AskDefine | Define ethnology

Dictionary Definition

ethnology n : the branch of anthropology that deals with the division of humankind into races and with their origins and distribution and distinctive characteristics

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The branch of anthropology that studies and compares the different human cultures.

Related terms


branch of anthropology
  • Czech: etnologie

Extensive Definition

Ethnology (from the Greek , ethnos meaning "family, lineage, people") 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.
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. 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.
Among the goals of ethnology have been the reconstruction of human history, and the formulation of cultural invariants, such as the alleged 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 (including the USA and Great Britain), it is also referred to as cultural or social anthropology. The view of ethnology as a constituent part of cultural anthropology is not universal, though. 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 "discovery of America" had an important role in the new Occidental interest toward the Other, often qualified as "savages", which was either seen as a brutal barbarian or as a "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 anthropophagy as an early example of "ethnology". Lévi-Strauss aimed, through a structural method, at discovering universal invariants in human society, which he thought was the prohibition of the incest. However, the claims of such cultural universalism have been criticized by various 19th and 20th century social thinkers, among the more important include: Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, Althusser and Deleuze.



List of scholars of ethnology

Websites relating to ethnology

ethnology in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Этналёгія
ethnology in Catalan: Etnologia
ethnology in Danish: Etnologi
ethnology in German: Ethnologie
ethnology in Spanish: Etnología
ethnology in Esperanto: Etnologio
ethnology in French: Ethnologie
ethnology in Croatian: Etnologija
ethnology in Italian: Etnologia
ethnology in Hebrew: אתנולוגיה
ethnology in Luxembourgish: Ethnologie
ethnology in Malay (macrolanguage): Etnologi
ethnology in Japanese: 民族学
ethnology in Norwegian: Etnologi
ethnology in Pushto: توکمپوهنه
ethnology in Polish: Etnologia
ethnology in Portuguese: Etnologia
ethnology in Russian: Этнология
ethnology in Slovak: Etnológia
ethnology in Slovenian: Etnologija
ethnology in Serbian: Етнологија
ethnology in Swedish: Etnologi
ethnology in Tamil: இன ஒப்பாய்வியல்
ethnology in Thai: ชาติพันธุ์วิทยา
ethnology in Ukrainian: Етнологія
ethnology in Chinese: 民族学
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