The Tribal Imagination

The Tribal Imagination

Civilization and the Savage Mind

Book - 2011
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Harvard University Press

Fox traces our ongoing struggle to maintain open societies in the face of profoundly tribal human needs that, paradoxically, hold the key to our survival. This latest book ranges from incest and arranged marriage to poetry and myth, from human rights and vengeance to pop icons such as Seinfeld.

We began as savages, and savagery has served us well—it got us where we are. But how do our tribal impulses, still in place and in play, fit in the highly complex, civilized world we inhabit today? This question, raised by thinkers from Freud to Levi-Strauss, is fully explored in this book by the acclaimed anthropologist Robin Fox. It takes up what he sees as the main—and urgent—task of evolutionary science: not so much to explain what we do, as to explain what we do at our peril.

Ranging from incest and arranged marriage to poetry and myth to human rights and pop icons, Fox sets out to show how a variety of human behaviors reveal traces of their tribal roots, and how this evolutionary past limits our capacity for action. Among the questions he raises: How real is our notion of time? Is there a human “right” to vengeance? Are we democratic by nature? Are cultural studies and fascism cousins under the skin? Is evolutionary history coming to an end—or just getting more interesting? In his famously informative and entertaining fashion, drawing links from Volkswagens to Bartok to Woody Guthrie, from Swinburne to Seinfeld, Fox traces our ongoing struggle to maintain open societies in the face of profoundly tribal human needs—needs which, paradoxically, hold the key to our survival.

Book News
Having observed that "human nature is fundamentally tribal" and having puzzled over the ramifications of this observation for many years, Fox (social theory, Rutgers U.) returned to the questions that lit his mind as a young scholar to develop this study. His 13 chapters have titles that indirectly give some indication of his themes and approach: The Human in Human Rights, Incest and In-Laws, Sects and Evolution, Open Societies and Closed Minds, and Seafood and Civilization, among others. His discussion of tribes and tribalism encompasses topics such as civilized temporality, rules, democracy, taboos and priestly morality, modern literature, warrior epics, rhythms and rhymes, and complex society. This is the work of an anthropologist, poet, and essayist who offers a rich and stimulating synthesis. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2011
Description: viii, 417 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm
ISBN: 9780674059016
Branch Call Number: 301 Fox


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