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A Critical Examination of Evolutionary Theory in Prehistoric Kinship Research
Evolutionary theory in linguistics and anthropology developed under European colonialist mentalities of innate racial and cultural difference (whereby genes = culture = language) used to justify interventions and abuses, and subsequently to foment racist and ethnic nationalisms. In our contemporary context, do anthropological uses of those same evolutionary models to organize and interpret data - albeit more sophisticatedly - run the risk of perpetuating racial or culturalist ideologies? This essay critically examines the common contemporary ethnological uses of phylogenetic and other evolutionary models in research on prehistoric kinship: their theoretical assumptions, methods, and conclusions. Though in no way suggesting that contemporary thinkers are using the evolutionist models with the same mindsets and ends as the originators, the author argues the perspectives are not only anachronistic within anthropology, but also there are numerous problematic assumptions in the analyses in light of ethnographic knowledge and that some of the 19th century characterizations of humans are perpetuated, which may unintentionally mislead non-anthropologists seeking to understand the topic. The essay suggests that in order to build solidarity across cultures while confronting global inequalities and emerging racial and ethnic nationalisms, we must also occasionally pause to critically examine the problems and potential messages behind our theoretical perspectives.