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In older anthropology texts and discussions, the term "primitive culture" refers to a society believed to lack cultural, technological, or economic sophistication or development. For instance, a culture that lacks a written language might be considered less culturally sophisticated than cultures with writing systems; or a hunter-gatherer society might be considered less developed than an industrial capitalist society. Some Western authors, such as anthropologists and historians, used it to describe pre-industrial indigenous cultures, although such usage has become politically incorrect. Historically, assigning "primitive" to other people has been used to justify conquering them.
The phrase "primitive culture" is the title of an 1871 book by Edward Burnett Tylor, in which he defines religion as animism, which, in turn, he defines by reference to contemporary indigenous and other religious data as belief in spirits. Another defining characteristic of primitive cultures is a greater amount of leisure time than in more complex societies.
Primitivism has also been applied to interpretations of unfamiliar cuisines. The eating practices of Native American cultures have been linked to the trope of the noble savage whose eating practices are characterized as unrefined and mysterious, yet equitable and inclusive. These qualifications are made from an etic perspective which subjectively imposes a set of values that are not necessarily compatible with the values of Native American foodways. Barbecue in particular has been studied by the scholar Andrew Warnes. Warnes describes how the origins of barbecue cooking underwent a process of primitivization immediately upon encounter by crewmates of Christopher Columbus by interpreting what was acceptable or unacceptable according to European social and culinary customs.
- Farb, Peter (1968). Man's Rise to Civilization As Shown by the Indians of North America from Primeval Times to the Coming of the Industrial State. New York City: E. P. Dutton. p. 28. LCC E77.F36.
Despite the theories traditionally taught in high-school social studies, the truth is: the more primitive the society, the more leisured its way of life.
- Warnes, Andrew (2008-01-01). Savage Barbecue: Race, Culture, and the Invention of America's First Food. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 9780820328966.
- Stanley Diamond, In Search of the Primitive, Transaction Publishers, U.S. 1987, ISBN 0-87855-582-X
- Adam Kuper, The Reinvention of Primitive Society. Transformations of a Myth, Taylor & Francis Ltd. 2005, ISBN 0-415-35761-6
- Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, Viking, 1959; reissued by Penguin, 1991 ISBN 978-0-14-019443-2
- Joseph Campbell, The Historical Atlas of World Mythology, vols. I and II, Harper and Row 1988, 1989.