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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Standard Cross-Cultural Sample: on-line edition

  • Author(s): Murdock, George P.
  • White, Douglas R
  • et al.

The Standard Cross-Cultural Sample contains the best-described society in each of 186 cultural provinces of the world, chosen so that cultural independence of each unit in terms of historical origin and cultural diffusion could be considered maximal with respect to the others societies in the sample. Often the time period chosen is that of the earliest high quality ethnographic description. Hence the SCCS is primarily a sample of preindustrial societies.

The original paper, published in the journal Ethnology in 1969, presented the first research results of the Cross-Cultural Cumulative Coding Center (CCCCC), a unit established in 1968 by Murdock and White at the University of Pittsburgh, with support from the National Science Foundation. The center was organized to offer to scholars a representative sample of the world's known and well described cultures, each "pinpointed" to the smallest identifiable subgroup of the society in question at a specific point in time, and to provide the first set of coded data for the sample. The sample selected by Murdock and White has the advantages of providing a sample size sufficiently large to test multivariate hypotheses but sufficiently small to allow complete coding by different authors; one with pinpointing of dates and focal groups and with a rich ethnographic bibliography and multiple data quality ratings that facilitate cumulative coding of comparative data on a wide variety of topics.

Although the SCCS maximizes the relative independence of sample cases, the 1969 article also provides standard Galton's problem controls for historical nonindependence of cases, and demonstrates with illustrations of their use that Galton’s problem controls are needed to make valid statistical inferences even with a relatively large cross-cultural sample. This cautionary scientific result has not been properly emphasized by the Human Relations Area Files, with which the SCCS has no connection other than the fact that for some SCCS societies, but not all, there exist partial ethnographic materials housed by HRAF.

The SCCS has served as a basis for a cumulative series of data coded by diverse authors in hundreds of publications on many different types of societal characteristics. Cumulative ethnographic codes and codebooks are published in the World Cultures electronic journal, which adds the geographical coordinates and computerizing mapping through SPSS and the journal's MAPTAB program, written by Douglas R. White. The SCCS and its SPSS database and codebooks currently contain more than 2,000 variables contributed by nearly a hundred different studies and as many authors. These variables include those of Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas in a form most useful for testing hypotheses because they are collated with the standard sample societies.

This paper is reprinted in modified form with permission of the journal editorial office as published in Ethnology 8:329-369.

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