46:Anthropologist of the Fortnight – Melford Elliot Spiro

3 03 2008

Melford Elliot Spiro (born April 26, 1920) is an American cultural anthropologist specializing in psychological anthropology. He is known for his work on the Westermarck effect, and for his studies of the kibbutz. He has conducted fieldwork among the Ojibwa, on Ifaluk atoll in the South Pacific, in Israel, and in Burma (now Myanmar). He was a significant figure in a series of debates over relativism and postmodern theory among American cultural anthropologists in the 1980s and early 1990s, in which he consistently argued for the importance of the comparative method and the appreciation of universal psychological processes, especially child development and unconscious drives. He is also trained as a lay psychoanalyst.

He began his undergraduate career at Northwestern University in philosophy, but soon decided that the empirical and comparative methods of cultural anthropology provided a better approach to answering his questions about human nature. He received his B.A. in anthropology, working with Melville Herskovits, and continued on to graduate study at the University of Pennsylvania with A. Irving Hallowell. He received his Ph.D. in 1950. He later taught at Harvard University and was invited to found the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla, California, in the early 1970s. He has been professor emeritus there since the 1990s. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)


(Special thanks to Jeanne Binning)



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