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It is the purpose of this thesis to delineate the concept of flexibility as a tool for the analysis of non-literate social systems. Despite the frequent use of the descriptive term "flexible" in discussion of ethnographic case materials, the potential analytic significance of the concept has not been examined systematically.

The major portion of the thesis is devoted to the analysis of ethnographic data for five societies which manifest fundamental elements of flexibility: the Iban, Konkoma Lapp, Mescalero Apache, Plateau Tonga, and Turkana. The data indicate that the societies share significant organizational and cultural features in addition to the feature of optional relationship possibilities.

In the conclusion a relationship between these features and the fundamental element of flexibility is demonstrated. It is proposed, therefore, to consider the former as additional in defining variables of the concept of flexibility. However, a concept based on these variables will require testing, since it has been possible to explore only a limited number of ethnographic cases. It is suggested that the concept, after further refinement, will be useful in cross-cultural studies of a wide range of non-literate societies.


Social Systems, Non literate Societies, Flexibility, Iban, Konkoma Lapp, Mescalero Apache, Plateau Tonga, Turkana

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Harry Wetherald Basehart

Second Committee Member

Frank C. Hibben

Third Committee Member

Willard Williams Hill

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