International Encyclopaedia
of the Histories of Anthropology

Ruth Fulton Benedict (1887-1948), a disciple of Franz Boas and a major representative of the North American culturalist movement, left her mark on anthropology through her literary, humanist, militant and anti-racist sensitivity. In her work, she seeks to identify how the values of each culture are embedded in all its manifestations. Her best-known book, Patterns of Culture (1934), helped to spread the notion of cultural relativism to a wider audience. This did not prevent her from emphasizing the oppressive aspect of any culture towards misfits — which she knew herself to be — of whatever shape or form; their singularity could have been experienced differently in another culture. During the Second World War, she was asked to paint an anthropological portrait of the United States’ enemies; a classic on Japanese culture resulted, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946). Despite the controversy, Ruth Benedict remains an essential reference and her work is regularly revisited.

Keywords: Cultural anthropology | Culturalism | First half of the 20th century | United States of America | Japan | Amerindian studies | Concept of culture | Culture and personality | Cultural relativism | Franz Boas | Margaret Mead

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