Marvin Harris

Marvin Harris
MarvinHarris.jpg
BornAugust 18, 1927
Brooklyn, New York
DiedOctober 25, 2001(2001-10-25) (aged 74)
Gainesville, Florida
Alma materColumbia University
Known forContributions to the development of cultural materialism
Scientific career
FieldsAnthropology
InstitutionsUniversity of Florida

Marvin Harris (August 18, 1927 – October 25, 2001) was an American anthropologist. He was born in Brooklyn, New York City. A prolific writer, he was highly influential in the development of cultural materialism. In his work, he combined Karl Marx's emphasis on the forces of production with Thomas Malthus's insights on the impact of demographic factors on other parts of the sociocultural system.

Labeling demographic and production factors as infrastructure, Harris posited these factors as key in determining a society's social structure and culture. After the publication of The Rise of Anthropological Theory in 1968, Harris helped focus the interest of anthropologists in cultural-ecological relationships for the rest of his career. Many of his publications gained wide circulation among lay readers.

Over the course of his professional life, Harris drew both a loyal following and a considerable amount of criticism. He became a regular fixture at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, where he would subject scholars to intense questioning from the floor, podium, or bar. He is considered a generalist, who had an interest in the global processes that account for human origins and the evolution of human cultures.

In his final book, Theories of Culture in Postmodern Times, Harris argued that the political consequences of postmodern theory were harmful, a critique similar to those later developed by philosopher Richard Wolin and others.

Early career

Being born just before the Great Depression, Harris was poor during his childhood in Brooklyn. He entered the U.S. Army toward the end of the Second World War and used funding from the G.I. Bill to enter Columbia University along with a new generation of post-war American anthropologists. Harris was an avid reader who loved to spend hours at the race track and he eventually developed a complex mathematical betting system that was successful enough to provide support for his wife, Madelyn, and him during his years of graduate school.

Harris' early work was with his mentor, Charles Wagley, and his dissertation research in Brazil produced an unremarkable village study that carried on the Boasian descriptive tradition in anthropology—a tradition he would later denounce.

After graduation, Harris was given an assistant professorship at Columbia and, while undertaking fieldwork in Mozambique in 1957, Harris underwent a series of profound transformations that altered his theoretical and political orientations.

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