10: 007008209X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages; 1 edition (January 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 007008209X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0070082090
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Author

In the course of co-teaching a seminar on primate and human sexuality with my colleague Donald Symons he presented a proposed list of pan-cultural human sex differences.  I bet him on the spot that I could find an ethnographically-described society in which all those traits were reversed.  I lost that bet.  At about the same time I noted a few studies published in a short period of time that each overthrew some classic anthropological account of a society that purportedly exhibited the opposite of what westerners might assume to be universal.  All this led me to question the strong cultural-relativist position that I (and the majority of anthropologists) had largely taken for granted.
I decided to look into the evidence and reasoning that might support more attention to human universals than they were then receiving.  The result was this book and a few papers that expand on one or another facets of the matter. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

Challenging dominant assumptions of cultural relativism, Donald E. Brown contends that certain behavioral traits are common to human beings everywhere.  In Human Universals he addresses the problems posed for anthropology by the topic of universals, discusses studies that have caused anthropologists to rethink their position, and provided an ethnography of "The Universal People."

Although human universals were of considerable importance to early anthropologists, a later emphasis on sociocultural determinants of behavior produced an ambivalence toward both universals and the concept of human nature.  This ambivalence toward universals has persisted since the 1920s; however, six important case studies involving the classification of basic colors, facial expressions of emotion, sex roles, time, adolescent stress, and the Oedipus Complex have reopened discussion of this nearly taboo topic.

After discussing the distinctions between the various kinds of universals, the history of attempts to study universals, and the means by which universality may be demonstrated and explained, Brown presents a list of some four hundred human universals in the form of an ethnography that describes any and all peoples known to anthropologists.  In his conclusion the author charges that, in making universals and human nature virtual non-subjects, anthropology has not adequately performed its major task.  While the field has demonstrated well how people vary, it has not provided a sense of the ways in which they are all alike. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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More About the Author

Born and raised in South Dakota but long a resident of California. Higher degrees from UCLA and Cornell. Doctoral research in Brunei. Professor of anthropology at UCSB from 1969 until retirement in 1994. Professor Emeritus at present. Orchid hobbyist (Don Brown).

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Austen Morris on April 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a comprehensive survey of the anthropological study of human universals, human nature, culture vs. biology, etc. It's also a critique of the field of anthropology, and one given from a refreshing outside-looking-in perspective. Brown deals with several influential cases (such as Margaret Mead's study of Samoan adolescence) and shows where they erred. He discusses the processes of defining and demonstrating universals, takes us on a grand tour of the history of universals in anthropology, presents the basic gamut of how universals have been and can be explained. In the final chapters he lays out his position and leaves cultural relativism thoroughly refuted. Cultural relativists, he demonstrates, have relied on universals even in their attempts to show cultural relativity. Among even the most dissimilar human languages, for example, the similarities (grammar, syntax, rhythm, content, etc.) still far outweigh the differences. Anthropologists have historically focused on the differences while remaining blind to the (often more fundamental and important) similarities. I'm a little leery of some of the traits Brown ends up calling universal; he does acknowledge the "working" nature of such a list. But what precisely shall be found to be universal is less important than simply the shift to an orientation that would seek to understand human nature in such terms. This is what Brown proposes. He understands the place of anthropology in the social sciences, the field's potential, where and how that potential has gone unrealized, and how anthropologists will need to alter their approach if they're to be fruitful in the future. I haven't even scraped the surface here; the book is a gold mine of interdisciplinary connections and it brims with insights.Read more ›
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a very welcome counterbalance to the many voices that stress differences among cultures at the cost of losing sight of what we humans share. With extensive use of anthropological studies, Brown alerts the reader to those almost innumerable and too easily taken-for-granted elements of humanity. We all smile when happy, mourn the loss of a child, negotiate a place in a social setting with specific traditional roles. We all eat, experience hunger, learn which foods are acceptable, connect eating with social occasions, use food-related activities as basic metaphors for aspects of life. (The annotated bibliography is especially good for its lists of shared human factors.) Those who stress differences among people now usually do so to promote tolerance of "the other." But a good basis for tolerance is to recognize the common humanness within all the differences. This book does that well. It is good but highly readable anthropology.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a very welcome counterbalance to the many voices that stress differences among cultures at the cost of losing sight of what we humans share. With extensive use of anthropological studies, Brown alerts the reader to those almost innumerable and too easily taken-for-granted elements of humanity. We all smile when happy, mourn the loss of a child, negotiate a place in a social setting with specific traditional roles. We all eat, experience hunger, learn which foods are acceptable, connect eating with social occasions, use food-related activities as basic metaphors for aspects of life. (The annotated bibliography is especially good for its lists of shared human factors.) Those who stress differences among people now usually do so to promote tolerance of "the other." But a good basis for tolerance is to recognize the common humanness within all the differences. This book does that well. It is also highly readable anthropology.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Tim Cooper on June 2, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I thought I would add a comment to the others already here to say that in the ten years or so since the reviews above, this book is still relevant. While not an academic in the field, I'm fairly sure I'm right in saying that human universals have now re-surfaced as a major question in psychology with the recent paper by Henrich et al. on the incredible extent to which all modern (western) sociology and psychology is based on "WEIRD" (western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic)subjects - the vast majority of them 1st or 2nd yr American phsychology undergrads. Read the two together and you have enough questions for several PhDs.... enjoy.
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