Clyde Kay Maben Kluckhohn was an early American anthropologist who made significant contributions to all four of anthropology’s subdisciplines. One of the last true generalists in the field, Kluckhohn communicated his ethnographic research in the American southwest, as well as his theories on culture and society, to the public in accessible volumes such as Mirror for Man (1949).
Kluckhohn was born in Iowa in 1905. After completing his undergraduate degree in classics at the University of Wisconsin, Kluckhohn studied abroad, first at the University of Vienna in 1931, and then at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar in 1932. He completed his PhD at Harvard University in 1936 and was appointed to the faculty soon after; he spent his entire academic career at Harvard, where he taught anthropology and organized several interdisciplinary programs. Kluckhohn died in 1960 from heart failure while at work in New Mexico.
Kluckhohn’s ethnographic contributions extend from his research in the American southwest. He gained firsthand experience with the Navaho when, at age 17, he was sent to New Mexico to recover from an attack of rheumatic fever. Kluckhohn published widely on Navaho society, most notably Navaho Witchcraft (1944) and The Navaho (1946).
Kluckhohn brought his eclectic knowledge of biology, psychology, and history to bear on his other major contribution to the discipline: the idea of culture. As a scholar, Kluckhohn was dedicated to moving anthropology away from the cultural relativism of Franz Boas and toward the search for human universals, a move he believed would gain anthropology a place in the theoretical sciences. He pursued the search for universals in value theory, asserting that despite wide differences in customs, fundamental human values were shared across different societies. Kluckhohn communicated these ideas in works such as Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (with A. Kroeber, 1952).
Kluckhohn’s interests ranged beyond the field of anthropology to include university administration and government service. At Harvard, Kluckhohn was Curator of Southwestern Ethnology at the Peabody Museum and a senior founding member of the Department of Social Relations. During World War II, he served as consultant for the Office of War Information where social science principals were used to analyze Japanese society. His early government service led to his appointment as the first director of the Russian Research Center. A product of the growing tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Center was dedicated to the investigation of Soviet society through the social sciences.
- Kluckhohn, C. (1942). Navaho witchcraft. Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 22(2). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
- Kluckhohn, C. (1949). Mirror for man: The relation of anthropology to modern life. New York: McGraw Hill.
- Kluckhohn, C. (1962). Culture and behavior: The collected essays of Clyde Kluckhohn. New York: Free Press.