THE CROSS-CULTURALSURVEY

GEORGE PETER MURDOCK Yale University
F OR A NUMBER

of years, the Institute of Human Relations at Yale

University has been conducting a general program of research in the social sciences, with particular reference to the areas common to, and marginal between, the special sciences of sociology, anthropology, psychology, and psychiatry. In I937, as one of the specific research projects on the anthropological and sociological side of this program, the CrossCultural Survey was organized.' A year of previous experience in collaborating with other social scientists in research and discussion had made it clear to the anthropologists associated with the Institute that the rich resources of ethnography, potentially of inestimable value to workers in adjacent fields, were practically inaccessible to them. Working in the laboratory, the clinic, or the community, the psychologists, sociologists, and others made frequent requests of the cultural anthropologists for comparative data on various aspects of behavior among primitive peoples. Sometimes they wanted perspective, sometimes suggestions, sometimes a check on their own scientific formulations. In trying to assist them, the anthropologists found that they could usually cite a limited number of cases from their own knowledge and give an impressionistic judgment as to the general status of ethnography on the question. For scientists, however, this was often not enough. What guarantee was there that the remembered cases were representative, or the impressions valid? What was needed was access to a dependable and objective sample of the ethnographic evidence. Only rarely was it possible to refer the seeker to an adequate summary of the evidence; in the great majority of instances, he could satisfy his scientific curiosity only by resorting to the vast descriptive literature itself and embarking on a research task of discouraging magnitude. An actual example will illustrate the difficulty. Several years ago, a group of physiologists, working in the laboratory, had come to a series of conclusions with respect to the relationship between periodicity of eating and bodily health as reflected in measurements of weight, stature, etc. It occurred to them that the literature of anthropology should contain data by which their conclusions might be independently tested, and they referred to the author for advice. He was able to tell them that ethnographers customarily report the relevant data on eating habits-the number of meals
1 Based on a paper presented to the American Anthropological Association in Chicagos Dec. 28, I939. For further information on the research program of the Institute of Human Relations, and upon the relation of the Cross-Cultural Survey thereto, see M. A. May, "Report of the Director of the Institute of Human Relations for the Academic Years I937-

I938, I938-i939,"

Bulletinof Yale University, series35, XXVII
36i

(I939),

I-35.

362

AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW

per day, their temporal spacing, the degree of regularity or irregularity in eating, etc.-and that physical anthropologists present the pertinent somatological information. Since the material had been gathered, it could be assembled and the crucial correlations drawn. To have done so, however, would have required several months of research, since the data had nowhere been summarized and it would have been necessary to ransack an immense amount of descriptive literature to assemble it. Understandably enough, the physiologists were discouraged from undertaking this promising but formidable task. Other sciences have systems of abstracts, bibliographical aids, and quantities of secondary collections, by means of which the researcher can quickly track down the pertinent data and acquaint himself with previous research on any subject. With a few notable exceptions,2 anthropology lacks such aids. Its materials are widely scattered in descriptive reports, an immense number of which must be scanned if adequate information is desired on any particular topic. The factual data of sociology are in a similarly chaotic condition. It became apparent, therefore, that if these sciences were to be brought to bear effectively in the cooperative research program of the Institute, a representative sample of the cultural materials on the various societies of the world needed to be organized for ready accessibility on any subject. The Cross-Cultural Survey was developed, in part to fill this need, in part to facilitate a distinctive type of scientific research which will be described below. The first problem was to devise a standard system of classification for the arrangement and use of the collected materials. After six months of preliminary research, with the aid of helpful suggestions from about a hundred anthropologists, sociologists, and other specialists, the author and five collaborators published the Outline of Cultural Materials. Although this manual has proved of some incidental utility in field research, it was in no sense designed for such a purpose. It was written solely as a guide for organizing and filing our abstracted cultural materials, and for facilitating reference to the data already classified and filed. Since the publication of the manual, in I938, the staff of the CrossCultural Survey has been engaged in the actual assembling of materials. To date, the descriptive data on nearly a hundred cultures have been abstracted, classified, and filed. It is hoped ultimately to assemble andorganize all the available cultural information on several hundred peoples,
2 Useful for special purposes are the massive collections of Frazer, Sumner and Keller, Thurnwald, and Westermarck, such classic monographic studies as those of Hahn on domestic animals, Nieboer on slavery, Schurtz on age groupings, and Steinmetz on punishment, and such recent special treatises as that of Clements on theories of disease. These compilations, however, do not lend themselves to the determination of "adhesions" in Tylor's sense, i.e., correlations within a culture indicative of functional relationships, and thus have but limited use in the testing of scientific hypotheses.

THE CROSS-CULTURAL SURVEY

363

who will be adequately distributed with regard to geography and fairly representative of all major types and levels of culture. Although primitive cultureswill preponderate numerically, because they reveal thewidestrange of human behavioral variations, there will be a fair representation of the historical civilizations of the past, of modern folk cultures, and of the communities studied by contemporary sociologists. For each of the cultures analyzed, the entire literature is covered, including manuscript materials when available. In some instances, more than a hundred books and articles have been combed for a single tribe or historical period. All material in foreign languages has been translated into English. The information, if of any conceivable cultural relevance, is transcribed in full-in verbatim quotations or exact translations. The object has been to record the data so completely that, save in rare instances, it will be entirely unnecessary for a researcher using the files to consult the original sources. Mere abstracts are deemed unsatisfactory and are resorted to only in exceptional cases, when the information is excessively detailed or technical. The Outline of Cultural Materials is not a "trait list," nor are the files confined to data on the items listed in it. These items are merely suggestions as to the kinds of material to be filed-or sought-under a particular heading, and they make no pretense of being exhaustive. Special pains are taken to preserve intact the functional relationships of the data. Wherever division according to the categories of the manual would be arbitrary, or would destroy the context, the original account is preserved intact and is filed in one place, with a carbon copy or a cross-reference slip under each other category to which the information is pertinent. Each file, moreover, contains a short synopsis of the total culture to which any note can be referred for context. The collection of organized and classified materials in the files of the Cross-Cultural Survey should prove useful in nearly every type of research which anthropologists and other social scientists have hitherto pursued. If an investigator wishes to study a particular culture, he will find all the data, from whatsoever source, organized conveniently for his use. If he is interested in a topic, he can run through the material under one or more headings for as many cultures as he likes, and secure his information in a mere fraction of the time required to comb the sources for himself. If he desires to test an hypothesis, he can similarly examine the material under two or more categories and obtain a quantitative check in the form of a correlation. A cross-cultural test of the physiologists' hypothesis on the periodicity of eating, alluded to above, could, for example, probably now be made with not more than two days of research. Even regional or distributional studies are possible for areas, like the Gran Chaco of South America, on which the files approach completeness. The Cross-Cultural Survey, in short, should prove useful in a wide variety of scientific researches for which ready access

364

AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW

to a body of organized cultural data is needed. It is intended, of course, to make the material generally available on a cooperative basis. Recent users of the files include-to cite but a few examples-a sociologist analyzing social classes, a psychologist interested in adolescent problems, and a psychiatrist seeking a cultural definition of insanity. In addition to its practical objective of facilitating diverse forms of social science research, the Cross-Cultural Survey has a special theoretical objective. It is organized so as to make possible the formulation and varnfication, on a large scale and by quantitative methods, of scientific generalizations of a universally human or cross-cultural character. Sociologists and most other social scientists regard the establishment of generalizations or "laws," i.e., verified statements of correlations between phenomena, as their primary aim, but anthropologists tend to shy away from theory, as Kluckhohn3 has pointed out, and to confine themselves to historical rather than scientific interpretations of their subject matter. Nevertheless, it seems premature to conclude that anthropology cannot be made a science until, using all known safeguards, we have made at least one serious and systematic attempt to formulate scientific generalizations about man and culture which will withstand a quantitative test. Anthropology has many objectives. That envisaged by the Cross-Cultural Survey is not intended to supplant the others, nor does it lay claim to greater importance. It is simply regarded as legitimate, promising, afid opposed by no insuperable theoretical obstacles. The plan rests, at bottom, on the conviction that all human cultures, despite their diversity, have fundamentally a great deal in common, and that these common aspects are susceptible to scientific analysis. Its theoretical orientation may be expressed in a series of seven basic assumptions. These are not claimed to be original, since many of them are shared by all social scientists, and all of them by many. i. Culture Is Learned. Culture is not instinctive, or innate, or transmitted biologically, but is composed of habits, i.e., learned tendencies to react, acquired by each individual through his own life experience after birth. This assumption, of course, is shared by all anthropologists outside of the totalitarian states, but it has a corollary which is not always so clearly recognized. If culture is learned, it must obey the laws of learning, which the psychologists have by now worked out in considerable detail. The principles of learning are known to be essentially the same, not only for all mankind but also for most mammalian species. Hence, we should expect all cultures, being learned, to reveal certain uniformities reflecting this universal common factor. 2. Culture Is Inculcated. All animals are capable of learning, but man
VI
3 C. Kluckhohn, "The Place of Theory in Anthropological Studies." Philosophy of Science, 328-344. (I939),

THE CROSS-CULTURAL SURVEY

365

alone seems able, in any considerable measure, to pass on his acquired habits to his offspring. We can housebreak a dog, teach him tricks, and implant in him other germs of culture, but he will not transmit them to his puppies. They will receive only the biological inheritance of their species, to which they in turn will add habits on the basis of their own experience. The factor of language presumably accounts for man's preeminence in this respect. At any rate, many of the habits learned by human beings are transmitted from parent to child over successive generations, and, through repeated inculcation, acquire that persistency over time, that relative independence of individual bearers, which justifies classifying them collectively as "culture." This assumption, too, is generally accepted by anthropologists, but again there is an underestimated corollary. If culture is inculcated, then all cultures should show certain common effects of the inculcation process. Inculcation involves not only the imparting of techniques and knowledge but also the disciplining of the child's animal impulses to adjust him to social life. That there are regularities in behavior reflecting the ways in which these impulses are thwarted and redirected during the formative years of life, seems clear from the evidence of psychoanalysis, e.g., the apparent universality of intrafamily incest taboos. 3. CultureIs Social. Habits of the cultural order are not only inculcated and thus transmitted over time; they are also social, that is, shared by human beings living in organized aggregates or societies and kept relatively uniform by social pressure. They are, in short, group habits. The habits which the members of a social group share with one another constitute the culture of that group. This assumption is accepted by most anthropologists, but not by all. Lowie,4 for example, insists that"a culture is invariably an artificial unit segregated for purposes of expediency.... There is only natural unit for the ethnologist-the culture of all humanity at all one periods and in all places . . .." The author finds it quite impossible to accept this statement. To him, the collective or shared habits of a social group-no matter whether it be a family, a village, a class, or a tribe-constitute, not "an artificial unit" but a natural unit-a culture or subculture. To deny this is, in his opinion, to repudiate the most substantial contribution which sociology has made to anthropology. If culture is social, then the fate of a culture depends on the fate of the society which bears it, and all cultures which have survived to be studied should reveal certain similarities because they have all had to provide for societal survival. Among these cultural universals, we can probably list such things as sentiments of group cohesion, mechanisms of social control, organization for defense against hostile neighbors, and provision for the perpetuation of the population. 4. Culture Is Ideational. To a considerable extent, the group habits ot which culture consists are conceptualized (or verbalized) as ideal norms or
4R. H. Lowie, The History of Ethnological Theory, 235-236, New York,
I937.

366

AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW

patterns of behavior. There are, of course, exceptions; grammatical rules, for example, though they represent collective linguistic habits and are thus cultural, are only in small part consciously formulated. Nevertheless, as every field ethnographer knows, most people show in marked degree an awareness of their own cultural norms, an ability to differentiate them from purely individual habits, and a facility in conceptualizing and reporting them in detail, including the circumstances where each is considered appropriate and the sanctions to be expected for nonconformity. Within limits, therefore, it is useful to conceive of culture as ideational, and of an element of culture as a traditionally accepted idea,5 held by the members of a group or subgroup, that a particular kind of behavior (overt, verbal, or implicit) should conform to an established precedent. These ideal norms should not be confused with actual behavior. In any particular instance, an individual behaves in response to the state of his organism (his drives) at the moment, and to his perception of the total situation in which he finds himself. In so doing, he naturally tends to follow his established habits, including his culture, but either his impulses or the nature of the circumstances may lead him to deviate therefrom to a greater or lesser degree. Behavior, therefore, does not automatically follow culture, which is only one of its determinants. There are norms of behavior, of course, as well as of culture, but, unlike the latter, they can be established only by statistical means. Confusion often arises between anthropologists and sociologists on this point. The former, until recently, have been primarily preoccupied with ideal norms or patterns, whereas sociologists, belonging to the same society as both their subjects and their audience, assume general familiarity with the culture and commonly report only the statistical norms of actual behavior. A typical community study like Middletown and an ethnographic monograph, though often compared, are thus in reality poles apart. To the extent that culture is ideational, we may conclude, all cultures should reveal certain similarities, flowing from the universal laws governing the symbolic mental processes, e.g., the worldwide parallels in the principles of magic. 5. Culture Is Gratifying. Culture always, and necessarily, satisfies basic biological needs and secondary needs derived therefrom. Its elements are tested habitual techniques for gratifying human impulses in man's interaction with the external world of nature and fellow man.6 This assumption is an inescapable conclusion from modern stimulus-response psychology. Culture consists of habits, and psychology has demonstrated that habits
I From the point of view of behavioristic psychology, of course, an idea is merely a habit of a special sort, a tendency to react with implicit linguistic or symbolic behavior rather than with overt muscular responses. The underlying mechanisms, e.g., of learning, are similar if not identical. Fundamentally, therefore, our fourth assumption should be subsumed under our first-that culture is learned-as a special case thereof. In view of the importance of symbolic, especially linguistic, behavior in man, however, it has seemed advisable to segregate the ideational point for separate exposition. 6 The only exceptions are partial and temporary ones, with respect to elements of culture in the process of dying out or being supplanted.

SURVEY THE CROSS-CULTURAL

367

persist only so long as they bring satisfaction. Gratification reinforces habits, strengthens and perpetuates them, while lack of gratification inevitably results in their extinction or disappearance. Elements of culture, therefore, can continue to exist only when they yield to the individuals of a society a margin of satisfaction, a favorable balance of pleasure over pain.7 Malinowski has been insisting on this point for years, but the majority of anthropologists have either rejected the assumption or have paid it but inadequate lip service. To them, the fact that culture persists has seemed to raise no problem; it has been blithely taken for granted. Psychologists, however, have seen the problem, and have given it a definitive answer, which anthropologists can ignore at their peril. If culture is gratifying, widespread similarities should exist in all cultures, owing to the fact that basic human impulses, which are universally the same, demand similar forms of satisfaction. The "universal culture pattern" propounded by Wissler8 would seem to rest on this foundation. 6. Culture Is Adaptive. Culture changes; and the process of change appears to be an adaptive one, comparable to evolution in the organic realm but of a different order.9 Cultures tend, through periods of time, to become adjusted to the geographic environment, as the anthropogeographers have shown, although environmental influences are no longer conceived as determinative of cultural development. Cultures also adapt, through borrowing and organization, to the social environment of neighboring peoples. Finally, cultures unquestionably tend to become adjusted to the biological and psychological demands of the human organism. As life conditions change, traditional forms cease to provide a margin of satisfaction and are eliminated; new needs arise or are perceived, and new cultural adjustments are made to them. The assumption that culture is adaptive by no means commits one to an idea of progress, or to a theory of evolutionary stages of development, or to a rigid determinism of any sort. On the contrary, one can agree with Opler,'0 who has pointed out on the basis of his Apache material, that different cultural forms may represent adjustments to like problems, and similar cultural forms to different problems. It is probable, nevertheless, that a certain proportion of the parallels in different cultures represent independent adjustments to comparable conditions. The conception of cultural change as an adaptive process seems to many anthropologists inconsistent with, and contradictory to, the conception of
7 Culture is gratifying, of course, not in an absolute but in a relative sense. To a slave, for example, the submission and drudgery demanded by his status are not actually pleasant; relative, however, to the painful alternative of punishment or death for rebellious behavior, observance of the cultural requirements of his status is gratifying or "reinforcing." Agricultural labor, again, may not be enjoyable in itself, but it is gratifying because it brings rewards, e.g., in food. C. Wissler, Man and Culture, 73-79, New York, I923. See A. G. Keller, Societal Evolution, New York, i9i5. 10 M. E. Opler, "Apache Data concerning the Relation of Kinship Terminology to Social Classification," Amer. Anthropol., n.s., XXXIX (0937), 207-208.

368

AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW

cultural change as an historical process. To the author, there seems nothing inconsistent or antagonistic in the two positions-the "functional" and the "historical," as they are commonly labeled. On the contrary, he believes that both are correct, that they supplement one another, and that the best anthropological work emerges when the two are used in conjunction. Culture history is a succession of unique events, in which later events are conditioned by earlier ones. From the point of view of culture, the events which affect later ones in the same historical sequence are often, if not usually, accidental, since they have their origin outside the continuum of culture. They include natural events, like floods and droughts; biological events, like epidemics and deaths; and psychological events, like emotional outbursts and inventive intuitions. Such changes alter a society's life conditions. They create new needs and render old cultural forms unsatisfactory, stimulating trial and error behavior and cultural innovations. Perhaps the most significant events, however, are historical contacts with peoples of differing cultures, for men tend first to ransack the cultural resources of their neighbors for solutions to their problems of living, and rely only secondarily upon their own inventive ingenuity. Full recognition of the historical character of culture, and especially of the role of diffusion, is thus a prime prerequisite if a search for cross-cultural generalizations is to have any prospect of success. It is necessary to insist, however, that historical events, like geographic factors, exert only a conditioning rather than a determining influence on the course of culture. Man adjusts to them, and draws selectively upon them to solve his problems and satisfy his needs. 7. Culture Is Integrative. As one product of the adaptive process, the elements of a given culture tend to form a consistent and integrated whole. We use the word "tend" advisedly, for we do not accept the position of certain extreme functionalists that cultures actually are integrated systems, with their several parts in perfect equilibrium. We adhere, rather, to the position of Sumner" that the folkways are "subject to a strain of consistency with each other," but that actual integration is never achieved for the obvious reason that historical events are constantly exerting a disturbing influence. Integration takes time-there is always what Ogburn'2 has called a "cultural lag"-and long before one process has been completed, many others have been initiated. In our own culture, for example, the changes wrought in habits of work, recreation, sex, and religion through the introduction of the automobile are probably still incomplete. If culture is integrative, then correspondences or correlations between similar traits should repeatedly occur in unrelated cultures. Lowie,'3 for example, has pointed out a number of such correlations.
W. G. Sumner, Folkways, 5-6, Boston, i906. W. F. Ogburn, Social Change,200, New York, I 922. 13 R. H. Lowie, Primitive Society, New York, i920.
12

THE CROSS-CULTURAL SURVEY

369

If the seven fundamental assumptions outlined above, or even any considerable proportion of them, are valid, then it must necessarily follow that human cultures in general, despite their historical diversity, will exhibit certain regularities or recurrences which are susceptible to scientific analysis, and which, under such analysis, should yield a body of scientific generalizations. A primary objective of the Cross-Cultural Survey is to formulate and test generalizations of this sort. The first methodological step will be the logical elaboration of hypotheses. From whatever source derived-from generalizations advanced by anthropologists and sociologists, from psychological theory, or from leads found in the material-the hypotheses will be subjected to rigorous logical analysis and worked over into a series of basic postulates and testable theorems. By this procedure, the most effective of scientific methods, all logical or deductive operations are performed prior to the empirical test; there remain no fallible logical steps to be taken after the inductive labor is completed-a weakness which has vitiated much comparative anthropology. The second step will be the verification of the theorems. A postulate can stand only if every theorem derived from it checks with the facts; if even a single one fails in this test, the postulate falls. The verification will be quantitative. In scientific anthropology, it would seem, there is safety in numbers. Only if one deals with a large number of cases can one expect to encompass all the significant causal factors, occurring in various permutations and combinations, estimate by statistical means their relative efficacy, and segregate by their quantitative preponderance the universal or crosscultural factors from the local or historical ones. In testing each theorem, it is intended to use an adequate number of cases, preferably at least two hundred tribes if possible, selected from the files as the fairest sample feasible of all known cultures. In so far as possible, they will be chosen in equal numbers from all continents and all culture areas, including a representative selection of historical and modern civilizations. Each theorem will be posed to all the cases in terms of an anticipated correlation between two traits or aspects of culture, and the positive and negative results will be tabulated and expressed in terms of some reliable statistical coefficient. If, for each of a set of theorems, the coefficients obtained are positive in sign and significant in quantity, the postulate in question will be regarded as tentatively verified. The third step will be a critical analysis of the results from an areal or distributional point of view. A valid cross-cultural hypothesis should hold true in any area. If, however, some areas are discovered to yield negative coefficients, while other areas with a larger total number of cultures yield positive coefficients, it must be concluded that the apparent statistical confirmation of the hypothesis is fictitious and accidental, and the hypothesis must either be rejected entirely or modified and tested again. To survive,

370

AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW

therefore, any generalization will have to pass two tests-a quantitative statistical one and an analytical historical one. The fourth step will be a detailed examination of all exceptional or negative cases. To a valid scientific principle, there are no exceptions; apparent exceptions are always due to the intrusion of another countervailing principle. Thus, water always obeys the law of gravity, which causes it to flow downhill. In all cases where water moves in the opposite direction, as in osmosis, capillary attraction, evaporation, the siphon, and the hydraulic ram, the law of gravity is still in operation but its influence is counteracted by some other force or principle. Similarly, a valid cultural principle should have no real exceptions. This makes it important to examine carefully all seeming exceptions. If countervailing factors are not found, the principle becomes suspect. One example may be cited from ethnography. The functional association of an Omaha type of kinship system with patrilineal sibs appears to be a valid cultural principle, yet Wagner'4 has reported an Omaha system for the Yuchi, who are known to have had matrilineal sibs. Eggan cites evidence, and Speck'5 agrees with him, that the Yuchi formerly possessed a Crow type of kinship system, which is functionally associated with matrilineal sibs, and that they shifted to an Omaha system only in relatively recent times in consequence of close contacts with Central Algonkian tribes like the Shawnee, who are patrilineal and possess kinship systems of Omaha type. Presumably, the Yuchi have changed too recently for the integrative process to have run its course. Thus, the apparent exception is not a real one, and the principle is not negated. An hypothesis, all of whose seeming exceptions can be explained in some such fashion as this, may be regarded as finally validated-subject always, of course, to correction as new evidence comes in. The Cross-Cultural Survey, it may be said in conclusion, is designed to contribute in several ways to scientific research in the disciplines concerned with cultural phenomena. It can answer specific questions of fact with a minimum of time-wasting labor. It can reveal gaps in the ethnographical record and thus suggest what groups should be restudied and what hitherto unreported data should be gathered in the field. It can subject existing theoretical hypotheses about collective human behavior to a quantitative test, and can be used to formulate and verify new social science generalizations. In short, it should prove helpful in nearly every type of research requiring an organized and classified body of cultural materials.
14 G. Wagner, "Yuchi," Handbookof

American Indian Languages, 111, 339-340, New York,

'934.
15F. G. Speck, "Eggan's Yuchi Kinship Interpretations," Amer. Anthropol., n.s., XLI
(i939), I7I-I72.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful