Human Universals

Donald E. Brown
Book Cover

HC: $44.95
EAN: 978-0-87722-841-7
Publication: May 91

220 pages

Challenging the assumption that human behavior is primarily determined by culture, Brown hypothesizes about universal traits


Challenging the assumption that human behavior is primarily determined by culture, Donald E. Brown contends that certain behavioral traits are common to human beings everywhere. In Human Universals, he addresses the problems posed for anthropology by the topic of universals, discusses studies that have caused anthropologists to rethink their position, and provides an ethnography of "The Universal People."

Although human universals were of considerable interest to early anthropologists, a later emphasis on sociocultural determinants of behavior produced an ambivalence both toward universals and the concept of human nature. This ambivalence toward universals has persisted since the 1920s. However, six important case studies involving the classification of basic colors, facial expressions of emotion, sex roles, time, adolescent stress, and the Oedipus Complex have reopened this nearly taboo topic.

After he discusses the distinctions between the various kinds of universals, the history of attempts to study universals, and the means by which universality may be demonstrated and explained, Brown presents a list of approximately four hundred human universals in the form of an ethnography that describes any and all peoples known to anthropologists.

Table of Contents


1. Rethinking Universality: Six Cases
Color Classification • Samoan Adolescence • Male and Female among the Tchambuli • Facial Expressions • Hopi Time • The Oedipus Complex Conclusion

2. Conceptualizing, Defining, and Demonstrating Universals

3. The Historical Context of the Study of Universals

4. Explaining Universals
Explaining a Universal with a Universal • Cultural Reflection or Recognition of Physical Fact • Logical Extension from (Usually Biological) Givens • Diffusionist Explanations that Rest upon the Great Age of the Universal and, Usually, Its Great Utility • Archoses • Conservation of Energy • The Nature of the Human Organism, with Emphasis on the Brain • Evolution Theory • Interspecific Comparison • Ontogeny • Partial Explanations

5. Incest Avoidance

6. The Universal People

7. Universals, Human Nature, and Anthropology


About the Author(s)

Donald E. Brown is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.