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Elman Service

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Title: Elman Service  
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Subject: Political anthropology, Legal anthropology, Big man (anthropology), Band society, Ascribed status
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Elman Service

Elman Service
Born (1915-05-18)May 18, 1915
Tecumseh, Michigan
Died November 14, 1996(1996-11-14) (aged 81)
Santa Barbara, California
Nationality United States
Fields cultural anthropologist
Alma mater Columbia University
University of Michigan

Elman Rogers Service (1915–1996) was an American cultural anthropologist.


He was born on May 18, 1915 in Tecumseh, Michigan and died on November 14, 1996 in Santa Barbara, California. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1941 from the University of Michigan. He earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University in 1951 and taught there from 1949 to 1953. From there, Service went back to the University of Michigan to teach from 1953 until 1969. He later taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara from 1969 to 1985, when he retired.

During his time studying at the University of Michigan, Service joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain to fight Francisco Franco. He also fought in World War II for the United States Army.


Elman Service researched Latin American Indian ethnology, cultural evolution, and theory and method in ethnology. He studied cultural evolution in Paraguay and studied cultures in Latin America and the Caribbean. These studies led to his theories about social systems and the rise of the state as a system of political organization.

He was the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Ethnological Society and a member of the American Anthropological Association.


Elman Service defined four classifications of the stages of social evolution which are also the four levels of political organizations: band, tribe, chiefdom, and state.

He also developed the "managerial benefits" theory that states that chiefdom-like society developed because it was apparently beneficial, because of the centralized leadership. The leader provides benefits to the followers, which, over time, become more complex, benefiting the whole chiefdom society. This keeps the leader in power, and allows the bureaucratic organization to grow.

He also had an integration theory. He believed that early civilizations were not stratified based on property. They were only stratified based on unequal political power, not because of unequal access to resources. He believed there were no true class conflicts, but only power struggles between the political elite in early civilizations. The integration part of this theory was that monuments were created through volunteering, not the leaders forcing it upon the populace.

Books by Elman Service

  • Tobati: Paraguayan Town (1954)
  • A Profile of Primitive Culture (1958)
  • Evolution and Culture (with M.D. Sahlins) (1960)
  • Primitive Social Organization (1962)
  • Profiles in Ethnology (1963)
  • The Hunters (1966)
  • Cultural Evolutionism (1971)
  • Origins of the State and Civilization (1975)
  • A Century of Controversy, Ethnological Issues from 1860 to 1960 (1985)


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