Clyde Kluckhohn

The American anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn (1905-1960) is known for his field work among the Navaho Indians, his contributions to the theory of culture, and his attempts to unify social sciences through interdisciplinary communication.

Clyde Kluckhohn was born in Le Mars, Iowa, on Jan. 11, 1905. He received his undergraduate education at Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin. He was awarded a Rhodes scholarship for study at Oxford, where he received his master's degree in 1932. He also studied at the University of Vienna in 1931-1932, where he encountered the diffusionist Kulturkreis school led by Father Wilhelm Schmidt. Returning to the United States, he received his doctorate in anthropology at Harvard University in 1936. There, in 1935, he was appointed as instructor, rising eventually to the rank of professor.

Kluckhohn was extremely fond of the American Southwest ever since his youth, when he had gone to a ranch near Ramah, N. Mex., to build up his health after an attack of rheumatic fever. Later, his scholarly reputation was greatest for his contributions to the ethnography of the Navaho Indians of this region. However, he also took a research interest in other southwestern cultures, European as well as Indian. During World War II he worked for the Federal government in connection with Japan. Following the war, he organized the Russian Research Center at Harvard and was its first director, from 1947 to 1954.

Perhaps Kluckhohn's greatest contribution to learning was his teaching. He challenged accepted views and encouraged and generously supported students and junior colleagues who had new ideas which seemed worthy of development. He took an active interest in all major branches of anthropology, but outside his primary field of cultural anthropology, Kluckhohn's greatest interest was in linguistics, where he acknowledged the influence of Edward Sapir. Kluckhohn also took a great interest in interdisciplinary collaboration: along with the sociologist Talcott Parsons, the social psychologist Gordon Allport, and the psychoanalyst Henry Murray, he helped found the interdisciplinary Department of Social Relations at Harvard after World War II. Kluckhohn's grand goal was to render the study of human behavior more scientific while retaining the richness of understanding and the focus on important issues characteristic of the humanities. As he advanced professionally and accumulated more administrative responsibilities, his scholarly interests centered increasingly on the theory of culture and especially on the nature of values.

Kluckhohn was aware that his health was precarious. At the same time he felt the need for a crowded life with many social contacts and late hours. Moreover, all those unrecorded conversations and arguments made their contributions to his own intellectual development and continued to stimulate and reverberate in the minds of his former colleagues and students. He died on July 29, 1960, in Santa Fe, N. Mex.

Further Reading on Clyde Kluckhohn

A biography of Kluckhohn is in National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs, vol. 37 (1964). For an overall view of Kluckhohn's work see the posthumous volume of collected essays entitled Culture and Behavior (1962), edited by his son, Richard Kluckhohn. This also includes a complete bibliography of his published works. For general background see Marvin Harris, The Rise of Anthropological Theory: A History of Theories of Culture (1968).