In This Article Mathematical Anthropology

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Wikis
  • Formation of Mathematical Anthropology as a Subfield
  • Representations of Elementary Marriage Systems Through Permutation Groups
  • Connection between Elementary Marriage Systems and Abstract Algebras
  • Relationship of Mathematical Anthropology to Cultural Models
  • Other Abstract Algebras Applied to Cultural Systems
  • Graph Theory and Structural Models
  • Social Network Analysis and Graph Theory
  • Social Network Analysis: Connecting Practice with Theory
  • The Achilles Heel of Mathematical Representations of Cultural Systems
  • Formalization without Explanation
  • Derailing of Mathematical Anthropology as a Subfield
  • Mathematical Representations Can Interface with Culture Theory
  • Formalization Based on Primary Cultural Concepts
  • Formalization of Kinship Systems: The Need for a Paradigm Change

Anthropology Mathematical Anthropology
Dwight W. Read
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0215


Mathematical anthropology has as its raison d’être formally expressing models, ideas, and concepts developed by anthropologists so as to extend our understanding of human societies. When addressing cultural systems, the mathematical content of mathematical anthropology depends on which of two possible ways culture is understood to be constituted. One way considers culture to consist mainly of socially learned and transmitted behaviors, and the other way considers culture to be composed of shared idea systems that provide the framework through which behavior is formulated and articulated. The first way leads to statistical modeling of behavior patterns measured over an aggregate and to quantitative and descriptive accounts of cultural system revealed through patterns of behavior. The second way involves mathematical representations aimed at working out the structural organization and generative logic of cultural idea systems. Mathematical anthropology, as it is considered here, relates to culture in this latter sense, and thus involves using mathematical representations as a way to express and work out the structural implications of the concepts forming the cultural idea systems making up the cultural milieu of a group.


There is a single journal, Mathematical Anthropology and Culture Theory, devoted to mathematical anthropology. Articles relating to mathematical anthropology are occasionally published in journals with a broad approach to anthropology such as Current Anthropology and the American Anthropologist, though articles relating to mathematical anthropology have not been published in the latter journal for the past several years. L’Homme, the French equivalent of the American Anthropologist, occasionally publishes article related to mathematical anthropology. The Journal of Mathematical Sociology, though focusing more on articles relating to sociology, also includes articles relating to anthropology.

  • American Anthropologist. 1888–.

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    This is the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association. It is peer-reviewed, publishes in all four disciplinary subfields, and occasionally includes an article relevant to mathematical anthropology, though less so in recent years.

  • Current Anthropology. 1955–.

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    This is a peer-reviewed journal published by the University of Chicago Press and organized by the Wenner Gren Foundation. It actively accepts articles linked to all areas of anthropology and includes articles relevant to mathematical anthropology.

  • Journal of Mathematical Sociology. 1971–.

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    This is a peer-reviewed journal that publishes in all areas of mathematical sociology. The focus is on the use of mathematical models, the logic of measurement, computers and computer programming, applied mathematics, statistics, or quantitative methodology.

  • L’Homme. 1961–.

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    This is a peer-reviewed journal with articles in French and English. It actively accepts articles linked to all areas of anthropology and includes articles relevant to mathematical anthropology.

  • Mathematical Anthropology and Culture Theory. 2003–.

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    This is an online, peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scientific study of culture, with a focus on mathematical anthropology and culture theory. It publishes papers applying the ideas of algebras, logics, lattices, “finite methods,” combinatorics, or similar techniques to culture theory.

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