In older anthropology texts and discussions, a primitive culture is one that lacks major signs of economic development or modernity.

For instance, it might lack a written language or advanced technology and have a limited and isolated population. The term was used by Western writers to describe foreign cultures contacted by European colonists and explorers.

It is also the title of a major work by Edward Burnett Tylor, in which he defines religion as "animism" which, in turn, he defines by reference to contemporary indigenous and other religious data as "the belief in spirits". Another defining characteristic of primitive cultures is a greater amount of leisure time than in more complex societies. [1]

Many early sociologists and other writers portrayed primitive cultures as noble—noble savages—and believed that their lack of technology and less integrated economies made them ideal examples of the correct human lifestyle. Among these thinkers were Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who is most frequently associated with the idea of the noble savage based on his Discourse on Inequality, and Karl Polanyi, who in The Great Transformation praised the economic organization of primitive societies as less destructive than the market economy. The belief that primitive cultures are ideal is often described as primitivism; branches of this theory include primitive communism and anarcho-primitivism.

Many of these writers assumed that contemporary indigenous peoples or their cultures were comparable to the earliest humans or their cultures. Some people still make this assumption. The word "primitive" comes from the Latin "primus" meaning "first", and it was believed by Victorian anthropologists that the so-called primitive contemporary cultures preserved a state unchanged since "stone age" paleolithic or neolithic times.

This assumption has attacked as hunter-gatherer bands have accumulated innovation compared to earlier societies, as do "modern" civilised cultures. Cultural innovation in hunter-gatherer or shifting horticultural cultures is in areas of ceremonial, arts, beliefs, ritual and tradition which usually do not leave cultural artefacts, tools or weapons.

Though belief in the "noble savage" has not disappeared, describing a culture as primitive is sometimes considered offensive today. Use of the term, especially in academic settings, has thus diminished. The Human Rights' Organisation Survival International is campaigning for the complete abolition of the term.[2] and have succeeded in persuading some newspapers to stop using it.[3]

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Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ Farb, Peter (1968). Man's Rise to Civilization As Shown by the Indians of North America from Primeval Times to the Coming of the Industrial State. New York City: E. P. Dutton. p. 28. LCCWp globe tiny E77.F36. "Despite the theories traditionally taught in high-school social studies, the truth is: the more primitive the society, the more leisured its way of life." 
  2. ^
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