David Murray Schneider (November 11, 1918, Brooklyn, New York – October 30, 1995, Santa Cruz, California) was an American cultural anthropologist, best known for his studies of kinship and as a major proponent of the symbolic anthropology approach to cultural anthropology.
He received his B.S. in 1940 and his M.S. from Cornell University in 1941. He received his PhD in Social Anthropology from Harvard in 1949, based on fieldwork on the Micronesian island of Yap.
After completing his graduate work, he first taught at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1960, he accepted a position at the University of Chicago, where he spent most of his career, teaching in Anthropology and the Committee on Human Development. He was Chairman of Anthropology from 1963 to 1966.
While at Chicago, Schneider was director of the Kinship Project, a study supported by the National Science Foundation that looked at how middle-class families in the United States and Great Britain respond to their kinship relations. His findings challenged the common-sense assumption that kinship in Anglo-American cultures is primarily about recognizing biological relatedness. While a rhetoric of "blood" ties is an important conceptual structuring device in US and British kinship systems, cultural and social considerations are more important. The discoveries he demonstrated through a series of books, most famously American Kinship: a cultural account, revolutionized and revitalized the study of kinship within anthropology, on the one hand, and contributed to the theoretical basis of feminist anthropology, gender studies, and lesbian and gay studies, on the other.
Schneider critiqued the so-called Western theories of kinship by accusing its supporters of being ethnocentric.
As a teacher, Schneider was also known for taking on and encouraging students studying nontraditional topics, and as a mentor to women and lesbian or gay graduate students, who often otherwise had difficulty finding mentors.
After retiring from Chicago in 1986, he joined the anthropology department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he remained until his death in 1995.
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Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans. It is in contrast to social anthropology, which perceives cultural variation as a subset of a posited anthropological constant.
In anthropology, kinship is the web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of all humans in all societies, although its exact meanings even within this discipline are often debated. Anthropologist Robin Fox states that "the study of kinship is the study of what man does with these basic facts of life – mating, gestation, parenthood, socialization, siblingship etc." Human society is unique, he argues, in that we are "working with the same raw material as exists in the animal world, but [we] can conceptualize and categorize it to serve social ends." These social ends include the socialization of children and the formation of basic economic, political and religious groups.
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