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HRAF: CROSS-CULTURAL CONTENT ANALYSIS

In the 1940s, George Peter Murdock, Clellan S. Ford, and other behavioral scientists at Yale led the effort to organize an interuniversity, nonprofit organization that is now the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) at Yale University. HRAF is now the world’s largest archive of ethnography, with about a million pages of text, collected from some 8,000 books and articles, on almost 400 cultural groups around the world. The archive is growing at about 40,000 pages a year more than half the material is available and searchable on the Internet through the 400-plus libraries at institutions that subscribe. (Go to: http:// www.yale.edu/hraf and see appendix E for more.)

Pages of the HRAF database are indexed by professional anthropologists, following the Outline of Cultural Materials, or OCM. This is a massive indexing system that was developed by Murdock and others (2004 [1961]) to organize and classify material about cultures and societies of the world. The OCM is used by cross-cultural researchers to find ethnographic data for testing hypotheses about human behavior across cultures, and some anthropologists use it to code their field notes (see chapter 13).

There are 82 main domains in the OCM, in blocks of 10, from 10 to 91. Block 16, for example, is about demography. Within this block there are eight subdomains labeled 161, 162, . . . 168. These domains cover specific topics like mortality (code 165), external migration (code 167), and so on. Block 58 covers the family with codes for nuptials (585), termination of marriage (586), etc. Other major blocks of codes are for domains like kinship, entertainment, social stratification, war, health and welfare, sickness, sex, religious practices. . . .

HRAF turns the ethnographic literature into a database for content analysis and crosscultural tests of hypotheses because you can search the archive for every reference to any of the codes across the more than 400 cultures that are covered.

 
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