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Computer applications in cultural anthropology

Abstract

This paper covers important developments in the use of computers for quantitative research in cultural anthropology, particularly in areas which (unlike statistics) are uniquely anthropological. These fall into statistical topics and topics in scaling and measurement. By far the largest single usage of computers by cultural anthropologists is for statistical summaries of field data and for simple statistical tests such as the chi-squared for the analysis of field data or for cross-cultural studies. As the discipline develops this situation will remain the same. In fact, the proportion of people who use the computer primarily for contingency tables, frequency counts, and correlation analysis may very well increase, since there are many potential users who would fall in this category and only a few potential users who would perform other operations such as multi-dimensional scaling or simulation. The few other computer techniques that would be relevant to anthropology, and for which the technology already exists, include linear regression, as practiced by economists, and linear programming (also practiced by economists), both of which could be extremely useful in the study of peasant economy. Careful research with such models could dispel some of the controversy which has been hindering the development of economic anthropology for the last fifteen years. The training of anthropologists who can understand the relevance of such models to their work may be far in the future, since the majority of them are still skeptical of most formal methods and of the computers which make them work. © 1970 Queens College of the City University of New York.

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