December 27, 1930 |
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Institutions||University of Chicago|
|Alma mater||University of Michigan
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|Economic, applied and development
|Social and cultural anthropology|
He received both a Bachelors and Masters degree at the University of Michigan where he studied with Leslie White, and earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1954 where his main intellectual influences included Karl Polanyi and Julian Steward. He returned to teach at the University of Michigan and in the 1960s became politically active, protesting against the Vietnam War. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. In the late 1960s, he also spent two years in Paris, where he was exposed to French intellectual life (and particularly the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss) and the student protests of May 1968. In 1973, he moved to the University of Chicago, where he is today the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology Emeritus. His brother is the writer and comedian Bernard Sahlins.
Sahlins' work has focused on demonstrating the power that culture has to shape people's perceptions and actions. He has been particularly concerned to demonstrate that culture has a unique power to motivate people that is not derived from biology. His early work focused on criticizing the idea of "economically rational man" and to demonstrate that economic systems adapted to particular circumstances in culturally specific ways. After the publication of Culture and Practical Reason in 1976, his focus shifted to the relation between history and anthropology, and the way different cultures understand and make history. Although his focus has been the entire Pacific, Sahlins has done most of his research in Fiji and Hawaii.
In his Evolution and Culture (1960), he touched the areas of cultural evolution and neoevolutionism. He divided the evolution of societies into "general" and "specific". General evolution is the tendency of cultural and social systems to increase in complexity, organization and adaptiveness to environment. However, as the various cultures are not isolated, there is interaction and a diffusion of their qualities (like technological inventions). This leads cultures to develop in different ways (specific evolution), as various elements are introduced to them in different combinations and on different stages of evolution. 
In the late 1990s, Sahlins became embroiled in a heated debate with Gananath Obeyesekere over the details of Captain James Cook's death in the Hawaiian Islands in 1779. At the heart of the debate was how to understand the rationality of indigenous people. Obeyesekere insisted that indigenous people thought in essentially the same way as Westerners and was concerned that any argument otherwise would paint them as "irrational" and "uncivilized". In contrast Sahlins argued that each culture may have different types of rationality that make sense of the world by focusing on different patterns and explain them within specific cultural narratives, and that assuming that all cultures lead to a single rational view is a form of eurocentrism.
In 2001, Marshall Sahlins became the executive publisher of a small press called Prickly Paradigm.
In 2011, a conference dedicated to the work of Marshall Sahlins was held at the Sorbonne in Paris.
In 2013, on February 23, it was reported that Sahlins resigned from the National Academy of Sciences to protest the election of Napoleon Chagnon. The resignation follows the publication in that month of Chagnon's memoir and widespread coverage of the memoir, including a profile of Chagnon in the New York Times magazine.
See also 
- Social Stratification in Polynesia (1958)
- Evolution and Culture (ed., 1960)
- Moala: Culture and Nature on a Fijian Island (1962)
- Tribesmen (1968)
- Stone Age Economics (1974: ISBN 0-422-74530-8)
- The Use and Abuse of Biology (1976: ISBN 0-472-08777-0)
- Culture and Practical Reason University of Chicago Press (1976: ISBN 0-226-73359-9)
- Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities (1981: ISBN 0-472-02721-2)
- Islands of History (1985: ISBN 0-226-73357-2)
- Anahulu: The Anthropology of History in the Kingdom of Hawaii (1992: ISBN 0-226-73363-7)
- "Goodbye to Tristes Tropes: Ethnography in the Context of Modern World History," The Journal of Modern History Vol. 65, No. 1, March 1993
- How "Natives" Think: About Captain Cook, for Example University of Chicago Press (1995: ISBN 0-226-73368-8)
- Waiting For Foucault (1999: ISBN 1-891754-11-4)
- Culture in Practice (2000: ISBN 0-942299-37-X)
- Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding History as Culture and Vice Versa University of Chicago Press (2004: ISBN 0-226-73400-5)
- The Western Illusion of Human Nature (2008: ISBN 978-0-9794057-2-3)
- What Kinship Is–and Is Not University of Chicago Press (2012: ISBN 978-0-226-92512-7)
- Moore, Jerry D. 2009. "Marshall Sahlins: Culture Matters" in Visions of Culture: an Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists, Walnut Creek, California: Altamira. pp. 365-385
- “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
- Sahlins, Marshall. (1972). The Original Affluent Society. A short essay at P.129 in: Delaney, Carol Lowery. P110-P.133. Investigating culture: an experiential introduction to anthropology. Oxford : Blackwell, 2004. ISBN 0-631-22237-5.
- Giulio Angioni, Fare, dire, sentire: L'identico e il diverso nelle culture, Il Maestrale, 2011
- Proceedings of the conference : Dianteill, Erwan, ed., La culture et les sciences de l'homme - Un dialogue avec Marshall Sahlins, Paris, Archives Karéline, 2012, 264 p.
- Serena Golden February 25, 2013 "A Protest Resignation" Inside Higher Ed http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/02/25/prominent-anthropologist-resigns-protest-national-academy-sciences
- David Price February 26, 2013 "The Destruction of Conscience in the National Academy of Sciences: An Interview with Marshall Sahlins" CounterPunch Ed http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/26/the-destruction-of-conscience-in-national-academy-of-sciences/
- "The Original Affluent Society", the seminal article by Marshall Sahlins
- Faculty Page from the University of Chicago Department of Anthropology web site
- Waiting for Foucault, Still, a pocket-sized book by Sahlins. Published in 2002 by Prickly Paradigm, now available for free online(in pdf).
- Marshall Sahlins, "Poor Man, Rich Man, Big Man, Chief; Political Types in Melanesia and Polynesia", Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 5, No.3, pp. 285–303, April 1963.
- On the anthropology of Levi-Strauss
About the controversy with Obeyesekere (See also Death of Cook article, about the 2004 re-discovery of the original painting of the incident by John Cleveley the Younger, showing a less idealised Cook):