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The Categorical Impulse: Essays on the Anthropology of Classifying Behavior

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The Categorical Impulse

Essays on the Anthropology of Classifying Behavior

Roy Ellen

248 pages, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-017-5 $135.00/£99.00 / Hb / Published (December 2005)

ISBN  978-1-84545-155-4 $34.95/£27.95 / Pb / Published (March 2008)

eISBN 978-0-85745-570-3 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit Buy the eBook from these vendorsRequest a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®


"Probably more than any other British anthropologist, Roy Ellen is associated with the study of ethnobiology; his has also long ranked among the leading names in the field ... Both readers new to Ellen as well as those already familiar with his work will find this collection rewarding." American Anthropologist

"... an important and very worthwhile collection ... a seminal and enduring contribution to anthropological knowledge…a clear and refreshing overview of the sub-discipline, as well as affirming ethnobiology’s crucial role in the continuing development of anthropology as a multi-discipline." —Brian Morris in JRAI

"...a remarkable synthesis of recent studies in the cognitive and ethnosciences and symbolic anthropology, three areas of scholarship linked in multiple ways.[This book] is an absolute must for all those interested in these subjects." —L'homme

"I ... am deeply impressed by Ellen's ability to connect so many seemingly contradictory themes of contemporary anthropology within the holistic frame of the 'categorical impulse'" —Journal of Anthropological Research


Classification, as an object of recent anthropological scrutiny came to prominence during the 1960s, exemplified in the British (constructionist) tradition by the writings of Mary Douglas, and in the American ethno-semantics (cognitive) tradition by the likes of Harold Conklin and Brent Berlin. At the time, these approaches seemed by turns to contradict each other, or even to exist in parallel universes. However, over the last 30 years we have witnessed both a renewed interest in classification studies as well as a cross-fertilization of these once antagonistic approaches.

These essays by one of leading scholars in this field bring together a body of influential and inter-linked work which attempts to bridge the divide between cultural and cognitive studies of classification, and which develops a more embedded and processual approach. In particular, the essays focus on people’s categorization of natural kinds as a means through which to obtain an understanding of how classifying behavior in general works, engaging with the ideas of both anthropologists and psychologists. The theoretical background is set out in an entirely new and substantial introduction, which also provides a comprehensive and systematic review of developments in cognitive and social anthropology since 1960 as these have impacted on classification studies. In short, it constitutes a useful and approachable introduction to its subject.

Roy Ellen was educated at the London School of Economics and is Professor of Anthropology and Human Ecology at the University of Kent at Canterbury, where he has taught since 1973. His numerous and varied publications include Environment, Subsistence and System (1982), The Cultural Relations of Classification (1993), and most recently, On the Edge of the Banda Zone (2003).

Subject: Theory and Methodology


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