Irving Goldman (September 2, 1911 – April 7, 2002) was an American anthropologist. He is known for his acute ability to reconstruct the worldviews and systems of thought of the indigenous peoples whose lives and thought he analysed in several major works, some now regarded as classics in the field of anthropology.
Goldman was born in Brooklyn to Louis Goldman, an immigrant Russian carpenter, and his wife Golda, who died before he was six years old. Three elder brothers had died from a plague epidemic in Russia before his parents took the step to emigrate to the United States. He intended to make a career in medicine, and graduated from Brooklyn College as a pre-med student in 1933, but quickly changed directions and went, as an 'eager but utterly unoriented student' to study under Franz Boas at Columbia University. Under Boas's supervision, he completed his PhD, with a thesis on the Alkatcho Carrier Indians of British Columbia, having done research among the Modoc Indians in California in the meantime (1934). His first major publication consisted of four chapters of a book co-authored with its by then famous editor Margaret Mead, namely, Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples, (1937). When Boaz received a substantial grant from the Social Science Research Council, Goldman was the beneficiary, along with several of his colleagues, (Buell Quain, Jules Henry, William Lipkind, Bernard Mishkin, Ruth Landes, Morris Siegal, and Charles Wagley) to open up what was then a terra incognita for anthropology. Goldman himself was assigned to study Chibchan-descended Páez of the Central Andes of Colombia. However he defied his Department and on his own initiative decided to venture into the Vaupés for his fieldwork. The result was ten months of fieldwork in 1939-1940, from September to June, in the southern region of Vaupés spent studying the Cubeo people of the Cuduiarí, which at the time was an 'anthropological terra incognita'. The result was a monograph, The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon, still regarded by specialists as 'the very best book on the Vaupés region'. His work on the Cubeo, the name being a Europeanization of the Tukano jesting term Kebewá (meaning 'the people who are not') is still considered a classic in its field. Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff called his structural analysis of Cuneo society 'among the best that have been written on the social organization of Amazonian Indians in general. His acute observations combined with meticulous scholarship make this a book of lasting value.'
The expertise he gained from his stint in the field in South America led to Goldman's recruitment as an analyst of the region. He worked in Nelson Rockefeller's Bureau of Latin American Research. When World War II broke out, he was drafted and assigned to do intelligence work with Latin America as his area of analysis. Specifically, he worked as a research analyst for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs from 1942-1943. He was reassigned, with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, to the Office of Strategic Services until war's end. He was then transferred to the State Department, as Chief of Branch for the Office of Research Analysis, until he was released in July 1947 as a security risk. Ruth Benedict managed to secure him an appointment to Sarah Lawrence College, in Yonkers, New York. He was subsequently interviewed, in 1953, by the McCarthyist Jenner Committee. part of the Senate Judiciary Committee but, while answering all questions regarding himself, he refused to divulge the names of other members of the Communist Party of the United States, citing his rights under the First Amendment, a risky tactic at the time, in the face of threats that he would be cited for contempt. He had joined the American Communist Party in 1936, but left it in 1942. His individual moral position was supported by Sarah Lawrence College and he was able to continue teaching there until his retirement in 1980.
In the postwar period, he conducted fieldwork among the Tzotzil of Chamula Indians in Chiapas, Mexico. He returned for two stints of field research among the Cuneo in 1968-1970, and 1979 From 1980, he taught at the New School for Social Research until his full retirement in 1987.
After his fundamental work on the Cubeo Goldman went on to publish monumental, if controversial, studies on two other classic areas of anthropological interest, on Polynesian societies, and on the Kwakiutl of North America. For him, the development of the discipline of anthropology best progressed, in his view, by a dialectical 'interplay between field and armchair', which he proceeded to undertake by advancing general interpretations.
He died in 2002 at the age of 90.
He turned his eyes to what he regarded as the twin features of early societies, religious worldviews and aristocracy. Both of these latter two societies he regarded as examples of a primitive 'aristocracy'. In Goldman's view, 'civilizations are the product of developing aristocracy', and their impact operates predominantly through the medium of status-rivalry, status being analysed in 18 Polynesian societies in terms of mana, Tohunga (expertise) and Toa (military prowess). Though the evolutionary reconstruction was dubious, the analysis of status and power gained acclamation. The thesis behind his great work on Polynesia is contained in its keynote frontispiece quotation from Balzac:
'The noble of every age has done his best to invent a life which he, and he only, can live.'
At stake were three issues. One was historical: the nature of Polynesian societies before contact with the West irremediably altered them (2) How did existing socio-political systems function?, and (3) what were the underlying dynamics that accounted for the differentiation of social forms? In Howard's view, given the virtual absence of reliable and detailed accounts of traditional Polynesian social systems, any attempt to reconstruct the ancient society was doomed to remain speculative, and yield only a theoretical sandcastle. He compared Goldman's work to that of his comprehensive predecessors, Robert W. Williamson and the latter's editor Ralph Piddington, whose wariness about the possibility of working out a system of kinship structures from the large confusion of primary sources from dubious hands stood in marked contrast to Goldman's ambitious overview. Marshall Sahlins, in a critique of an earlier version of Goldman's theory, had implied that 'status rivalry', if not the operation of a type of political system, looks in Goldman's approach to be some 'disembodied value' or 'attribute of the Polynesian psyche'
He proposed three evolutionary historic phases: Traditional (seniority of descent determines the way authority and power are allocated, is religious and headed by a sacred chieftain); Open (where the traditional system undergoes modification to allow secular military and political power to operate, sharpening status differences), and Stratified (where a clear-cut break in status emerges, which is both economic and political) in Polynesian cultural development, with each phase having its own characteristic forms of kinship, authority, rites, and beliefs.
The status lineage in Polynesia differed from the conventional form in its lack of exogamy. For Goldman, descent is not really a means to status, it is the heart of status', and descent is rooted in the overriding principle of honour, and thus a certain logistical freedom exists for commoners to manoeuver'. Thus, 'structure thus arises from human motives.' In the words of Alan Howard, Goldman sees 'cultural forms in Polynesia as primarily resultant from the cumulative decisions of chiefs engaged strategically and tactically in a continual game of honour and power.'
The book received mixed reviews. F.T. Legg found it to be 'a work of very high merit and considerable scholarship.' Alan Howard was generally dismissive of this the ambitious work as symptomatic of a long Western armchair theorist obsession with the idea that l'homme naturel could somehow be discovered in the Pacific, though he admitted that the book's strength, brilliance and acuity lay in Goldman's analysis of the political dynamics of traditional Polynesian societies. As with other specialists, the main charge laid against his interpretation was that his schematic reconstructions smacked of as 'thinly veiled monism' where a constant, namely status rivalry, is made to account for variability.
He then completed his major study, long in the making, and based on many manuscripts, some 17 volumes, which Boas and his native informants such as George Hunt had never published, on the Kwakiutl with his book, The Mouth of Heaven. Goldman set himself the formidable task of reconstructing from the mass of these relatively unexplored materials the religious thought of the Kwakiutl. This was one of the legs of his growing interest in the formation of early aristocratic societies, which he believed to be intimately tied to religious systems. Extending his ideas, he thought that tribal elites, especially hereditary ones, reflect a religious idea. He sets forth his view of the priority of religion in his opening remark that:
If a culture can be said to exist as a coherent system of thought, the source of coherence is in its religion... religion as an integrative system of thought identifies all fundamental concepts. The religious structures arises out of [observations of nature], out of comprehension of natural principles. Ultimately, then, it is perceived natural principles that integrate a society and govern its structure.'
The thesis that emerged, according to which all aspects of Kwakiutl culture, and especially the key ceremony of the much-studied potlatch, hitherto studied as a classic example of materialist interests underlying ritual organizations, were coterminous with religion, and religion in term was grounded in the way nature is perceived, proved controversial among area specialists- As an anti-functionalist, he was opposed to cultural materialism. Bill Holm was sceptical, noting that Goldman lacked adequate familiarity with the Kwakiutl language in which these primary texts were written. This same charge from area specialists had been made earlier against his work on Polynesia. This lack of intimate linguistic knowledge caused him to make many errors in his review of Kwakiutl texts, and Holm found Goldman's conclusions both unconvincing and disturbing. Philip Drucker ended his review by challenging Goldman's insistence that all aspects of the Kwakiutl lifeway were expressive of religious belief, and judged this approach preconceived, extremist and not believable. For him, Goldman's argument was both monotonous and biased.
To those who criticized his reductionism, which inverted the materialist or sociological reductionism of his times and discipline, he replied:-
'anthropologists belittle their own subject matter and the human beings who have produced it by arguing eternally like Durkheimeans that natural taxa derive from social categories. The savage is smitten with himself-an original narcissist-and sees only himself in nature. We will not have a grown-up anthropology until we grant to the "noble savage" parallel powers of reasoning, and qualities of curiosity and of close observation. I say that we should leave the fascinating questions of chickens and their eggs to coffee-klatsch metaphysicians!'
'The relations between men and animals may be visualized as two strands, coiled helix-wise around each other, touching at some point, separating at others, but always symmetrically positioned. When they touch, they exchange powers; when they are separate, they reflect each other -humans appear as animals, and animals as humans.'
Of anthropologists he said:
'The Western ethnographer will have to recognize that "natives think and reason philosophically and scientifically. In any case, the anthropological interest must move in this Boasian direction. It must shift from the solipsistic fascination with one's own ratiocinations to a serious interest in what the native savants have to say.'
- 'The Ifugao of the Philippine Islands,'in M. Mead (1937) ch.5, pp. 153ff.
- 'The Kwakiutl Indians of Vancouver Island,' in M. Mead (1937) ch.6, pp180ff.
- 'The Zuni Indians of New Mexico', in M. Mead (1937) ch.10, pp313ff.
- 'The Bathonga of South Africa,' in M. Mead (1937) ch.11, pp. 354ff.
- 'The Alkatcho Carrier of British Columbia,' in Ralph Linton (ed.) Acculturation in Seven American Indian Tribes, D. Appleton-Century, New York, 1940 pp. 333–385.
- 'The Alkatcho Carrier: Historical Background of Crest Prerogatives,' in American Anthropologist, July–September, 1941, Vol. 43 (3), pp. 396–418.
- 'Status Rivalry and Cultural Evolution in Polynesia,' in American Anthropologist 1955 (Vol. 57) pp. 680–697.
- The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon, University of Illinois Press, 1963
- Ancient Polynesian Society, University of Chicago Press, 1970
- The Mouth of Heaven, John Wiley and Sons, 1975,
- Cubeo Hehénewa religious thought: metaphysics of a northwestern Amazonian people, (ed. Peter J. Wilson) Columbia University Press, 2004
- Enid Schildkrout, 'A Conversation with Irving Goldman,' p.551
- Mary Crauderueff, Register to the Papers of Irving Goldman, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, July 2008
- Schildkrout p.560
- Donald Tayler, 'Review of The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon. by Irving Goldman,' in Man, Vol. 65 (Sep. - Oct., 1965), p. 171.
- Donald Tayler, ' Review of The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon. by Irving Goldman Source: Man, Vol. 65 (Sep. - Oct., 1965), p. 171.
- Stephen Hugh-Jones, cited in Jody Shenn, with Judith Schwartzstein, 'Remembering Irving Goldman.' Sarah Lawrence College Newsletter, Wednesday, May 15, 2002
- Donald Tayler,'Review of The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon, by Irving Goldman, in Man, Vol. 65 (Sep. - Oct., 1965), p. 171.
- Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo , 'Review of The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon by Irving Goldman.' p.1378.
- David H. Price, Threatening anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's surveillance of activist anthropologists, Duke University Press, 2004, p.366 note 2.
- Mary Crauderueff.'Register to the Papers of Irving Goldman,'
- Schildkrout p.556, p.563, note 2
- Mary Crauderueff, 'Register of the Papers of Irving Goldman.'
- David H. Price, Threatening anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's surveillance of activist, p.367, note 2.
- Schildkrout p.560
- Schildkrout, p.559
- Schildkrout, 'A Conversation with Irving Goldman,' p554
- Alan Howard, 'Polynesian Social Stratification Revisited', p.818
- H.B. Hawthorn, 'Review: of I. Goldman, Ancient Polynesian Society,' in Pacific Affairs, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Winter, 1971-1972), p. 651
- Cited Douglas L. Oliver, Polynesia in Early Historic Times, Part 4, p.206
- Marshall Sahlins, Social Stratification in Polynesia, 1958 p.131, cited Alan Howard, p.816
- Alan Howard, 'Polynesian Social Stratification Revisited,' pp. 811-823, pp. 816, 818
- Alan Howard, 'Polynesian Social Stratification Revisited,' pp. 811-823, pp. 816, 818
- Alan Howard, 'Polynesian Social Stratification Revisited,' pp.818-819
- F. T. Legg, 'Review of Ancient Polynesian Society. by Irving Goldman,' in Man, New Series, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Jun., 1972), p. 347.
- Alan Howard, 'Polynesian Social Stratification Revisited,' pp.811, 816-817.
- Philip Drucker, p.158
- Bill Holm, 'Review of The Mouth of Heaven: An Introduction to Kwakiutl Religious Thought by Irving Goldman,' in Ethnohistory, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Winter, 1976), pp. 72-74, p.74
- Drucker 159
- I. Goldman, The Mouth of Heaven, John Wiley and Sons, 1975, p. 7. Cited Drucker p.159
- Schildkrout p. 557
- 'from (Goldman's) perspective. ., growth in political centralism does not stem from the organizational imperatives of modes of production, as the cultural materialists would have it, but from the status ambitions of chiefs, and more particularly in Polynesia, from wars of conquest.' Howard p.820
- In simplifying the orthography of Boas and Hunt's transcriptions, he conflated words that are, in the originally, distinct, and then drew inappropriate inferences from a unified etymology, when in fact two different words, with separate etymologies, were at stake. See Bill Holm, 'Review of The Mouth of Heaven,' in Ethnohistory, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Winter, 1976), pp. 72-74, p.73
- 'His etymological gropings are reminiscent of nineteenth century pseudo-science', Alan Howard, p.820
- Bill Holm, 'Review of The Mouth of Heaven,' pp.72-3
- Philip Drucker p.163.
- Schildkrout, p.57
- Irving Goldman 1975 p.185, cited Bradd Shore, Culture in mind: cognition, culture, and the problem of meaning Oxford, University Press US, 1998 pp.190-1
- Enid Schildkrout, 'A Conversation with Irving Goldman,' p.553
- Mary Crauderueff, Register to the Papers of Irving Goldman, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, July 2008.
- Philip Drucker, 'Review of The Mouth of Heaven: An Introduction to Kwakiutl Religious Thought by Irving Goldman,' in American Ethnologist, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Feb., 1979), pp. 158–164
- H. B. Hawthorn, 'Review of Ancient Polynesian Society. by Irving Goldman,' in Pacific Affairs, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Winter, 1971–1972), p. 651
- Alan Howard, 'Polynesian Social Stratification Revisited: Reflections on Castles Built of Sand (and a Few Bits of Coral), review of Ancient Polynesian Society by Irving Goldman,' in American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 74, No. 4 (Aug., 1972), pp. 811–823
- Bill Holm, 'Review of The Mouth of Heaven: An Introduction to Kwakiutl Religious Thought by Irving Goldman,' in Ethnohistory, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Winter, 1976), pp. 72–74
- Jean E. Jackson, 'Irving Goldman (1911¬–2002): A Brief Remembrance,' in Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America, Volume 1, Number 1, June 2003
- F. T. Legg, ' Review of Ancient Polynesian Society. by Irving Goldman,' Man, New Series, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Jun., 1972), p. 347
- Douglas L. Oliver, Polynesia in Early Historic Times, Part 4, Bess Press, 2002 ISBN 1-57306-149-2
- Margaret Mead (ed.) Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples, (1937) Transaction Publishers, 2003 reprint ISBN 0-7658-0935-4
- David H. Price, Threatening anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's surveillance of activist anthropologists, Duke University Press, 2004 ISBN 0-8223-3338-4
- David H. Price, 'Standing Up For Academic Freedom: The Case of Irving Goldman', Anthropology Today, 20(4) 2004 pp. 16–21.
- Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, 'Review of The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon by Irving Goldman,' in American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 65, No. 6 (Dec., 1963), pp. 1377–1379
- Paul Rubel & Abraham Rosman, 'Irving Goldman (1911–2002),' in American Anthropologist, 105:4.
- Marshall Sahlins, Social Stratification in Polynesia, University of Washington Press, 1958.
- Enid Schildkrout, with Irving Goldman. 'A Conversation with Irving Goldman,' American Ethnologist, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Aug., 1989), pp. 551–563
- Jody Shenn, with Judith Schwartzstein, Remembering Irving Goldman., Sarah Lawrence College Newsletter, Wednesday, May 15, 2002
- Bradd Shore, Culture in mind: cognition, culture, and the problem of meaning, Oxford University Press US, 1998 ISBN 0-19-512662-9
- Donald Tayler, 'Review: The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon. by Irving Goldman,' Man, Vol. 65 (Sep - Oct., 1965), p. 171