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Ward H. Goodenough

Ward H. Goodenough

By Arwen Kimmell


The Peace that Passes Understanding

By Ward Goodenough

The “dance of death” is danced not by the dead

But us, the living, learning how to age,

Our lessons choreographed for every stage

Of life’s relentless step-school. We are led

Through fortune and misfortune up each stair

To pirouette at every pleasure, plight,

And pain up to the top tread of the flight—

Then, stepping off, we find there’s nothing there.

The void from which all living things arose

Receives us back within its hollow womb,

Dissolves us down into an empty tomb

Whose nothingness gives infinite repose.

Transcending all, released from space and time,

At one with nothing, such is peace sublime.

(Goodenough: 2000, 3)


              Ward H. Goodenough has influenced many areas of Anthropology including but certainly not limited to kinship studies, linguistic anthropology, comparative studies, and cognitive anthropology.  He was born on May 30, 1919 in Cambridge Massachusetts.  He married Ruth A. Gallagher on February 8, 1941, has four children and eight grandchildren and currently (2006) resides in Pennsylvania.  Goodenough graduated from Cornell University in 1940, where he majored in Scandinavian languages and literature. He enlisted in the United States Army, serving from November 1941 to December 1945.  While in the Army he attained the rank of technical sergeant.  From January to August 1946 Goodenough worked as a civilian case analyst in the corrections branch of the Adjutant General’s Office in the War Department. He completed his Ph.D. at Yale University in 1949.


Fieldwork and Influences

Goodenough conducted several ethnographic field studies between 1947 and 1965.  He first studied in Chuuk (Truk) in 1947 and returned for further work in 1964 and 1965.  He spent time in both Kiribati in the Gilbert Islands and in Papua New Guinea in 1951, and in 1954 he returned to Papua New Guinea and worked in Lakalai, New Britain Island.  Ward Goodenough’s dissertation was directed by George Peter Murdock, whose interests in comparative research into social organization had lasting influence on Goodenough’s work. In 1940, Goodenough was a Research Assistant to Murdock in the Cross-Cultural Survey, and in 1947 he accompanied Murdock to Truk for seven months of field research as part of the Coordinated Investigation of Micronesian Anthropology (CIMA).  He was also impacted by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and linguist George Trager, who were interested in the description of both languages and cultures, and also taught at Yale University (Caughey, 202).


              Ward Goodenough taught Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin from 1948 to 1949 while he completed his PhD degree.  In 1949 he accepted the position of Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was promoted to Associate Professor in 1954, Professor in 1962, University Professor in 1980, and retired in 1989 changing his status to University Professor Emeritus.  Goodenough served as acting chairman of the department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania from 1959 to 1961, and served as chair of the same department from 1976 to 1982.  In addition to his position at the University of Pennsylvania, Goodenough has served as a visiting lecture at Cornell University, Swarthmore College, Bryn Mawr College, University of Hawaii, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Yale University, and Colorado College between 1950 and 1983.  He was the Lewis Henry Morgan Lecturer at the University of Rochester in 1968, the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar from 1983 to 1984, and a Fulbright Lecturer at St. Patrick’s College in Ireland in 1987.



              Ward Goodenough has received many honors throughout his career. He was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences from 1957-1958.  In 1971 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and to the American Philosophical Society and American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973 and 1975 respectively.  Between 1979 to 1980 Goodenough was a Guggenheim Fellow.  In 1986 he received the American Anthropological Association’s Distinguished Service Award, and was also president of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. He received the Society for Applied Anthropology’s Malinowski Award in 1997.  He is an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania. Goodenough has also served on the editorial boards of several journals including American Anthropologist(1966-1970); Science (1976-1979); and Bobbs Merrill Reprints in Anthropology andAddison-Wesley Modules in Anthropology.  Additionally, Goodenough has served on a long list of committees and associations and boards of directors.

Important Works

Between 1944 and 2003 Goodenough produced a substantial body of work including 3 edited volumes, more than 10 books, including one book of poetry and one of piano pieces, more than 150 articles, 55 book reviews and 35 unpublished manuscripts.  Searches of the Social Science Citation Index show that Ward Goodenough has had over 80 separate publications cited in over 700 scholarly works.  In order to illustrate some of the ways in which Goodenough has influenced the field of Anthropology, I will briefly discuss some of his most highly cited and often reprinted works.  His top cited works span the topics of language, kinship cultural change, descriptive anthropology, property, residence and the area of Polynesia, specifically in Truk, and help to illustrate the ways he has contributed to both Anthropology and Linguistics.

The article “Residence Rules” published by Goodenough in 1956 in the Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, and reprinted in Paul Bohannan and John Middleton’sMarriage Family and Residence in 1968 and again in the Bobbs-Merrill Reprints in Anthropology volume A-92, has been cited in over 100 different publications.  In this article Goodenough describes a situation in which he and another scholar, John Fischer, had collected census data in the same community (Truk) within three years of each other and obtained very different data, which Goodenough contributes to different interpretations of the forms of residence found.  He concludes that these differences are because of a combination of vague definitions of residence forms that could end up being applied in different ways and a difference in the kinds of information used for interpreting the census material.  He goes on to discuss the implications of these kinds of problems for ethnographic reliability and attempts at comparison across cultures.  He shows that there is a danger in not recognizing the differences between the anthropologists structuring language and the conceptual frameworks employed by the individuals in a given culture.  In the end of the article he notes that with this kind of recognition, Anthropology could be catching up with comparative Linguistics, where the knowledge that “every language presents a new structure unlike any other, and that only by developing rigorous methods for arrive at precise theoretical statements of these structures would it be possible significantly to advance farther the study of language in general” (315-316 – in the version appearing in Marriage, Family and Residence) occurred a generation earlier. The reproductions of this work in several places, and the fact that it has been cited over 100 times, seems to suggest that Goodenough’s call to apply these ideas to cultures as well as languages has been heard.

Goodenough’s second most cited work, “A Problem in Malayo-Polynesian Social Organization” was originally published in 1955 in the American Anthropologist, and has been reprinted four times, in Kinship and Social Organization (1968), Peoples and Cultures of the Pacific (1968), Selected Papers from the American Anthropologist(1976), and Bobbs-Merrill Reprints in Anthropology (A-90).  “A Problem in Malayo-Polynesian Social Organization,” in it’s various printings, has been cited in almost 100 individual works.  In this article Goodenough complicates previous constructions of social structure and kinship relations by noting that in the Malayo-Polynesian system of organization, descriptions of kinship alone are not complete.  In order to more accurately describe the ways individuals and groups to understand their relationships to others, an ethnographer must take their relationships to land into account.  In the Malayo-Polynesian case Goodenough identifies two kinds of kin groups specifically associated with land (82).  Recognition of these issues has great implications for future kinship studies.

“Yankee Kinship Terminology: A Problem in Componential Analysis” originally published in 1965 has been cited in the literature in over 70 different publications.  This article was originally published in Formal Semantic Analysis a volume edited by E.A. Hammel, which was a special edition of American Anthropologist, and was reprinted inCognitive Anthropology edited by S.A. Tyler in 1969.  In this article Goodenough applies componential analysis, a process borrowed from Linguistics of utilizing binary feature matrices, to the analysis of one kind of American/Yankee kinship system.  Goodenough suggests that the utilization of componential analysis is one way of “evaluating the adequacy of ethnographic statements regarding the cultural organizations of phenomena we presume other people to have” (286).  Goodenough specifically states that this is not a definitive answer to questions regarding cognitive processes at the time, but according to Tara Robertson in her discussion of Goodenough on her website regarding cognitive anthropology, he has played an important role in the development of that field, and this work along with others have been very influential (Robertson).

Goodenough’s 1970 book Description and Comparison in Cultural Anthropology, part of a Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture series, was translated into Japanese in 1978, and released in paperback in 1980, and has been cited in 54 works in the literature since its publication.  This book, based on four lectures is divided into sections on “Marriage and Family,” “Kindred and Clan,” “Sibling and Cousin,” and “General and Particular” all of which are devoted to illustrating problems which occur in anthropological descriptions because of our own cultural assumptions, and then suggestions for overcoming these problems and more accurate methods for the description and comparison of different cultures.  Goodenough calls for the construction of a set of universally applicable categories, similar to the set of phonetic categories utilized by linguists that would aid in the description of different cultures, and limit the influence of the researchers cultural background.  In the chapter on “Kindred and Clan” Goodenough challenges the conventional anthropological categories of descent and then encourages the reader to think about the validity of the anthropological theories which are based in those questionable categories.  In Chapter four, “Sibling and Cousin” Goodenough questions the universality of kinship as anthropologists understand it, and states that before cross-cultural comparison would be possible better conceptualizations will be necessary.  In the final chapter, “General and Particular,” Goodenough concludes by reiterating the need for accurate etic typologies, and states that researchers must remember that typologies are tools, and “must be judged by the uses for which we design them” (129).

Culture, Language, and Society, published in 1971 has been cited in 51 different publications. This book was translated into Spanish, and a second revised edition was published in 1981.  Culture, Language, and Society addresses the issues regarding the intersection of languages, cultures and peoples, and how they relate to each other.  It discusses language itself as an object of study, and then puts language into the context of speakers illustrating all of the different levels at which language can vary, and where boundaries can be drawn between them.  Goodenough then applies a similar treatment to the concept of culture and discusses the levels at which it manifests and can be studied, and how people can be divided into useful groups.  This book would be an ideal starting place for someone interested in how these concepts, culture, language and society intersect, or as a textbook for a course with similar aims.

Goodenough’s 1963 book Cooperation in Change: An Anthropological Approach to Community, released in paperback in 1966, has been cited in 46 works.  In 1986 Cooperation in Change was featured as “This Week’s Citation Classic” in the journal Current Contents: Social & Behavioral Sciences, and Goodenough contributed reflections about this particular work.  He wrote that his goal in writing Cooperation in Change was to provide a framework for understanding “the complicated human processes in which development workers were engaged and of which development workers were a part” (14).  He hoped to shed light on how individuals and groups with different perspectives and agendas could better cooperate to achieve development goals, as well as illustrate how difficult it is in practice for development agendas to be achieved.  He says at the end of this short article that of all of the times this book has been referenced, he is proudest to be cited by M.B. Black in her work on belief systems (1973), and that she “drew heavily and creatively” (14) on his work.  He also says, “My disappointment is that in the 23 years since the publication, the book has not been superseded. That may account for its accumulated citations…[b]ut a new generation of scientists should have replaced it with something better by now” (14).

Goodenough’s essay “Cultural Anthropology and Linguistics” has appeared in multiple boks, and has been cited in 39 different publications.  It was first published in 1957 in P.L. Garvin’s edited volume Report of the Seventh Annual Round Table Meeting on Linguistics and Language Study.  In 1968 it appeared in Dell Hymes’Language in Culture and Society, and the Bobbs-Merrill Reprints in Linguistics (L-29).  Additionally, it appeared in the 1956 Bulletin of the Philadelphia Anthropological Society.  In this short essay Goodenough again addresses the intersection between Linguistics and Anthropology, and the parallel problems that occur in both descriptive linguistics and ethnography.  He discusses how sign theory and structural linguistics can contribute to the issues at hand, and that culture, like language is best understood as a system of knowledge.  He concludes that linguistics, and by extension learning languages is the most useful tool available to both the linguist and the ethnographer (39 – In the version printed in Language in Culture and Society).

In addition to these works, Goodenough has several other publications that have been cited a remarkable number of times.  The book Property, Kin and Community on Truk published in 1951 and based upon his dissertation has been cited in 36 different publications. Goodenough’s contributions to the book Explorations in Cultural Anthropology: Essays in Honor of George Peter Murdock that he edited in 1964 have been referenced in 31 different publications.  The article, “Oceania and the Problem of Controls in the Study of Cultural and Human Evolution” published in theJournal of the Polynesian Society in 1957 has been used in 25 different books and journals.  The books and articles found on Goodenough’s impressive list of publications also cover the topics of education, religion, philosophy of science, theoretical and descriptive linguistics, linguistic change, evolution, and population control.

Impact on the Field

              Ward Goodenough has had a lasting impact on the field of Anthropology.  He had particular influence on the areas of Oceanic Anthropology, Cognitive Anthropology, and General Anthropological Theory. In 1989 Mac Marshall and John Caughey editedCulture, Kin, and Cognition: Essays in Honor of Ward H. Goodenough, that includes contributions from Caughey and Marshall, Ann Chowning, Anna Meigs, Jay Noricks, Anne Salmond, William Alkire and Roger Keesing on topics including gender, social structure, kinship, land tenure and language.  Goodenough applied elements of theory from Linguistics to the furtherance of Anthropological theory including works on kinship, componential analysis, role analysis, and focus on social identities and development.  In his biography of Ward Goodenough as an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO), Mac Marshall states, “Over the years, Ward Goodenough has been arguably the association’s most active Honorary Fellow…It seems safe to say that every ASAO member has been influenced in some way by Ward’s theoretical and ethnographic insights” (Marshall).  It is clear that Ward Goodenough has had a lasting impact on the field of Anthropology, both in theoretically and through his contributions to the anthropological study of Oceania.


Waasééna [in Chuuk]


Ngaang wasééna.

Wúwa pasato ngaang

mé wóóni fénúwey,

soonóóni inen,

soonóóni Kachaw.

Núkúni ppeyinen

iyaani fénúwey.


esee mwo wúriyey,

ngé ese turufiyey


Rongen akkamanaw

aa túmwúnúúwey.

Waasééna ngaang.


Ngaang waasééna.

Inisiy epwee nómw

pwúpwpwúnú me pwpwún,

ngé ngúniy epwe niwin

feyiniiti imwan-

changanó neefúú,

aséé Fewúkasé;

ássinó Fachchamw,

túútú neenómwun;

changatá wungowungan,

toneyi amanaman;

soonó soonóón

neewoon wunusan.

Waasééna ngaang



Drift Voyager


I am a drift voyager.

hither I’ve strayed

from on my land,

the far side of heaven,

far side of Space Worlds.

Outside of heaven’s edge

is the place of my land.

The heaven-garland god

Has not yet assailed me,

nor has laid hold of me

Mistress of the Lower sky.

Life-giving spells

Have watched over me.

A drift voyager I.


I am a drift voyager.

My body will remain

in wedlock with the earth,

but my soul will return

going back to its home –

soar off among the stars,

rest at Repose Rock;

fly away to Under Brow,

bathing in its lagoon;

zoom to its zenith point,

peak of empowering;

alright on its far side

at the source of all.

A drift voyager I.


Ward Goodenough (Sonnets from After Middle Age and Other Verse, 22)



Selected Publications

1951. Property, Kin and Community on Truk. Yale University Publications in

Anthropology, No. 46. (Reprinted in 1961. Reprinted in 1967 and second revised edition 1978 by Archon Books, New Haven: Shoe String Press.)


1855. A Problem in Malayo-Polynesian Social Organization. American Anthropologist

57:71-83. (Reprinted in Paul Bohannan and John Middleton, eds. Kinship and Social Organization, New York: Natural History Press, 1968; A.P. Vadya, ed. Peoples and Cultures of the Pacific, New York: Natural  History Press, 1968; R.F. Murphy, ed,Selected Papers from the American Anthropologist, Washington, D.C: American Anthropological Association, 1976; Bobbs-Merrill Reprints in Anthropology, A-92).


1856. Residence Rules. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 12:22-37. (Reprinted in

Paul Bohannan and John Middleton, eds. Marriage, Family and Residence, New York: Natural History Press, 1968; Bobbs-Merrill Reprints in Anthropology, A-92).


1956. Componential Analysis and the Study of Meaning. Language 32(1):195-216.

(Reprinted in Paul Bohannan and John Middleton, eds., Kinship and Social Organization, New York: Natural History Press, 1968; Bobbs-Merrill Reprints in Anthropology, A-91.)


1957. Oceana and the Problem of Controls in the Study of Cultural and Human

Evolution. Journal of the Polynesian Society 66:146-155.


1964. (Editor) Explorations in Cultural Anthropology: Essays in Honor of George Peter

Murdock. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.


1965. Yankee Kinship Terminology: A Problem in Componential Analysis. In E.A.

Hammel, ed., Formal Semantic Analysis, pp259-297. Special Publication, American Anthropologist, vol. 67, no. 5, pt. 2. (Reprinted in S.A. Tyler, ed., Cognitive Anthropology, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.)


1963. Cooperation in Change: An Anthropological Approach to Community

Development. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. (Paperback edition, 1966, by Science Editions, New York: Wiley.)


1970. Description and Comparison in Cultural Anthropology. Chicago: Aldine.

(Translated into Japanese, 1978. Paperback edition with corrections, 1980, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.)


1971. Culture Language and Society. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Modular

Publications, No. 7. (Translated into Spanish in El Concepto De Cultura: Textos Fundamentales, compiled with a prologue by J.S. Kahn, pp. 157-248, Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama. Second revised edition, 1981, Menlo Park, Cal.: Benjamin/Cummings.)


2002. Under Heaven’s Brow: Pre-Christian Religious Tradition in Chuuk. Memoirs of

the American Philosophical Society, Volume 246. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.



Additional References


Cauhey, John L.

2004. “Goodenough, Ward H.” in Biographical Dictionary of Social and Cultural

Anthropology. Amit, Vered ed. London and New York: Routledge. 202-203.


Goodenough, Ward

Sonnets from After Middle Age and Other Verse, Electronic Document,

http://cas.gmu.edu/~tobi/wordweek/goodenoughpoems.pdf, accessed April 19, 2006.


Goodenough, Ward.

1986. “This Week’s Citation Classic (Goodenough, W.H., Cooperation in

ChangeCurrent Contents: Social & Behavioral Sciences 18:9:14.

Goodenough, Ward

2000. “The Peace That Passes Understanding” Anthropology and Humanism25:3.


Marshall, Mac

1989. “Ward H. Goodenough,” Electronic Document, http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/    

asao/pacific/honoraryf/ward-h-goodenough, accessed April 29, 2006.


Robertson, Tara

Cognitive Anthropology, Electronic Document,

http://www.as.ua.edu/ant/Faculty/murphy/436/coganth.htm#Leading%20Figures, accessed April 29, 2006.


Schrader, Derek

Ward Goodenough, Electronic Document,

http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/information/biography/fghij/goodenough_ward.html, accessed April 29, 2006.


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