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Manning the Canon: A Textbook Example of Gender Inequality

Manning the Canon: A Textbook Example of Gender Inequality

Jonathan McClure

ANTH-E 500

Prof. Rick Wilk

April 30, 2013



In this paper I attempt to discern the changing constitution of a canon of authors in the field of Cultural Anthropology over time. I propose to accomplish this through an examination of citation data in Cultural Anthropology textbooks. I use six survey textbooks published in both the 1980s and the 2000s as sources. The data I gathered will be used to determine a group of anthropologists who it could be said are canonical due to the frequency with which their works are cited in the textbooks. The Oxford English Dictionary defines something that is canonical as being “of admitted authority, excellence, or supremacy; authoritative; orthodox, accepted; standard.” (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012) While textbooks could be seen as simply a record of what is fashionable, my approach proposes that the production of a textbook is, among other things, an attempt to encode the accepted, authoritative, or standard information of a field in a single volume for transmittal to another generation, and therefore this information will overlap significantly with that which is canonical.



I examined the bibliographic entries in two editions from the six textbooks (one edition from each decade). I will statistically collate and discuss the bibliographic citation data from all six textbooks in each decade through the use of means. These two data sets will then be examined in comparison. I should note that I was unable to procure a copy of one textbook originally intended to be part of this study. This excluded textbook is Cultural Anthropology by Conrad Phillip Kottack.


I collected data from the total twelve textbooks through a process of organizing all referenced authors from the respective bibliographies into count of occurrence groups. These data do not represent all citations in the bibliographies, but all authors referenced. Multiple citations of a single author in a single bibliography are counted once as reference to a single author. I did this in an attempt to control for the possibility of obscure authors disproportionately skewing the data due to the preference or above average familiarity of a textbook author. I counted each author into a group based on the number of bibliographies in which that author was cited. For example, all authors whose names appeared in only one bibliography were counted in a group, all those whose names appeared in two were counted in another group, etc. This led to the formation of six groups, categorized according to frequency. I will discuss the two groups representing the most frequent references in greater detail than the others.


There are myriad ways in which this procedure could be improved upon or expanded. Further research describing this same data set could attempt to break down the authors by ethnicity, by the subcategory in which their work focuses or focused, or attempt to contextualize them historically based on those works that they have produced.


Data and Discussion, 1980s:

The textbooks examined from the 1980s include bibliographic entries for a total 1228 authors. Of those, 78.2 % were cited a single time, 11.2% two times, 4.6% three times, 3.7% four times, 1.6% five times, and 0.8% six times (Chart 1). Ten authors were cited in all six textbooks, and twenty-two authors in five textbooks (List 1). Gender distribution among the most cited authors is easily the most striking feature of this data set. All ten of the most cited persons are male. Among the second most cited group a mere 13.6 percent are female (Chart 2).



Data and Discussion, 2000s:

The textbooks examined from the 2000s included bibliographic entries for a total of 3096 individual authors. Among these 79.7 percent were cited once, 11.7% two times, 4.9% three times, 2.3% four times, 1.1% five times, and 0.4% six times (Chart 3). In all six of these textbooks eleven authors were cited. In five of six a group of thirty-three were present (List 1). The gender distribution in the 2000s for the most prominent authors is ten males and one female (Eleanor Lealock). Once again, women are not well represented, accounting for only 9.1 percent of the group. In this decade among the second most frequently cited group female representation still lags at 24.2 percent (Chart 2).



Comparative Discussion of Data Sets:

It is apparent from the raw data that the size of the bibliographies expanded dramatically over the intervening decade. The average increase is 252 percent. This may be representative of overall growth in the field or of burgeoning citations due to multiple new editions and revisions of the textbooks.


While some might find it encouraging that these data indicate a female now resides among the most prominent figures in Cultural Anthropology, a 41.9 percent disparity between the percentage of women represented and a theoretical equality of 50 percent can hardly be described as a victory. Only slightly more encouraging perhaps is the distribution among the second most frequently cited figures. While the overall female representation in this group rose to 24.2 percent, this is still only a 15.1 percent increase in roughly two decades and does not sound nearly so encouraging when framed as a 25.8 percent disparity in favor of men.


The individuals populating the lists of regularly cited authors change significantly between the two data sets. Between the 1980s and the 2000s the second-most referenced list grew 33.3 percent. From the older list to the newer there is a 63.7 percent turnover versus the composition of the group in the 1980s. Amongst the most cited, a less drastic, though still significant change occurs. From the 1980s to the 2000s, there was a 10 percent increase in size but there was a 40 percent turnover versus the earlier decade.


This survey does not warrant an absolute assertion concerning the centrality of these authors to the canon of Cultural Anthropology. That is, perhaps as Bp. W. Barlow stated in 1601, “We acknowledge it Canon-like, but not Canonicall [sic].” (Oxford English Dictionary Online, 2012) While frequency of citation in textbooks may be useful as a piece of the canonical puzzle, it should be taken as only that – a piece. To me, this information implies a dynamically evolving canon of central authors in Cultural Anthropology.



References Cited


Ember, Carol R., and Melvin Ember

1985 Cultural Anthropology. 4th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.

2007 Cultural Anthropology. 12th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.


Harris, Marvin

1983. Cultural Anthropology. New York: Harper & Row.


Harris, Marvin, and Orna Johnson

2003 Cultural Anthropology. 6th edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson Education.


Haviland, William A.

1983 Cultural Anthropology. 4th edition. New York: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston.


Haviland, William A., Harald E. L. Prins, Dana Walrath, and Bunny McBride.

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Thompson Learning.


Nanda, Serena

1984 Cultural Anthropology. 2nd edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.


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Oxford English Dictionary

2012a “Canon, n.1”. Oxford English Dictionary Online. Electronic document,

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/27148 (accessed March 06, 2013).

2012b “Canonical, adj. and n.”. Oxford English Dictionary Online. Electronic document,

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/27157 (accessed March 06,2013).


Peoples, James and Garrick Bailey

1988 Humanity: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing


2006 Humanity: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. 7th edition. Belmont, CA:

Thompson Wadsworth.


Schultz, Emily A. and Robert H. Lavenda

1987 Cultural Anthropology: A Perspective on the Human Condition. St. Paul, MN: West

Publishing Company.

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Oxford University Press.