Raoul Naroll was an American anthropologist whose major contribution to anthropology and other social sciences, including history, was the development of methods for conducting and evaluating comparative studies. He developed many procedures for subjecting comparative studies to rigorous analysis, and he was equally concerned with the trustworthiness of ethnographic sources. His goal was to have social scientists arrive at conclusions of theoretical and practical importance that could be trusted. The purpose of obtaining trustworthy information—either ethnographic data or well-supported propositions— was to produce a literature that could be used to better humankind. He championed four techniques:
- In his book Data Quality Control, he developed methods for the identification of control factors and bias-sensitive traits in data used in comparative or cross-cultural studies. Witchcraft attribution was one trait he found bias sensitive; it was correlated with two control factors—the length of time the ethnographer spent in the field and whether the native language was learned. Later, these two factors became the basis for constructing a sample of societies and their sources, which he felt offered trustworthy ethnographic data.
- Naroll was concerned with Galton’s Problem (i.e., whether cases in a cross-cultural study were independent) and developed five separate solutions to the problem.
- Naroll was concerned with the nature of the culture-bearing unit in cross-cultural surveys and developed guidelines for ensuring the comparability of units.
- He advocated the use of high-quality samples, two of which he was primarily responsible for developing—the standard ethnographic sample and the Quality Control Sample, referred to as the HRAF Probability Sample.
Many of Naroll’s contributions are described in A Handbook of Method in Cultural Anthropology, edited with Ronald Cohen. This handbook became a major reference work. Of Naroll’s substantive contributions, perhaps the most important were his studies of deterrence. He conducted both a cross-cultural study and a cross-historical study to test the theory that military preparedness prevents war. In neither study did he find support for deterrence theory. Also of importance were Naroll’s studies of cultural evolution. One of his first articles was “A Preliminary Index of Social Development.” In his cross-historical study of deterrence, he summarized the main currents of cultural evolution. Other studies related cultural evolution to warfare and to migration. He believed that humankind was evolving toward a world government. His next book was to review evidence on the cultural evolution of humankind. Another area in which Naroll did important research was “culture stress.” Naroll showed concern for measuring the degree of stress to which individuals, as members of cultures, are subjected. Specifically, he looked at such indicators of culture stress as drunken brawling, defiant homicide, protest suicide, and witchcraft attribution. In The Moral Order, alcoholism and suicide are seen as resulting from weakened moral nets.
Raoul Naroll was born in Toronto, Canada, on September 10,1920, the only child of Tessa Soskin and Albert Naroll. He grew up in Los Angeles, California. He enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly before World War II after attending the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) for 3 years. In 1941, he married Frada Kaufman, and they were at Pearl Harbor on December 7. At war’s end, he was an intelligence officer in Germany interviewing prisoners of war. He returned to UCLA as a junior in 1949 and continued on to obtain his PhD in history in 1953. His interests soon switched to anthropology. In 1955, he obtained a job as a research associate at the Washington office of the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF). From 1957 to 1962, he taught at California State University, Northridge, first as assistant professor (1957-1960), and then as associate professor (1960-1962). In 1962, he became an associate professor at Northwestern University, where he was promoted to professor in 1965. In 1966, he joined the faculty of the Department of Anthropology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he remained for the rest of his career. During this period, he and colleague Keith Otterbein developed a cross-cultural program that trained both undergraduate and graduate students. From 1967 to 1973, he served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the HRAF, and from 1973 to 1981 as president. In 1979, he became a Distinguished Professor. He died June 25, 1985, of colon cancer in Buffalo, New York, age 64. Naroll’s papers are at the SUNY-Buffalo archives. A selected bibliography has been published by Keith Otterbein.
- Naroll, R. (1956). A preliminary index of social development. American Anthropologist, 58, 687-715.
- Naroll, R. (1959). A tentative index of culture stress. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 5, 107-116.
- Naroll, R. (1962). Data quality control. New York: Free Press.
- Naroll, R. (1966). Does military deterrence deter? Transactions, 3, 14-20.
- Naroll, R., with Cohen, R. (Eds.). (1970). A handbook of method in cultural anthropology. Garden City, NY: Natural History Press.
- Naroll, R., with Bullough, V. L., & Naroll, F. (1974). Military deterrence in history: A pilot cross-historical survey. Albany: State University of New York Press.
- Naroll, R. (1983). The moral order: An introduction to the human situation. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
- Otterbein, K. F. (1987). Raoul Naroll (1920-1985). American Anthropologist, 89, 136-142.