Cross-Cultural Analysis

By Heath Kinzer and Judith L. Gillies

Basic Premises

The basic premise of Cross-Cultural Analysis is that statistical cross-cultural comparisons can be used to discover traits shared between cultures and generate ideas about cultural universals.   Cross-cultural analysts create hypotheses and consult data into order to draw statistical correlations about the relationships among certain cultural traits.  The approach was developed by early cultural evolutionists (namely E. B. Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan) and was later greatly advanced by George Peter Murdock, who compiled the work of many ethnographic studies into one database that came to be known as the Human Relation Area Files (HRAF).  Today, the journal of Cross-Cultural Research is the premiere locale for published works using cross-cultural analysis.

Early approaches to cross-cultural analysis focused on the concept of cultural evolution , the notion that all societies progress through an identical series of distinct evolutionary stages. Among the cultural evolutionists, Edward Burnett Tylor proposed  three basic stages of culture among humans: (1) savagery, (2) barbarism, and (3) civilization. Although this seems crude and ethnocentric, it offered an advance over the biological/theological belief that  more primitive societies were at lower stages of development because they had fallen from grace(According to Comte Joseph de Maistre hunter-gatherers  degenerated to their state,  making them technologically as well as intellectually inferior to other cultures . On the other end, European society, especially Victorian England, was seen as the prime example of civilization.

While Tylor (Primitive Culture, 1871) foregrounded cultural evolution in England, the American Louis Henry Morgan (1818–1881) arrived at his own ideas of the levels of society.  Discontented with Tylor’s overly simplified classifications of the stages of cultural development, Morgan divided both savagery and barbarism into lower, middle, and upper periods, and he defined each period by the adoption of significant technologies.  The stages of cultural development posed by Morgan in Ancient Society are shown below (Morgan 1877:12).

  • lower savagery: began with earliest humanity- fruits and nuts subsistence
  • middle savagery: began with discovery of fishing technology and the use of fire
  • upper savagery: began with bow and arrow
  • lower barbarism: began with pottery making
  • middle barbarism: began in Old World with the domestication of plants and animals / in the New World with the development of irrigation cultivation
  • upper barbarism: began with smelting iron and the use of iron tools
  • civilization: began with the invention of a phonetic alphabet and writing 

While Morgan’s stages of cultural development postulated cultural universals, his greatest contribution to comparative studies (the basis of cross-cultural analysis) was his work Systems of Consanguinity (1877), which documented the kinship systems of Native Americans and other national groups in the United States.  In this, Morgan highlighted universals in kinship terminology, and he noted that all societies he studied could fit into one of six basic patterns of kinship terminology (his list of six was later condensed to four).  While the theories of Tylor and Morgan are now outdated, they laid the foundation for the use of cross-cultural comparison as a method for generating ideas about human cultural universals.

 Cross-cultural survey is a comparative statistical study in which the “tribe”, “society”, or “culture” is taken as the unit and samples from across the globe are studied to test hypotheses about the nature of society or culture (Naroll 1961, 221). The most famous example of this method is Murdock’s Social Structure (1949). The methodology of cross-cultural analysis, which involves the use of testable hypotheses to establish (or not) statistical correlations, was greatly facilitated by the work of George Peter Murdock.  Murdock compiled  data from  over 300 cultures and and organized under 700 different cultural subject headings collected from ethnographies by Boas, Malinowski, their students,  and many, many others into the Cross Cultural  Survey, which later became known as the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF). The trait lists of cultural universals, in “The Common Denominator of Cultures” from The Science of Man in the World Crisis, (Murdock 1945:123) were based on the HRAF (Ferraro 1992:74).

Points of Reaction

The comparative method was used by early cultural evolutionists such as Morgan and Tylor in reaction against the degenerationists, who placed hunter-gatherers and other less technologically advanced cultures in a class based on a supposed degeneration from perfection, which had made them less technologically and intellectually capable, inferior to the European societies of the 19th century. The development of the comparative method as used in Cross-Cultural Analysis was a reaction against the deductive reasoning of the Boasian tradition, which treated each culture as the unique product of its own historical and geographical conditions and rejected cultural theories as a whole. Franz Boas, founder of the four-field approach to anthropology, the preeminent figure in early 20th century American anthropology, and mentor to an entire generation of American anthropologists, argued that more data was needed before any sort of universal theories could be posited.  Moreover, Boas discarded the prejudices implicated by theories of cultural evolution, which ranked cultures. Boas had reacted against the comparative method as presented by Tylor before the turn of the century, and essentially, the comparative method had lain dormant in anthropology for 40 years.

ADVANTAGES David Levinson argues that holocultural studies (the more modern term for studies done with cross-cultural analysis) have six major advantages in the realm of theory testing concerning human culture and behavior (Levionson, 1980:9):

  • samples cover a much wider range of variation in cultural activities than do  studies based on single societies.
  • this variation allows the assumption that “irrelevant variables” do not affect the results ofsuch studies.
  • range of variation allows researchers to measure the degree and complexity of cultural evolution as variables in causal analysis.
  • certain variables e.g.,  language, religion, social structure, and cultural complexity, can be explained only at the societal level.
  • holocultural studies are objective because the person who collects the data (ethnographer) and the theory tester (comparativist) are not the same individual, which guards against the researcher’s conscious or unconscious biases toward particular theories.
  • even the most rigorous holocultural studies are cost effective.

DISADVANTAGES Levinson also points out four major disadvantages of holocultural studies, but he states that these are outweighed by the six advantages listed above. They disadvantages are as follows:

  • Studies often ignore the variability within a single culture and the variation across cultures because neglecting these makes for easier, more uniform coding.
  • Data is archival and therefore lacks the sensitivity seen in case study work.
  • Since some topics are described poorly in the ethnographic literature, not all  areas of interest can be studied easily and some perhaps not at all. 
  • Since the majority of samples are compiled from small-scale societies, large-scale societies are either under-represented or not represented at all (1980:9-10).

Leading Figures

Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917) may be considered the father of the modern statistical cross-cultural approach to the study of culture for his paper On a Method of Investigating the Development of InstitutionsApplied to Laws of Marriage and Descent(1889). Tylor was born Oct. 2, 1832, into a well-to-do British Quaker family, and died. Jan. 2, 1917. He is considered the founder of social anthropology in Great Britain. He is most known for his research on culture, cultural evolution, and the origin and development of religion. Though Tylor never earned a university degree, he gained acclaim through his research and writing. In 1856, when he was 24, waning health led Tylor to America and later to Mexico. In 1861, he returned to Great Britain and published his first book, Anahuac: Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (Tylor’s unilineal view of progressive cultural evolution included the concept that earlier stages of development were exhibited by what he termed “survivals,” which were the remnants of a paired set of ancient cultural traits that lingered on in more advanced cultures. In 1883, Tylor became keeper of the University Museum at Oxford and he later served as  a professor of anthropology at Oxford from 1896 to 1909. His other major works include Primitive Culture (1871) and Anthropology (1881) (Kowalewski 1995).

William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) was born in Paterson, N.J., Oct. 30, 1840, and died Apr. 12, 1910 before completing his major work- the four volume Science of Society, and the index for the volumes of comparative data. Sumner was a sociologist, economist, and Episcopal minister. As a Yale University professor (1872-1909), Sumner taught Albert Galloway Keller who in turn taught George Peter Murdock. Sumner introduced the classic concepts of Folkways and mores in Folkways (1906). He was also the foremost publicist of the theory of Social Darwinism in the United States. Social Darwinists asserted that societies evolved by a natural process, like organisms, and that among humans, as happens in other species, the most well adapted (often seen as the rich) should be allowed to flourish and the least well adapted (often seen as the poor) should be allowed to die out. This concept was roundly supported by political conservatism which argued that the most successful social classes also supposedly consisted of people who were obviously biologically superior (Hofstadter 1941). The importance of this concept is that the basis for cross-cultural analysis was rooted in the concept of cultural evolution, and this was Sumner’s view of the process.

George P. Murdock (1897-1985) was born in Meriden, Conn., May 11, 1897, and died Mar. 29, 1985. Murdock, the most influential and important figure in 20th century cross-cultural analysis, was an American anthropologist known for his comparative studies of kinship systems and for his cross-cultural analyses of the regularities and differences among diverse peoples. During the time he was teaching at Yale (1928-1960), he developed the Cross Cultural Survey, in the 1930s-1940s, which is now known as the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF). The HRAF is an index of many of the world’s ethnographically known societies. The HRAF is now available at over 250 institutional libraries worldwide. Murdock’s publications include Social Structure (1949), Africa: Its People and Their Culture History (1959), and Culture and Society (1965) (Kowalewski 1995). Murdock descended from an anthropological ancestry opposed to the Boasian anthropological school of thought in America Murdock hailed from the line descending from Tylor, Morgan, Spencer, Sumner, and Keller. Murdock was taught by A. G. Keller, who had earned his Ph.D. under William Graham Sumner at Yale in 1925 (Levinson and Ember 1996:262). Sumner wished to create a comparative social science based on a “centrally located cross-cultural sample” (Tobin 1990:473). Murdock accomplished that, based on the original idea of Sumner’s central index. Sumner had begun the work of several volumes, most influential to the eventual work of Murdock in compiling the HRAF was the index completed posthumously by Sumner’s successor, A.G. Keller.

Alfred Louis Kroeber (1876-1960) was born in Hoboken, N.J., June 11, 1876, and died Oct. 5, 1960. Kroeber’s comparative work emphasized similarities and differences between entire cultural groups.  However, unlike Murdock, Kroeber did not focus on comparing cultural traits across a broad array of societies, and he actually opposed the style of Murdock.  He is often considered the most influential American cultural anthropologist after Franz Boas, who was one of his professors. He held tenure (1901-46) at the University of California at Berkeley. He advanced the study of California Indians and developed important theories about the nature of culture. Kroeber believed that human culture could not be entirely explained by psychology, biology, or related sciences, but that it required a science of its own, and he was a major figure in the emergence of anthropology as an academic discipline. Kroeber published prolifically until the time of his death at the age of 85. His major works include Anthropology (1923; rev. ed. 1948); Handbook of the Indians of California (1925); Configurations of Culture Growth (1944); Culture; a Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952), which he co-authored with Clyde Kluckhohn; and Style and Civilizations (1957) (Kowalewski 1995).

Harold E. Driver(1907-1992) was a Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University. His field research was concentrated in California and New Mexico. Comparative statistical methodology and culture area classifications were his areas of specialization. There is an excellent article by Driver in Readings in Cross-Cultural Methodology, entitled, “Introduction to Statistics for Comparative Research”, which looks at such methods as chi-square and phi for the correlation between culture features. This article is written for the fairly unsophisticated statistician and is useful for comparative studies with other applications than just cross-cultural analysis.

Clellan Ford(1909-1972)- was a professor of Anthropology at Yale and President of the HRAF. He took over the Human Relations program from Murdock. His field research areas were in the Northwest Coast of the United States, and the Fiji Islands. Comparative studies and human sexual behavior were his focus areas.

David Levinson (1947-present), has been a prolific producer of anthropological encyclopedias as well as cross-cultural work. He has edited guide books for the use and understanding of the HRAF as well as books and articles that explain the studies that have been done utilizing the HRAF.

Other leading figures include many students of Murdock’s at Yale such as John and Beatrice Whiting, who conducted The Six Cultures Project with Irvin L. Child and William Lambert, and Melvin Ember, who is co-editor with Levinson and a major contributor to the Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology (1996).

Key Works

Berlin, Brent, and Paul Kay (1969). Basic color terms: their universality and evolution. Berkeley, University of California Press.  This study of basic color terminology found that an increase in the complexity of color terminology accompanied increased socio-economic development.  Also, the study showed that basic color terms are adopted in universal sequence.  Findings of this sort involve implicational universals, which means that the presence of a particular trait/characteristic indicates the presence of another characteristic.

Ember, C. R., & Ember, M. 2009. Cross-cultural research methods / Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember. Lanham : Altamira Press.

Levinson, David, and Martin J. Malone (1980). Toward Explaining Human Culture: A Critical Review of the Findings of Worldwide Cross-Cultural Research. New Haven, Connecticut: HRAF Press. Kinship, marriage, descent patterns, incest taboos, residence patterns, settlement patterns, religion, and aggression, among other cultural subjects, based on results obtained from holocultural studies. A bibliography and index are included. Levinson describes it as “book about theories of human culture that have been tested holoculturally” (1980:5).

Levinson, David, ed. (1977). A Guide to Social Theory: Worldwide Cross-Cultural Tests.  Volume I. Introduction, New Haven, Connecticut, Human Relations Area Files. This is Guide Number One for the HRAF Theoretical Information Control System. In the Introduction to the Guide, Levinson states that it is a new kind of information retrieval tool, an analytical propositional inventory of theories of human behavior that have been developed or tested by means of worldwide cross-cultural studies (1977:2). There are five volumes of the Guide. This introductory volume contains a description of the Guide and tells one how to use it, including copies of the codebook that were used in the process of compiling the Guide.

Levinson, Stephen. C. (1996). Relativity in spatial conception and description. In J. Gumperz, S. C. Levinson, J. Gumperz, S. C. Levinson (Eds.) Rethinking linguistic relativity (pp. 177-202). New York, NY US: Cambridge University Press.  Through the work of the Max Planck institute, this project demonstrated that languages code for space by one of three means: (1) egocentric, (2) cardinal direction, or (3) landmarks.  This represents a particular perception of the world which is encoded in language through grammar or body language.

Morgan, Louis Henry (1871). Systems of Consanguinity. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. Kinship research based on interviews and questionnaires distributed across America to Native Americans and people of European descent.

Morgan, Louis Henry (1963). Ancient Society. New York: World (orig. 1877). In this book Morgan detailed the seven stages of society. The text contains a system for classifying cultures to determine their position on the cultural evolutionary ladder.

Murdock, George Peter (1945). The Common Denominator of Cultures. In The Science of Man in the World Crisis, Ralph Linton, ed. P. 123. New York: Columbia University Press. This is a listing of common traits among cultures, what Murdock called “cultural universals”, which could be used to determine commonalities and variations in holocultural studies

Murdock, George Peter (1949). Social Structure. New York, Macmillan Co. In 1949 Murdock used the HRAF as the foundation for his book Social Structure in which he correlated information on family and kinship organizations around the world (Ferraro 1992:28-29).

Murdock, George Peter (1949/1968). Human Relations Area Files Microfilms International. Ann Arbor: University. The Cross Cultural System, which later became the Human Relations Area Files, was compiled by George Peter Murdock and colleagues at Yale in 1930s-1940s. It is a coded data retrieval system, which initially contained the ethnographies of over 300 cultures and 700 different cultural headings collected by the 1940s from ethnographies of Boas, Malinowski, and their students, among others, who were not always professionals (Ferraro 1992:74). The HRAF was originally produced on index cards, the HRAF Paper Files (1949), available on microfiche since 1968, and more recently available in a CD format. The entries to the HRAF increase annually and subscriptions are bought by institutions on a yearly basis. Murdock wrote The Common Denominator of Cultures (1945). The cultural headings in the HRAF are partially based on the Cultural Universals Murdock sets forth in this work.

Murdock, George Peter (1957). World Ethnographic Sample. In American Anthropologist 59:664-687.

Murdock, George Peter (1967). Ethnographic Atlas. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. Book. Classification of ethnographies.

Murdock, George Peter (1980). Atlas of World Cultures. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. Book. Includes an index.

Narrol, R. 1970. What have we learned from Cross-Cultural Surveys? American Anthropologist. 72(6)1227-1288.  In this article, Naroll offers an extensive review and critique of more than 150 cross-cultural surveys, commenting on their “contributions to the theory of human behavior” (1227).  Moreover, he notes the successes of these methods in realizing connections between things like kinship and residence rules, descent rules, and kin terms, and he addresses archeological cross-cultural surveys and their evidence for “seven major elements of cultural evolution” (1227).

Ochs, Elinor, and Bambi Schieffelin (1984). Language Acquisition and Socialization: Three Developmental Stories and Their Implications. In R. Shweder, R. LeVine (Eds.) , Culture Theory: Essays on Mind, Self, and Emotion (pp. 276-320). Cambridge: Cambridge UP.  This piece highlights child socialization in white middle-class American, Kululi, and Western Samoan societies.  Of particular note, Ochs and Schieffelin found that baby talk is not universal.

Peregrine, Peter, Carol Ember, and Melvin Ember (2004). Universal Patterns in Cultural Evolution: An Empirical Analysis Using Guttman Scaling. American Anthropologist106(1), 145-149.  A modern day test of universal evolutionist theories, this study examined archaeological evidence in order to make inferences about cross-cultural trends in the development of technology.  Overall, their results generally supported the universal evolutionary sequences like those developed by E. B. Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan, although they did not describe such cultures as savage or barbarous.

Rohner, Ronald P. (1975). They Love Me, They Love Me Not: A Worldwide Study of the Effects of Parental Acceptance and Rejection. New Haven: HRAF Press. Levinson considers this book to be one of the important cross-cultural contributions of this century.

Sumner, William Graham, and Albert Galloway Keller (1927). The Science of Society. New Haven: Yale University Press; London, H. Milford, Oxford University Press. Three volumes of entries of societies catalogued by Sumner. Volume 4 is the index of the entries. The fourth volume index had a great influence upon Murdock.

Tylor, Edward (1889). On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions: Applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent. Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute 18:245-269. Tylor was the first to attempt a statistical cross-cultural analysis with this paper, delivered to the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Whiting, Beatrice, and John W. M. Whiting (1974). Children of Six Cultures Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. This project was a far-reaching concept of the effect of child-rearing practices on adult behavior, which utilized cross-cultural analysis, but was based in the school of Culture and Personality. This project resulted in a book by the same name, but it really did not add to anthropological knowledge and exposed some problems concerning the use of inappropriate methodology for research that is not specific enough in its hypothesis.

Whiting, J. W. M., Child, I. L. 1953. Child training and personality: a cross-cultural study. New Haven, CT, US: Yale University Press. vi 353 pp.  This piece represents a cross-cultural survey with a psychodynamicist approach to cultural anthropology.  It examined 75 primitive societies to analyze links between childhood practices and adult behavior, focusing on oral and anal fixations, causes of guilt, and irrational fears.

Principal Concepts

Regional comparison is an attempt to define classifications of cultures and then make inferences about processes of diffusion within a cultural region (Levinson and Ember 1996:263). It examines how cultures relate to each other as whole cultural units.  This approach is well represented by the works of Kroeber and Driver, and it comes more from the Boasian tradition.

Holocultural analysis, the more recent term for cross-cultural analysis, has developed out of the ancestry from Tylor to Sumner and Keller and then to Murdock. Levinson says that a holocultural study “is designed to test or develop a proposition through the statistical analysis of data on a sample of ten or more non-literate societies from three or more geographical regions of the world” (1977:3). In this approach, cultural traits are taken out of the context of the whole culture and compared with cultural traits in widely diverse cultures in order to determine patterns of regularities and differences within the broad base of the study. Both of these approaches compare cultural units, but their unit of analysis differs from other approaches. The comparative method, as utilized in the worldwide approach, presents a basic problem to anthropology, and to anthropologists. Since the comparative method as applied by Murdock examines traits as separate from their cultural context, it conflicts with the holistic approach developed by Boas, in which each culture must be treated as a distinct unit that can only be understood in its particular historical and geographical context (Winthrop, 44)

Controlled Comparison is the approach toward smaller scale comparative studies. Eggan suggests the combination of the anthropological concepts of ethnology with structure and function, allowing the researcher to pose more specific questions on a broader range of subjects (1961, 125-127). Analysts are attempting to answer more specific questions in these research situations such as Spoehr’s study which examined the changes in kinship systems among the Creek, Chickasaw, and Chocktaw, and other regional tribes of the Southeast after their removal to the Oklahoma reservations. Spoehr detailed these changes with an analysis of the historical factors responsible for them and the resulting processes (Eggan 1961:125-126). Holonational study is the study of universal traits within a national framework.

Coding refers to the process by which cross-cultural analysts obtain data from other sources. This can be done in two ways. Data can be coded directly from ethnographic sources, or it can be accessed from the ethnographic reports in the HRAF files. The first method requires reading and interpreting original sources, and the second entails using previously coded data from ethnographic sources or holocultural studies. Levinson and Malone suggest that dependent variables should be coded from the HRAF files or ethnographic sources and that independent variables should come from the compendia of coded data.


Not all Cross-Cultural analysts agree on the same methodology, but there are two main concepts:

  • comparison- is essential to anthropological research. To understand culture, societies must be compared.
  • testing- all theories, despite fads or current trends require testing. Without comparison there is no way to evaluate if presumed cause and effect are related. This relates to the logical “if, then” inductive process. If cause is not present then the effect should not be present (Levinson and Ember 1996:262).

The comparative method is a search for comparable culture patterns in multiple societies, particularly the comparison of cultural traits taken out of cultural context (Winthrop 1991: 43). There are two main goals of cross-cultural analysis.

  • The first goal is to describe the range and distribution of cultural variation existent in the ethnographies recorded.
  • The second goal is to test the hypotheses and theories that are proposed to explain the variation recorded (Levinson and Ember 1996:261).

General requirements that are stringently applied to the comparative method are:

  • Scientific principles, method, and research design must be used.
  • Explicit theory or hypothesis must be stated.
  • Detail involved in study must be shown, allowing others to replicate study.
  • Research must show measures are valid and reliable.
  • Sampling procedure must be objective and clearly specified.
  • Data must be made available to other researchers.
  • Appropriate statistical tests must be employed.
  • Results must be displayed for verification (Levinson and Ember 1996:261).

Methods that are specific to Cross-Cultural Analysis are:

  • Cases must be chosen from different cultures.
  • Research aims must represent the entire ethnographic record or geographic region.
  • Research must compare cases that agree with hypothesis with and without the presumed causes to verify if the presumed effect is associated with causes. This is a Static-Group Comparison (Levinson and Ember 1996:261).


Edward B. Tylor made the move into modern cross-cultural analysis with his statistical methodology explained in the school’s modern premiere paper, “On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions, Applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent” (1889).

William Graham Sumner compiled and wrote most of the massive four-volume The Science of Society (1927) which was completed after Sumner’s death, including the index, by A.G. Keller (Harris 1968:607).

George Peter Murdock developed the Cross Cultural Survey in the 1930s-40s at Yale, as head of the Human Relations Program. This beginning grew into the Human Relations Area Files, which is now available in over 250 institutional libraries both here and abroad.

George P. Murdock combined the modern statistical method with modern ethnography, and statistical cross-cultural comparative method to create the HRAF. Murdock compiled the Ethnographic Atlas, published in Ethnology, a journal founded by Murdock in 1962. This is an atlas of the 600 societies described on the basis of several dozen coded features in Murdock’s “World Ethnographic Sample”.

Driver (1967) reanalyzed Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas using the two basic approaches of statistical analysis for anthropology: (1) the cultural traits as units of analysis, as proposed by Tylor and Murdock, and (2) using societies or tribes as the units of analysis, the approach suggested by Boas and Kroeber. Driver combined the concepts of these two approaches and came up with a more sophisticated method by inductively determining culture areas or “sets of strata” (Seymour-Smith 1986:61).


“Galton’s Problem”

When Tylor delivered his paper, “On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions, Applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent” (1889) to the Royal Anthropological Institute, Francis Galton, skilled in research design, was the presiding officer. Galton voiced what he saw as obvious flaws in the comparative methodology. This has ever since been known as “Galton’s Problem.”

  • Galton observed that because societies could acquire customs by borrowing them, it is possible that the number of cultural adhesions could be fewer than assumed.
  • Galton asserted that the circumstances in which the adhesion occurred, whether by diffusion or by independent emergence, would affect the interpretation of the cases.

Solutions to Galton’s Problem

  • Not using multiple cultures within the same geographic region for worldwide cross-cultural analysis.
  • More recently, mathematical anthropologists have devised a set of tests for “spatial autocorrection” based on language and distance in multiple regression analysis (Levinson and Ember 1996:263).

Problems with the Comparative Method have been discussed by many anthropologists, including Murdock (1949), White (1973), Eggan (1954), Driver and Chaney (1973), and Hobhouse, Wheeler, and Ginsberg (1915).  From these and other authors have emerged four major problem areas:

  • identification and classification of the cultural items to be compared. What determines the scale of the items?
  • the scope of the comparison temporally and spatially. What is the scope of the degree of expected difference between the pairs of social units compared?
  • the aims of the comparison. Is the intent of the comparison the formulation of scientific “laws” of functional relationship, or is it the reconstruction of history from subsequent materials? Are the comparisons made for descriptive or analytic purposes? Is the style of argument inductive or deductive?
  • the design of the comparison. How much control can be exercised over exogenous variation? How much attention is paid to sampling and statistical reliability? (Hammel 1980:147-148).

Additional criticisms of a more general nature were voiced by Marvin Harris.

  • ethnographies in the HRAF are not all of equal quality.
  •  ethnographies are chosen for a higher quality, which may cause there to be a built-in bias toward certain areas or traits, limiting the value of statistical measures derived from the HRAF (Harris 1968:615).

obtaining and emic view from an etic perspective is may be impossible, since outsiders may not comprehend what is actually happening in a given situation.Addressing the inconsistencies in the quality of data in the HRAF, Murdock is said to have commented that there was a “robustness” in Cross-Cultural method. He was unconcerned about errors occasionally occurring in data because he did not think that they would harm the validity of a study. Naroll was more concerned with this problem and thought that errors would threaten validity. He proposed a process of analyzing data quality of the ethnographies already in use. Naroll suggested that researchers should rate ethnographies for certain qualities, such as the author’s command of the native language and time spent in the field. This suggestion was carried through in an organized study, in which the data quality of the ethnographies was found to effect results obtained in cross-cultural analysis in only a very few cases (Levinson and Ember 1996:263).

Sources and Bibliography

  • Barber, N. 2008. Explaining Cross-National Differences in Polygyny Intensity: Resource-Defense, Sex Ratio, and Infectious Diseases. Cross-Cultural Research. 42: 103-117.
  • Boehm, C. 2008. Purposive social selection and the evolution of human altruism. Cross-Cultural Research. 42: 319-352.
  • Connelly, B. S. and Ones, D. S. 2008. The personality of corruption: a national-level analysis. Cross-Cultural Research. 42: 353-385.
  • Ember, C. 2010. What we know and what we don’t know about variation in social organization: Melvin Ember’s approach to the study of kinship. Cross-Cultural Research 45:16-38.
  • Ember, M., Ember, C. R., and Low, B. S. 2007. Comparing explanations of polygyny. Cross-Cultural Research. 41: 428-440.
  • Hayward, R. D., and Kemmelmeier, M. 2007. How competition is viewed across cultures: a test of four theories. Cross-Cultural Research. 41: 364-395.
  • Berlin, Brent, and Paul Kay (1969). Basic color terms: their universality and evolution. Berkeley, University of California Press.  
  • Bourginon, Erika 1973 Diversity and Homogeneity in World Societies. New Haven Connecticut: HRAF Press.
  • Ember, Carol R. 1988. Guide to Cross-cultural Research Using the HRAF. New Haven: HRAF Press.
  • Ember, C. R., & Ember, M. 2009. Cross-cultural research methods / Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember. Lanham : Altamira Press.
  • Ferraro, Gary 1992 Cultural Anthropology: An Applied Perspective. St. Paul: West Publishing Company.
  • Ford, Clellan Stearns 1967 Cross-cultural Approaches: Readings in Comparative Research. New Haven: HRAF Press.
  • Hammel, E. A. 1980 The Comparative Method in Anthropological Perspective. In Comparative Studies in Society and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 22:145-155.
  • Harris, Marvin 1968 The Rise of Anthropological Theory: A History of Theories of Culture. New York: Crowell.
  • van Hemert, D., van de Vijver, F., and Vingerhoets, A. 2011. Culture and crying: prevalences and gender differences. Cross-Cultural Research 45: 399-431.
  • Hofstadter, R. 1941. William Graham Sumner, Social Darwinist. The New England Quarterly. 14(3):457-77
  • Huber, B., Danaher, W., and Breedlove, W. 2011. New cross-cultural perspectives on marriage transactions. Cross-Cultural Research. 45: 339-375.
  • Korotavev, A. and de Munck, V. “Galton’s Asset” and “Flower’s Problem”: Cultural Networks and Cultural Units in Cross-Cultural Research: (Or, Male Genital Mutilations and Polygyny in Cross-Cultural Perspective) American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 105, No. 2:353-358
  • Kowalewski, Stephen A. 1995 George P. Murdock. In Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, version 7.0.2. Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc
  • Levinson, David, ed. 1977 A Guide to Social Theory: Worldwide Cross-Cultural Tests volume I – Introduction, New Haven, Connecticut, Human Relations Area Files.
  • Levinson, David, and Martin J. Malone 1980 Toward Explaining Human Culture: A Critical Review of the Findings of Worldwide Cross-Cultural Research. New Haven, Connecticut: HRAF Press.
  • Levinson, David and Melvin Ember, editors 1996 Comparative Method. In Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology. 1: New York: Henry Holt.
  • Levinson, Stephen. C. (1996). Relativity in spatial conception and description. In J. Gumperz, S. C. Levinson, J. Gumperz, S. C. Levinson (Eds.) Rethinking linguistic relativity (pp. 177-202). New York, NY US: Cambridge University Press.  
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  • de Munck, V. C. and Korotayev, A. V. 2007. Wife-husband intimacy and female status in cross-cultural perspective. Cross-Cultural Research. 41:307-335.
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  • Peregrine, Peter N. 2001. Cross-Cultural Comparative Approaches in Archaeology Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 30, pp. 1-18 
  • Peregrine, P. N. 2006. Synchrony in the New World: an example of archaeoethnology. Cross-Cultural Research. 40: 6-17.
  • Peregrine, P. N. 2007. Cultural correlates of ceramic styles. Cross-Cultural Research. 41: 223-235.
  • Peregrine, P. N., Ember, C. R., and Ember, M. 2007. Modeling state origins using cross-cultural data. Cross-Cultural Research. 41: 75-86.
  • Wong, S. S., Lee, B. O., Ang, R. P., Oei, T. P. S., and Ng, A. K., 2009. Personality, health and coping: a cross-national study. Cross-Cultural Research. 43: 251-279.
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  • Seymour-Smith, Charlotte 1968 Macmillan Dictionary of Anthropology. London: Macmillan.
  • Winthrop, Robert H. 1991 Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology. New York: Greenwood Press.

Relevant Journals

  • American Anthropologist
  • Annual Review of Anthropology
  • Cross-Cultural Research (CCR)- This peer-reviewed journal has emerged as the primary venue for works involving cross-cultural analysis.
  • Ethnology