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The Ethnological Museum Berlin showed permanent exhibitions on Africa, America, Oceania and Asia (2010)

Ethnology (derived from ancient Greek ἔθνος

, German Volk , Volksstamm’, and -logie doctrine’; formerly ethnology, now also social and cultural anthropology) is an empirical and comparative social and cultural science that studies the diversity of human ways of life from a perspective that is both contemporary and historically rooted.

Originally, the subject focused heavily on the coexistence of the approximately 1300 ethnic groups and indigenous peoples worldwide today[1] focused. Today, the cultural practices and ideas of a wide variety of social groups and entities are the focus of its research, which at the same time is always examined in connection with political and economic structures. Contemporary ethnology thus also investigates, for example, institutions and organizations as well as living contexts in modern industrial societies, in urban spaces,[2] or the connection with migration. Ethnologists are also interested in how people experience the effects of globalization and actively shape the associated transformations through their own actions.

By closely immersing itself in the life and action worlds of the groups and people it studies using the method of field research, ethnology aims to decipher their specific understandings of the world and explain them – often in comparison to other cultural contexts and social collectives. In doing so, ethnology is usually less focused on the verification of theories and concepts, but rather on the generation of theories and the associated explanation of contexts of meaning. Field research today also takes place in connection with transnational online communities (netnographies, cyberanthropology).

Ethnology first emerged at ethnological museums and has been taught as an independent subject at universities since the end of the 19th century, in Germany initially as Völkerkunde, in Great Britain as social anthropology and in the USA as cultural anthropology. In the Anglo-Saxon world, ethnology is considered a branch of anthropology (science of man)[3]which in continental Europe is understood as a natural science (physical anthropology) and as a branch of ethnological field research, which is no longer in use today. In Europe, cultural anthropology is also understood as folklore, which is also referred to as European ethnology. The professional society of ethnologists in Germany is the German Society for Social and Cultural Anthropology.

Discipline and self-image

What is ethnology?

Definitions of ethnology or anthropology:

  • Thomas Hylland Eriksen: “Anthropology is the comparative study of cultural and social life. Its principal method is participant observation, which consists of prolonged fieldwork in a particular social setting.”
  • Tim Ingold: “Anthropology is philosophy with people in it.”
  • Claude Lévi-Strauss: “Anthropology has humanity as the subject of its research, but unlike other sciences of man, it seeks to grasp its object by means of the most diverse manifestations.”
  • Clifford Geertz: “If we want to discover what makes people human, we can only find it in what people are: And what people are is highly diverse. By understanding the diversities-their extent, their nature, their basis, and their implications-we can construct a concept of human nature, more a statistical shadow than a primitivist dream, that contains both: Substance and truth.”
  • Panoff and Perrin: Ethnology in the strict sense seeks “synthetic studies and theoretical conclusions”[4] from ethnographic documents made available to it by the work of social and cultural anthropologists in their fieldwork and general problem studies.[5]


The subject cultivates certain perspectives with which it distinguishes itself from other social and cultural science disciplines and at the same time has set fundamental impulses for them.

Classically, the perspective from within ( also emic perspective) played an important role, i.e. the attempt to comprehend and explain the inner reality of a cultural context and its members.

For a long time, ethnology also focused on predominantly powerless and underprivileged groups (such as minority groups, colonised or marginalised people). Today, on the other hand, socially better-off groups (e.g. social elites) are also increasingly being studied.

Thirdly, the foreign has classically been studied, while the own is only slowly moving into the field of ethnology. It was often assumed that the foreign as well as the own and the border between them were given and taken for granted. Today, following Fredrik Barth’s theory of ethnicity, increasing attention is also being paid to the boundary-drawing process between the perception of the culturally own and that of the culturally foreign (e.g. in the context of ethno-cultural or national identity politics). Furthermore, it is shown that such demarcations in the context of globalization and migration are often fluid and, moreover, inextricably interwoven with other categories of difference (such as social status or gender).

Finally, central to the discipline is its self-reflexive view, which consistently examines both its own methodological procedures and the positionality of researchers in relation to the production of ethnological knowledge.

History of Science

In the 19th century, ethnology developed as a niche subject. Its subject matter was primarily those peoples and cultures that had not been studied by longer-established sciences (history, philology, Indology, etc.), but with which European colonizers, missionaries and travelers in particular very often had to deal.

Since the subject entered the universities towards the end of the 19th century, the definition of its object proved to be difficult. It was usually done defensively in demarcation from other sciences. The societies studied were often defined only by what they lacked in contrast to those constituted by the state. For this reason, the following negative or deficient definitions of the object were chosen above all:

  • non-developed (= primitive) cultures,
  • non-written cultures
  • non-industrial crops
  • non-governmental crops
  • “savages”, “sauvages”, “savages”, i.e. cultures that are not civilised by European standards and are in a “state of nature”
  • non-historical and thus tradition-bound non-modern cultures
  • cultures not alienated or untouched by our own western civilization
  • non-European cultures

Often those societies were studied which were assumed to be threatened with extinction. In summary and in a positive light, it can be said that ethnology has developed into a science that for the most part focuses on stable, manageable small groups that are characterized by a high density of communication between all dependent members of society (face-to-face relationships) and are very often organized as relatives or quasi-relatives. Even when small groups are organized within larger social associations, they are more often a subject of ethnological research (urban ethnology, corporate ethnology).

Particularly in small groups, the method of participant observation can be used to arrive at meaningful and model-like statements without having to apply statistical and quantitative procedures. Due to the extensive and often long-lasting independence of the groups studied, on the one hand a holistic perspective was made possible in which, similar to sociology, the whole of a society can be taken into view, while on the other hand they offer the broadest possibilities for comparison, since in the ethnographies a huge wealth of experience of the most diverse forms of human life was written down in detail. Ethnology is thus particularly well suited for testing generalizations.

Ethnology in the Canon of Sciences

Influences on ethnology

Ethnology has had a lasting influence on many academic disciplines and has contributed significantly to a changed understanding of rationality, alterity, gender, or postcolonialism. Conversely, the contemporary discourse of anthropology is exposed to a multitude of theoretical currents, which in turn help shape the cognitive identity of the discipline. In the course of interdisciplinary research, disciplinary boundaries are re-explored and new configurations of knowledge emerge. The following thinkers of recent decades are particularly frequently received in anthropology:

  • Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998)
  • Michel Foucault (1926-1984)
  • Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002)
  • Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
  • Edward Said (1935-2003)
  • Umberto Eco (1932-2016)
  • Benedict Anderson (1936-2015)
  • Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (* 1942)
  • James Clifford (* 1945)
  • Bruno Latour (* 1947)
  • Judith Butler (* 1956)

Ethnology and European Ethnology

A German speciality is folklore, which at German-speaking universities is also known as European ethnology or cultural anthropology as an independent subject. Folklore studies the other in one’s own (German or European) culture and emphasizes in its approach phenomena of everyday life. The focus is on the European area, whereby processes such as globalization or transnationalization have made it necessary to look beyond the borders of Europe and have led to a greater intersection with ethnology. These convergences in content and methodology, which continue to this day, have led to debates in recent years about the dividing lines between the two subjects.[6]

Research fields of ethnology

Ethnology includes almost all social science topics as a sub-discipline, as well as natural science aspects such as ethnopharmacy or ethnomathematics. Ethnology thus claims to be an interdisciplinary basic or leading science,[7] because the societies studied allow very far-reaching cultural comparisons due to their great historical or spatial separation. This results in a particularly good overview of the interdependencies and influences of social subsystems that are otherwise usually only studied individually.

The main departments of anthropology taught in universities today are considered to be:

  • Economic anthropology (economic organization)
  • Ethnosociology (social organization, British: social anthropology)
  • Political anthropology (political organization)
  • Ethnology of Religion
  • Legal Anthropology
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Kinship Ethnology
  • Gender Studies (Gender Studies)
  • Visual anthropology (use of media)
  • Action anthropology (intervening)

Further fields of research are, for example, ethnolinguistics, ethnomedicine (with ethnopharmacology, ethnopharmacy, ethnopsychiatry, ethnopsychoanalysis), ethnoecology, ethno-dentistry, cognitive anthropology, art ethnology, ethnopedagogy and intercultural communication (see also List of Topics: Fields of Ethnology).

Today, some ethnological disciplines are also referred to as anthropology (study of human beings); for example, economic anthropology is also referred to as economic anthropology, and there is also religious anthropology, legal anthropology and music anthropology.


In most cases, the first reports about foreign cultures contained considerable distortions of the real conditions, since the reporters evaluated their subjective impressions Eurocentrically in comparison with the Christian-European tradition – which they considered to be the only civilized view. Often, therefore, particularly alien phenomena (ritual cannibalism, human sacrifice, extraordinary physiognomy of people, etc.) were emphasized beyond measure.[8] The explorers, adventurers, colonial officials, merchants and missionaries who toured the colonies had no conception of modern scientific work and therefore disseminated distorted ethnographic records.[9] Nevertheless, ethnologists continued to use such data until the early 20th century. Since the 1920s, they have mostly collected this data themselves. Ethnology used to gain mainly material data; ethnographic objects were evaluated rather than oral culture (narratives, myths). The material focus resulted from the fact that most ethnologists did not work at universities as they do today, but at museums.

Today, the most important method of data collection is ethnological field research. The most characteristic method during the field stay is participant observation, which is understood as the integration of the researcher into the life of a group in order to really understand their everyday life. Long-term eyewitnessing in the field is an indispensable basis of research for all ethnologists – unless they have devoted themselves to cultural-historical questions (an orientation equivalent to field ethnology). This also distinguishes ethnology from other disciplines such as cultural studies, which mostly turn to the analysis of media products, and from sociology, which works qualitatively and at best conducts interviews.

During the time of field research, ethnologists live closely with the local population and get to know their everyday life. The special feature of this method is the communication-led approach, in order to be guided in the work by the encounters on the ground. Incidentally, this leads to the fact that the subject can work less theory-led than, for example, the neighbouring disciplines: the ultimately relevant theoretical questions – and the research results – often only arise from the field itself.

Any field research inevitably leads to an influence on the people observed. In order to keep this as low as possible, the sociologist Roland Girtler, for example, formulated “ten commandments of field research” in 2001:[10]

  1. Recognition of customs and rules;
  2. Generosity and impartiality, recognition of foreign values and principles that are not their own;
  3. not to blaspheme and speak disparagingly of hosts;
  4. Knowledge of history and social conditions;
  5. Knowledge of geographical features;
  6. Report on experiences, if possible without prejudices, create a research diary about thoughts, problems, joys, sufferings, annoyances etc.;
  7. Do not see and treat people as mere data providers;
  8. Effort to reasonably assess interlocutors in order not to be fooled or deliberately lied to;
  9. not to act as missionaries or social workers, not to educate;
  10. good constitution, ability to eat, drink and sleep at any time.

In addition to this very time-consuming research, various other qualitative techniques of data collection are used: ethnographic interviews, which can be structured, semi-structured and open, expert and focus group interviews, systematic observations, biographical methods (see also ethnographic methods). Learning the language(s) spoken in the research area is considered essential. In accordance with the orientation of current questions towards the connections and interdependencies between different places, research in several places has also (multi-sited ethnography) has been established as a possible approach.


Subject History

Antiquity to early modern times

Ethnology – in a broader sense ethnography (i.e. the description of foreign peoples) – was already practiced in Greek and Roman antiquity. In the 5th century BC, Herodotus of Halicarnassus already gave a detailed and empirically supported account of the peoples of the then known world and their customs. Descriptions of other cultures are also found in Plato, Aristotle and others.

  • Herodotus (490-425 BC) was a historian who traveled to the Anatolian, Syrian-Iraqi, and Arabian regions. His writings are considered an important source for ancient history. Herodotus wrote in the fifth century BC in the Historiai about the “barbarian” tribes in the north and east of the Greek peninsula, in comparison with the habits and ideas of the Athenians.
  • Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56 to ca. 120): De origine et situ Germanorum
  • Marco Polo (1254-1324): Le divisament dou monde / Il Milione
  • Ibn Chaldun (1332-1406): Muqaddima

Two theological schools shaped universal ideas:

  1. The Augustinian School: Augustine (354-430) relates all the problems of life back to God. The immediate power of the church – deus et anima – creates a path to theocratic social order. Aegidius Humanus thinks every unbeliever lives in enmity with God. This “pagan problem” denies unbelievers any property because everything is “from God.” Pope Innocent IV legitimizes violence against “pagans,” denies the formation of states to non-Christians, but thinks that free will is a law of nature. By submitting to the pope’s authority, people are granted will and humanity. Thus, the Discoverers read out appropriate texts that would serve as a template for action for indigenous cultures. If the explorers did not act according to Christian guidelines, violence was legitimized.
  2. The Thomistic school: Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) saw God as the cause of the world, the power of the church as indirect. God existed in Aristotelian thought, based on experience, because of the existence of the world. The movement of the world and the legal order were based on experience. Personal freedom, property rights and statehood were considered natural rights.
  • 1537: The bull Sublimus Dei of Pope Paul III refers to the discovered ones as veri hominesas true human beings who can be won and missionized for Christianity. The absolute position of the Church, which claims all discoveries as well as sovereign decisions for itself, leads to a confrontation of ecclesiastical and secular power after the Investiture Controversy.
  • José de Acosta (1540-1600): Based on a comprehensive humanistic education, the Jesuit José de Acosta created an outstanding work with his Historia natural y mortal de las Indias, which provides unbiased information about the “new world” and its inhabitants, and compares and relates American cultures to European ones.

In addition to the above-mentioned occidental schools, traditions rooted in other cultural circles must also be considered. These include the perception of the foreign by those cultures to which ethnology traditionally turns. Fritz W. Kramer’s work Der rote Fes (The Red Fez ) on the perception of European invaders by African tribes is a work that exemplarily addresses such reflections.

Early modern times until today

15. until 17th century

Europe was a religious unity, but not a political one. The community of values of Christianity counteracted the political disunity of Europe. Therefore, faith still has political significance today. The Spanish Inquisition presented Christianity as the right faith and in this way hoped to solve the Moorish problem. In 1492 the last Moorish kingdom was destroyed, America was rediscovered by Christopher Columbus, and in 1610 the last expulsions of Moors from Spain took place. Spaniards and Portuguese traveled to Africa, India, Central and South America to steal raw materials, gold and riches. Christianity was to be spread. After the discoveries, a Eurocentric view prevailed that was little questioned by explorers and colonialists until the 20th century.

Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590) addresses customs, practices, promiscuity and cannibalism in his Historia general de las cosas de Nueva Espana.

Hans Staden (c. 1525 – c. 1576) wrote the Wahrhaftige Historia in 1557, supporting hostile behavior toward savages, who were viewed with brutal severity as non-humans. Staden sided with the church. Distorted depictions from this period portrayed nudity, cannibalism, and promiscuity. Adverse depictions arose from assumptions and fantasies, for example also on engravings. Cannibals in primitive peoples could not be proselytized, savages could not be won over for Christianity. The ideological message prevented mutual respect and overcame the inhibition to kill.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) Leviathan (1649/1651), Antonio de Oliveira de Cadornega (1610-1690), Joseph-Francois Lafiteau (1681-1746), Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the Contrat Social (1762).

18. Century

Ethnology as an independent science emerged during the German and Russian Enlightenment. It was developed in the 18th century by historians, geographers and linguists as a “science of peoples” (gr. ethnos ‘people’). The historian Gerhard Friedrich Müller (1705-1783) can be considered the founder of ethnography. Müller was commissioned by the Russian Tsarina Katharina II. (1729-1796) as a participant in the Second Kamchatka Expedition (1733-1743), Müller conducted historical, geographical, ethnographic, linguistic and archaeological research in Siberia. He invoked Joseph François Lafitau’s (1681-1746) comparative purpose and developed a program to “describe the Siberian peoples,” with the aim of comparing them with each other and with peoples of other parts of the world. He called this program “Völker-Beschreibung” in 1740. Müller put it into practice during the expedition with other scientists and developed methods for field research and dealing with informants. The naturalia and artefacts collected by the expedition members were archived in the Kunstkammer (founded in 1714). Müller thus stood at the beginning of a new tradition, ethnography, and saw this science as a discipline in its own right alongside his two main subjects, history and geography.

The historian August Ludwig Schlözer (1735-1809) formulated a general “ethnology” in Göttingen in 1771-1772 and designed an “ethnographic method” of history. Göttingen had connections with Russia and Eastern Europe as well as with England and became the centre of radiation of the new science. Around 1780, the historian Adam Franz Kollár (1718-1783) coined the term “ethnology” in Vienna and gave the first definition in 1783: “ethnologia […] est notitia gentium populorumque” (German: “Ethnology is the study of peoples and nations”). Schlözer regarded ethnology as part of a global world history in which all peoples were interconnected.

While ethnography emerged in the early German-Russian Enlightenment, ethnology emerged from the late German-Austrian Enlightenment. For Müller in Russia, Schlözer in Germany and Kollár in Austria, the questions about the togetherness of peoples had great importance. Almost all researchers in Russia followed the suggestions of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) that only a comparison of languages, not of customs, could provide information about the origin and kinship of peoples.[11]

19. until 21st century

In modern times, the era of the great voyages of discovery led to new contacts with foreign peoples, which are reflected in many ways in travelogues and other texts, such as Montaigne’s On Cannibals or Montesquieu (1689-1755).

In the 19th century, ethnology was dominated by evolutionism, whose concern was the design of a cultural succession. Often the theories were not based on own research, but on reports of missionaries (Lehnstuhlethnologie).

In Germany, most ethnologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries worked in terms of cultural history and attempted to reconstruct the history of the peoples without writing. This interest was not shared in other academic nations – for example, British social anthropologists, who found interest in history unscientific, tended to ask about the functioning of societies.

In addition to cultural historians (especially the Viennese School around Father Wilhelm Schmidt, but also less dogmatic researchers oriented towards history), ethnologists with a cultural morphology orientation (in the tradition of Leo Frobenius) worked primarily in Germany until the 1950s. Richard Thurnwald’s ethnosociological orientation, which has become influential since the 1960s through his student Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann, played a rather minor role in Germany until then.

During the National Socialist era, German-language ethnology was racist and sometimes esoteric.[12]

Although earlier ethnologists had already conducted fieldwork, it was Bronisław Malinowski (1884-1942) who first established the research method of participant observation, which is still essential to the subject today, as the central approach of the discipline.

Ethnology has long been a European-based science and has found its most important exponents in some of those states that have claimed power around the world, most notably Russia, England and France. Thus it bears exemplary the charge of Eurocentrism. Today, the subject is significantly influenced by American cultural anthropology, so that one can speak of “Amerocentrism” rather than Eurocentrism. Meanwhile, countries outside Europe have developed significant ethnologies of their own (for example, India, Brazil, and Japan). Ethnologists from the Global South are becoming increasingly present in the worldwide professional debate. Interculturality has been developed as a counter-concept to ethnocentrism.

Today, the term “ethnology” is usually avoided because the focus of research is less on peoples (long understood as natural communities) than on ethnic groups as “imagined communities.”[13]

History of Theory

Ethnology today works by researching and creating theory rather than testing theory: while most other disciplines develop theories and then apply them to empirical reality, ethnology takes the opposite approach and develops its theories from empirical material. Significant theories in the history of the discipline: analytical anthropology, evolutionism, diffusionism, functionalism, structural functionalism, structuralism, neoevolutionism, cultural relativism, cultural materialism, cognitive anthropology, cultural ecology, interpretive anthropology.

Personal History


  • Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)

18. Century

  • Gerhard Friedrich Müller (1705-1783)
  • August Ludwig von Schlözer (1735-1809)
  • Adam František Kollár (1718-1783)
  • Georg Forster (1754-1794)
  • Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), main work: Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind (1784-1791)

19. Century

  • Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887)
  • Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881), main work: Ancient Society (1877), German Die Urgesellschaft (The primitive society)
  • Adolf Bastian (1826-1905)
  • Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917), main work: Primitive Culture (1871) and Anthropology (1881)
  • Joseph-Anténor Firmin (1850-1911), main work: De l’Égalité des Races Humaines (1885)
  • James George Frazer (1854-1941), main work: The Golden Bough (1890), German Der goldene Zweig (The Golden Branch)
  • Frank Hamilton Cushing (1857-1900)

20. Century

  • Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857-1939)
  • Franz Boas (1858-1942)
  • William Halse Rivers (1864-1922)
  • Frances Densmore (1867-1957)
  • Richard Thurnwald (1869-1954)
  • Marcel Mauss (1872-1950), main work: Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaïques (1923-1924), German Die Gabe
  • Leo Frobenius (1873-1938)
  • Arnold van Gennep (1873-1957), main work: Les rites de passage (1909)
  • Alfred L. Kroeber (1876-1960)
  • Fritz Graebner (1877-1934), main work: Method of Ethnology (1911)
  • Alfred Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955), main work: The Andaman Islanders (1922)
  • Robert H. Lowie (1883-1957)
  • Edward Sapir (1884-1939)
  • Bronisław Malinowski (1884-1942), main work: Argonauts of the Western Pacific(1922)
  • Ruth Benedict (1887-1948)
  • Adolf Ellegard Jensen (1899-1965), major work: The Killed Deity. World View of an Early Culture (1966)
  • Leslie White (1900-1975)
  • Margaret Mead (1901-1978)
  • Raymond Firth (1901-2002)
  • Julian Steward (1902-1972)
  • Edward E. Evans-Pritchard (1902-1973)
  • Gregory Bateson (1904-1980), main work: Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972)
  • Clyde Kluckhohn (1905-1960)
  • Meyer Fortes (1906-1983)
  • Kunz Dittmer (1907-1969), major work: General Ethnology: Forms and Development of Culture (1954)
  • Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009), best known work: Tristes Tropique (1955), German Traurige Tropen (Sad Tropics)
  • Edmund Leach (1910-1989)
  • Fei Xiaotong (1910-2005), main work: Xiangtu Zhongguo 鄉土中國, English From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society
  • Max Gluckman (1911-1975)
  • Louis Dumont (1911-1998)
  • Victor Turner (1920-1983), major work: The Ritual Process (1969)
  • Mary Douglas (1921-2007), major work: Purity and Danger (1966)
  • Eric Wolf (1923-1999), major work: Europe and the People Without History (1982)
  • Ernest Gellner (1925-1995), major work: Nations and Nationalism (1983)
  • Clifford Geertz (1926-2006), main work: The Interpretation of Cultures (1973)
  • Marvin Harris (1927-2001)
  • Pierre Clastres (1934-1977), main work: La Société contre l’État (1974), German Staatsfeinde: Studien zur politischen Anthropologie (Enemies of the State: Studies in Political Anthropology)

Contemporary Anthropology (+)

  • Jack Goody (1919-2015)
  • Georges Balandier (1920-2016)
  • René Girard (1923-2015)
  • Fredrik Barth (1928-2016)
  • Marshall Sahlins (1930-2021), main work: Stone Age Economics (1974)
  • Maurice Godelier (* 1934)
  • Marc Augé (* 1935)
  • Maurice Bloch (* 1939)
  • Michael Taussig (* 1940)
  • Paul Rabinow (1944-2021), main work: Essays in the Anthropology of Reason (1997), German Anthropologyof Reason
  • George Marcus (* 1946)
  • Arjun Appadurai (* 1949), major work: Modernity at Large (1996)
  • Philippe Descola (* 1949)
  • David Graeber (1961-2020)
  • Thomas Hylland Eriksen (* 1962)

(+) Even though many institutes in the German-speaking world have chosen ‘ethnology’ as their subject title, the term ‘ anthropology ‘ is intended to reflect the current strong influence of English-speaking anthropology and French-speaking anthropology. However, a change in meaning is also emerging in the German-speaking world, which contrasts anthropology, previously understood in more physical-biological or philosophical terms, with social and cultural anthropology.

Current German-speaking ethnologists

  • Gerd Spittler (* 1939), University of Bayreuth
  • Fritz W. Kramer (* 1941), Hamburg University of Fine Arts
  • Michael Oppitz (* 1942), University of Zurich
  • Georg Pfeffer (1943-2020), Free University of Berlin
  • Mark Münzel (* 1943), Philipps University Marburg
  • Hans Peter Duerr (* 1943), University of Bremen
  • Ute Luig (* 1944), Free University of Berlin
  • Bernhard Streck (* 1945), University of Leipzig
  • Karl-Heinz Kohl (* 1948), Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main
  • Thomas Bierschenk (* 1951), Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
  • Günther Schlee (* 1951), Max Planck Institute for Ethnological Research
  • Andre Gingrich (* 1952), University of Vienna
  • Carola Lentz (* 1954), Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
  • Thomas Hauschild (* 1955), Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg
  • Christoph Antweiler (* 1956), Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
  • Judith Schlehe (* 1956), Albert Ludwig University Freiburg
  • Christian Rätsch (* 1957), freelance author and speaker
  • Susanne Schröter (* 1957), Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main
  • Mareile Flitsch (* 1960), University of Zurich
  • Michael Bollig (* 1961), University of Cologne
  • Dieter Haller (* 1962), Ruhr University Bochum
  • Bettina Beer (* 1966), University of Lucerne
  • Roland Hardenberg (* 1967), Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main
  • Matthias Krings (* 1967), Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
  • Hansjörg Dilger (* 1968), Free University of Berlin

See also

Portal: Ethnology– Wikipedia content on ethnology

  • List of ethnologists (A-Z)
  • German-language ethnology courses
  • Moving Anthropology Student Network (transnational network for students)
  • Ethnicity (classification of cultural identities)
  • List of museums of ethnology (with ethnographic museums)
  • Intercultural communication (between different cultures)
  • Personal categorization (occupation, gender, race)
  • List of folklore and folklore societies


Fundamentals and Introductions:

  • Christoph Antweiler: Reading Ethnology. Ein Führer durch den Bücher-Dschungel (= Workbooks, Cultural Studies. Volume 1). 3., revised and supplemented edition. Lit, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-5608-9 (with CD-ROM).
  • Hugo Bernatzik (ed.): Die große Völkerkunde. The customs, habits and nature of foreign peoples. 3 vols. Leipzig 1939.
  • Kaj Birket-Smith: History of Culture. A general ethnology. 3. Edition. Zurich 1956.
  • Kunz Dittmar: General Ethnology. Forms and development of culture. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig 1954.
  • Thomas Hylland Eriksen: Small Places, Large Issues. An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. Pluto, London 2001, ISBN 0-7453-1773-1.
  • Hans Fischer, Bettina Beer: Ethnologie. Introduction and Overview. Reimer, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-496-02844-4.
  • Hans Peter Hahn: Ethnology. Eine Einführung. Suhrkamp, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-518-29685-1 (supplementary information
  • Dieter Haller: Dtv-Atlas Ethnologie. 2.Completely revised and corrected edition. dtv, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-423-03259-9.
  • Marvin Harris: Cultural Anthropology. A Textbook. Campus, Frankfurt 1989, ISBN 3-593-33976-5 (US original: Cultural Anthropology).
  • Frank Heidemann: Ethnology. Eine Einführung. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8252-3467-6 (samplein Google Book Search).
  • Karl-Heinz Kohl: Ethnologie, die Wissenschaft vom kulturell Fremden. An Introduction. 3., revised edition. Beck, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-406-46835-3(reading sample in Google Book Search).
  • Ingrid Kreide-Damani (ed.): Ethnologie im Nationalsozialismus. Julius Lips und die Geschichte der “Völkerkunde”. Reichert, Wiesbaden 2010, ISBN 978-3-89500-774-3 (with contributions by Andre Gingrich, Volker Harms, Lydia Icke-Schwalbe, Ingrid Kreide-Damani, Wolfgang Liedtke, Gudrun Meier, Udo Mischek, Dietrich Treide).
  • Friedrich Ratzel: Ethnology. 3 volumes, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1885-1901 (Volume 1– Internet Archive, Volume 2– Internet Archive and Volume 3– Internet Archive).
  • Herbert Tischner (ed.): Völkerkunde. Frankfurt am Main 1960.

Reference books:

  • Walter Hirschberg (ed.): Neues Wörterbuch der Völkerkunde, Dietrich Reimer, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-496-00875-X.

History and theoretical currents:

  • Arjun Appadurai: Modernity at large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 1996, ISBN 0-8166-2792-4 (English; sample in Google Book Search).
  • Sibylle Alsayad, Adelheid Seyler (eds.): Ethnologen-Lexikon. Biographies, Works, Theories. Weissensee, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-89998-070-0.
  • Thomas Bargatzky: Ethnology. Eine Einführung in die Wissenschaft von den urproduktiven Gesellschaften. Buske, Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-87548-039-2(sample in Google Book Search).
  • Alan Barnard: History and Theory in Anthropology. UP, Cambridge 2007, ISBN 978-0-521-77333-1 (English).
  • Alan Barnard, Jonathan Spencer (eds.): Encyclopaedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology. Routledge, London 2007, ISBN 978-0-415-28558-2 (English).
  • Fredrik Barth, Andre Gingrich et al: One Discipline, Four Ways. British, German, French, and American Anthropology. UP, Chicago 2005, ISBN 0-226-03828-9 (English).
  • Robert Borofsky: Assessing Cultural Anthropology. McGraw-Hill, New York 1994, ISBN 0-07-006578-0 (English).
  • Christian F. Feest, Karl-Heinz Kohl (eds.): Hauptwerke der Ethnologie (= Kröners Taschenausgabe. Vol. 380). Kröner, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-520-38001-3.
  • Andre Gingrich: Explorations. Topics in Ethnological Research. Boehlau, Vienna 1999, ISBN 3-205-98992-9.
  • Dieter Haller: Die Suche nach dem Fremden. Geschichte der Ethnologie in der Bundesrepublik 1945-1990. Campus, Frankfurt 2012, ISBN 978-3-593-39600-2.
  • Marvin Harris: The Rise of Anthropological Theory. A History of Theories of Culture. Expanded new edition. AltaMira Press, Walnut Creek 2001, ISBN 0-7591-0132-9 (English).
  • Hans-Jürgen Hildebrandt: Bausteine zu einer wissenschaftlichen Erforschung der Geschichte der Ethnologie. Utz, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-8316-0298-0.
  • Holger Jebens, Karl-Heinz Kohl (eds.): The End of Anthropology? Sean Kingston, Wantage 2011, ISBN 978-1-907774-28-7, doi:10.1080/00664677.2014.899201.
  • Alexander Knorr: Cyberanthropology. Hammer, Wuppertal 2011, ISBN 978-3-7795-0359-0 (German).
  • Adam Kuper: Anthropology and Anthropologists. The modern British school. Routledge, London 2002, ISBN 0-415-11895-6 (English).
  • Stephan Moebius: Marcel Mauss. UVK, Konstanz 2006, ISBN 3-89669-546-0.
  • Klaus E. Müller: Geschichte der antiken Ethnographie. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1997, ISBN 3-499-55589-1.
  • Werner Petermann: The History of Ethnology. Hammer, Wuppertal 2004, ISBN 3-87294-930-6.
  • Martin Rössler: Die deutschsprachige Ethnologie bis ca. 1960. Ein historischer Abriss (= Kölner Arbeitspapiere zur Ethnologie. Nr. 1). Institut für Völkerkunde, Universität Köln 2007(online at with PDF download; review by Jürgen Jensen: PDF; 57 kB; 7 pages).
  • Han F. Vermeulen: Before Boas: the genesis of ethnography and ethnology in the German Enlightenment (= CriticalStudies in the History of Anthropology). University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2015, ISBN 978-0-8032-5542-5.
  • Heinzpeter Znoj: Geschichte der Ethnologie. In: Bettina Beer, Hans Fischer (eds.): Ethnologie – Einführung und Überblick. 7., revised and expanded edition. Reimer, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-496-02844-4, pp. 35-53.

Web links

Commons: Ethnology– Images and media files

Wiktionary: Ethnology– Explanations of meaning, word origin, synonyms, translations

Wikibooks: Anthropology– Learning and teaching materials (English)

Wikiquote: Anthropology– Quotes from Anthropologists (English)

Wikisource: Ethnology– Sources and full texts

→ zum englischen „Portal: Anthropology“… en:Portal: Anthropology – English Wikipedia contents about Anthropology
  • German Society for Social and Cultural Anthropology (DGSKA) Official website. Institute for Ethnology and African Studies, University of Mainz.
  • Society for Ethnography (GfE) Official website. Institute for European Ethnology, University of Berlin.
  • Virtual Library of Ethnology (EVIFA) Official website. University Library of the University of Berlin.
  • Dieter Haller Interviews with German Anthropologists. In: Video Portal for the History of German Anthropology post 1945. University of Bochum (English; 260 short portraits, plus 15 ethnologists in German-language videos, subtitled in English).
  • Lorenz Khazaleh Ethnology / Social Anthropology Blog. Oslo (German/English).
  • Forum Ethnology under National Socialism (FEiNS) Official Website. Cristian Alvarado, Latin America Center, University of Hamburg.

Individual references

  1. The Ethnographic Atlas by George P. Murdock now contains data sets on 1300 ethnic groups (as of December 2012 in the InterSciWiki), of which often only samples have been evaluated, for example in the international HRAF project.

  2. Christoph Antweiler: Urbanity and Ethnology. Current Theoretical Trends and the Methodology of Ethnological Urban Research. In: Journal of Ethnology. Vol. 129, Issue 2, 2004, pp. 285-307.

  3. Professorship of Comparative Cultural and Social Anthropology.Europa-Universität Viadrina (EUV), Faculty of Cultural Studies, Frankfurt (Oder), 2014, retrieved on 11 June 2014: “The teaching field of“Comparative Cultural and Social Anthropology” is usually represented at other German universities under the name “Ethnology” or “Völkerkunde”. By changing the name from Ethnology to Anthropology, the European University Viadrina emphasizes on the one hand that the subject is not limited to the study of foreign cultures, but also pays special attention to its own culture and society.”
  4. Michel Panoff, Michel Perrin: Taschenwörterbuch der Ethnologie. Berlin 1982, pp. 93-95.
  5. Nikolaus Münzel: Kurze Einführung in die Ethnomedizin. In: Würzburger medizinhistorische Mitteilungen. Vol. 3, 1985, pp. 5-9, here: S. 5 f. (cited)

  6. Compare Alexander Knorr a.k.a. Zephyrin Xirdal:Folklore vs. ethnology? “Cultural studies of technology” and “cyberanthropology”. In: Own blog, 16 February 2006, accessed 11 June 2014 (English).

  7. Klaus E. Müller: The Magic Universe of Identity. Elementary forms of social behavior. An ethnological outline. Campus, Frankfurt et al. 1987, ISBN 3-593-33855-6, pp. 386-387.
  8. Hans-Jürgen Greschat: Naturreligionen, published in: Horst Balz et al. (eds.): Theologische Realenzyklopädie, vol. 24: “Napoleonische Epoche – Obrigkeit”. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1994, ISBN 978-3-11-019098-4, pp. 185-188.
  9. David Gibbons, Atlas of Faith. The Religions of the World. Translation from English, Frederking & Thaler, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-89405-719-0, p. 92.
  10. Philip Franz Fridolin Gondecki: We defend our forest. Dissertation at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Bonn, (PDF) Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Bonn, Published on 22 January 2015, p. 144.

  11. Han F. Vermeulen: Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln/ London 2015, ISBN 978-0-8032-5542-5.

  12. Jürgen Jensen: The History of Ethnology – a Series of Doctrinal Opinions of a Few Subject Representatives? Hamburg 2008; literature report on Rössler Die deutschsprachige Ethnologie bis ca. 1960. Ein historischer Ab riss 2007; (PDF; 57 kB; 7 pages).
  13. Heike Drotbohm: Ethnology. In: Helmut Reinalter, Peter J. Brenner (eds.): Lexikon der Geisteswissenschaften: Sachbegriffe – Disziplinen – Personen. Böhlau, Vienna et al. 2011, ISBN 978-3-205-78540-8, pp. 919-929, here p. 921.