Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

(1878) Ancient Society was perhaps the most influential of the early cross-cultural studies of 
property, certainly for its influence on Marx and Engles (Averkieva, 1961; Engels, 1902/1884; 
Koranshvili, 1980; 1982; Marx & Engels, 1888/1965). The ethnogaphic notebooks of Marx (1972) 
provide further evidence of the need felt by political economists to validate their work with 
cross-cultural evidence. 
Arguments for and against Marxist property theories proved to be a major impetus for 
cross-cultural research in the nineteenth century. Two other factors were the increasing 
availability of ethnographies due to accelerating exploration, colonialization and world trade, 
and the elaboration of theories of evolution by Darwin (1859) and Spencer (1885; 1972). 
Although Locke, Rousseau, and Marx had presumed a natural history of cultural evolution, 
Darwinism gave it an explanatory framework. This was particularly powerful when Darwin’s 
primary disciple, Romanes (1883), merged cultural evolution and biological evolution, placing 
primitive people between primates and civilized man on the phylogenetic scale of progression. 
With a theory of progressive cultural evolution, there developed in the late nineteenth 
century a most prolific to-and-fro mustering of ethnographic and ethological evidence to 
support or refute Marxism. Known as comparative sociology, largely French, this started with 
an ethnographic survey by LaFargue (1885), who was Karl Marx’s son-in-law, and included 
response and counter response by Fustel de Coulanges (1885; 1891a,b), LaFargue (1830; 1892), 
Laveleye (1878; 1891), Guyot (1895), and others. This scholarship tried to become less 
polemical, and more scientific, as seen in the ethnographic survey by Letourneau (1892) and in 
the biological survey by Petrucci (1905). But the underlying ideological biases were always 
The comparative ethnographic study of social institutions burgeoned at the turn of the 
century and assumed a place in each of the social sciences. In much of this work, property was 
a prominent topic (e.g. Lewinski, 1913; Westermarck, 1908a; 1908b). However, the continuing 
threat and suspicion of ideological bias in this type of research provided the motivation for the 
development of more objective methods and standards. 
The use of cross-cultural surveys to study social institutions is generally known as the 
science of society, coined by William Graham Sumner (Davie, 1963). Sumner was an American 
political economist and sociologist, best known for his Folkways (1907). Although he was a 
social Darwinist, he did not accept the prevailing belief that cultural evolution progressively

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