Neo-Evolutionary School: Parabolic Curve Theory of Cultural Evolution for Competitive Exams

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Neo-evolutionary School: Parabolic Curve Theory of Cultural Evolution (Anthropology)

  • Classical or Unilinear Evolutionists had to face rough criticism by 20th century diffusionists and relativists, on the ground of empirical data. Diffusionists empahsized upon the need of cultural diffusion which brought about similarities in cultures of the world. They disfavored the idea of ‘psychic unity’ and ‘parallel inventions’ on the argument that basically men were uninventive, but they had limitless capacity to adapt and imitate, which is possible either by diffusion or by migration.

  • In order to remove short comings, Neo-evolutionary scheme was proposed by Neo-evolutionists. Among Neo-evolutionists, Leslie White and Julian Steward of America and V. Gordon Childe of Britain occupy most significant place in reviving evolutionary theory.

Neo-Evolutionary School

Neo-Evolutionary School

  • Neo-evolutionists believe that all weaknesses of classical evolutionary theory can be solved, if it is accepted that culture develops not in unilinear sequence but in form of Parabolic curve. According to parabolic curve theory of cultural evolution, a social institution is born in a specific form in early stage. It then, gradually develops in entirely different form in different direction. It again moves towards original form but in a new developed form. For instance: the institution of property was born in the form of communal ownership or communism. In medieval times, the common ownership took the form of private ownership . Today, again the concept of common ownership through state has developed.

Image of Chart

Image of Chart

British Neo-Evolutionary School

  • V. Gordon Childe (1892-1957)

  • He was the only pioneer, of British School of Neo-evolutionism.

  • He was a trained archeologist. On the basis of collection of material remains from East and Europe, and comparing them , he attempted to make evolutionary scheme alive.

Publications by him:

  • The Dawn of Western Civilization. (1925)

  • New Light on most Ancient East. (1934)

  • What happened in History. (1946)

  • Social Evolution. (1951)

  • Man Makes Himself. (1951)

  • What is History. (1953)

  • His famous book, which describes evolution of culture, is Social Evolution. He described evolution of culture in terms of three major events:

    • invention of food production.

    • urbanization

    • industrialization

  • Childe discussed evolution of culture of mankind as universal evolutionist, because he had placed general stages of evolution applicable to mankind as a whole, not of specific or particular cultures which were the creation of local environmental factors.

  • In establishing universal sequence of cultural development. He opined that all societies had lived in different historical environments and passed through different ups and downs due to which their traditions had diverged and hence, emerged cultural ethnography.

Image of V. Gordon Childe

Image of V. Gordon Childe

  • He was of the opinion that in establishing general stages of evolution, diffusion must also be discounted, because any society must be in a position to accept diffused technological and social features.

  • Childe was of the view that at each stage of cultural development, mankind developed their technological skill to exploit natural resources. In early stage, less advanced technological skill, had made them less aggressive towards environment, but as knowledge went on increasing, they became more and more aggressive.

Criticism of Childe’S Scheme

  • He lacked interest in civilizational sequence outside of the middle east and Europe. At one hand, he concluded on specific resemblance between the specific steps involved in the development of civilization in Europe, but he was unprepared to look for parallels in Mexico or Peru.

  • He relied too much on archeological data to explain cultural evolution. Also, he was unable to differentiate the old hunters and gatherers from today.

  • He could not take into consideration the universal existing institutions of matriarchy, sexual promiscuity, etc. without giving any argument.

Despite criticism, it was Childe, who made alive the evolutionary theory even after serious criticism by 20th century revivalists.


Q1. Who of the following does not belong to the Neo-evolutionist group?

  1. Leslie White

  2. Julian Steward

  3. E.B. Tylor

  4. V.G. Childe

Answer: (c) E.B. Tylor

Q2. Which of the following publications doesn’t belong to V. G. Childe?

  1. The Dawn of Western Civilization

  2. New Light on most Ancient East

  3. Social Evolution

  4. None of these.

Answer: (d) None of these

Q3. Which of the following is not a major event in cultural evolution according to V.G. Childe?

  1. Invention of food production

  2. Civilization

  3. Urbanization

  4. Industrailization

Answer: (b) civilization.

#Neo-Evolutionary School

#Parabolic Curve Theory of Cultural Evolution

#British Evolutionary School

#V.G. Childe

# Universal Evolution

# Criticism of Childe’s Scheme

#Anthropological theories

#Socio-cultural anthropology


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