Ethnology (from the Greek ἔθνος, ethnos meaning "people, nation, race") is the branch of anthropology that compares and analyzes the origins, distribution, technology, religion, language, and social structure of the ethnic, racial, and/or national divisions of humanity.[1]


Scientific discipline

Compared to ethnography, the study of single groups through direct contact with the culture, ethnology takes the research that ethnographers have compiled and then compares and contrasts different cultures. The term ethnology is credited to Adam Franz Kollár who used and defined it in his Historiae ivrisqve pvblici Regni Vngariae amoenitates published in Vienna in 1783.[2] Kollár's interest in linguistic and cultural diversity was aroused by the situation in his native multi-lingual Kingdom of Hungary and his roots among its Slovaks, and by the shifts that began to emerge after the gradual retreat of the Ottoman Empire in the more distant Balkans.[3]

Among the goals of ethnology have been the reconstruction of human history, and the formulation of cultural invariants, such as the incest taboo and culture change, and the formulation of generalizations about "human nature", a concept which has been criticized since the 19th century by various philosophers (Hegel, Marx, structuralism, etc.). In some parts of the world ethnology has developed along independent paths of investigation and pedagogical doctrine, with cultural anthropology becoming dominant especially in the United States, and social anthropology in Great Britain. The distinction between the three terms is increasingly blurry. Ethnology has been considered an academic field since the late 18th century especially in Europe and is sometimes conceived of as any comparative study of human groups.

The 15th century exploration of America by European explorers had an important role in formulating new notions of the Occidental, such as, the notion of the "Other". This term was used in conjunction with "savages", which was either seen as a brutal barbarian, or alternatively, as "noble savage". Thus, civilization was opposed in a dualist manner to barbary, a classic opposition constitutive of the even more commonly-shared ethnocentrism. The progress of ethnology, for example with Claude Lévi-Strauss's structural anthropology, led to the criticism of conceptions of a linear progress, or the pseudo-opposition between "societies with histories" and "societies without histories", judged too dependent on a limited view of history as constituted by accumulative growth.

Lévi-Strauss often referred to Montaigne's essay on cannibalism as an early example of ethnology. Lévi-Strauss aimed, through a structural method, at discovering universal invariants in human society, chief among which he believed to be the incest taboo. However, the claims of such cultural universalism have been criticized by various 19th and 20th century social thinkers, including Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, Althusser and Deleuze.

The French school of ethnology was particularly significant for the development of the discipline since the early 1950s with Marcel Griaule, Germaine Dieterlen, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jean Rouch.


  • List of scholars of ethnology

See also


  1. ^ Newman, Garfield, et al. (2008). Echoes from the past: world history to the 16th century. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd. ISBN 0-07-088739-X. 
  2. ^ Zmago Šmitek and Božidar Jezernik, "The anthropological tradition in Slovenia." In: Han F. Vermeulen and Arturo Alvarez Roldán, eds. Fieldwork and Footnotes: Studies in the History of European Anthropology. 1995.
  3. ^ Gheorghiţă Geană, "Discovering the whole of humankind: the genesis of anthropology through the Hegelian looking-glass." In: Han F. Vermeulen and Arturo Alvarez Roldán, eds. Fieldwork and Footnotes: Studies in the History of European Anthropology. 1995.


  • Johann Georg Adam Forster Voyage round the World in His Britannic Majesty’s Sloop, Resolution, Commanded by Capt. James Cook, during the Years 1772, 3, 4, and 5 (2 vols), London (1777)
  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, (1949), Structural Anthropology (1958)
  • Marcel Mauss, originally published as Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques in 1925, this classic text on gift economy appears in the English edition as The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies.
  • Maybury-Lewis, David, Akwe-Shavante society. (1967), The Politics of Ethnicity: Indigenous Peoples in Latin American States (2003)[1].
  • Clastres, Pierre, Society Against the State (1974),
  • Pop, Mihai and Glauco Sanga, Problemi generali dell'etnologia europea La Ricerca Folklorica, No. 1, La cultura popolare. Questioni teoriche (Apr., 1980), pp. 89–96

External links

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(treating of the mental as well as of the physical differences of the races of mankind)

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ethnology — Eth*nol o*gy . [Gr. ? nation + logy.] The science which treats of the division of mankind into races, their origin, distribution, and relations, and the peculiarities which characterize them …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • ethnology — (n.) 1842, from ETHNO (Cf. ethno ) + LOGY (Cf. logy). Related: Ethnologist …   Etymology dictionary

  • ethnology — *anthropology, archaeology …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • ethnology — ► NOUN ▪ the study of the characteristics of different peoples and the differences and relationships between them. DERIVATIVES ethnologic adjective ethnological adjective ethnologist noun …   English terms dictionary

  • ethnology — [eth näl′ə jē] n. [ ETHNO + LOGY] the branch of anthropology that studies comparatively the cultures of contemporary, or recent, societies or language groups ethnological [eth΄nə läj′i kəl] adj. ethnologic ethnologically adv. ethnologist n …   English World dictionary

  • ethnology — noun Date: circa 1828 1. a science that deals with the division of human beings into races and their origin, distribution, relations, and characteristics 2. anthropology dealing chiefly with the comparative and analytical study of cultures ;… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • ethnology — ethnological /eth neuh loj i keuhl/, ethnologic, adj. ethnologically, adv. ethnologist, n. /eth nol euh jee/, n. 1. a branch of anthropology that analyzes cultures, esp. in regard to their historical development and the similarities and… …   Universalium

  • ethnology — noun The branch of anthropology that studies and compares the different human cultures. See Also: ethnic, ethnography, ethnologist …   Wiktionary

  • ethnology — The science that compares human culture and/or races; cultural anthropology. * * * eth·nol·o·gy eth näl ə jē n, pl gies 1) a science that deals with the division of human beings into races and their origin, distribution, relations, and… …   Medical dictionary

  • ETHNOLOGY —    a science which treats of the human race as grouped in tribes or nations, but limits itself to tracing the origin and distribution of races, and investigating the physical and mental peculiarities and differences exhibited by men over all… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

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