Roger Sandall

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Roger Sandall (1933 - 11 August 2012[1]) was an essayist and commentator on cultural relativism and is best known as the author of The Culture Cult. He was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, but spent most of his career in Australia, he became a film director at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in 1965 and subsequently a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney in 1973, a post he held until he retired in 1993.

Sandall was a strong critic of romantic primitivism and the concept of the noble savage; he was an advocate of modern civilization. In Sandall's view, romantic primitivism places far too high a value on cultures that were often characterised by, among other aspects, limited human rights, religious intolerance, disease and poverty. Other negative aspects he discusses include domestic oppression (usually of women and children), violence, clan/tribal warfare, poor care of the environment and considerable restriction on artistic freedom of expression.

Designer tribalism[edit]

Sandall coined the term designer tribalism to describe the attitudes of those western anthropologists (e.g. Margaret Mead) who constructed an idyllic but imaginary past for tribal cultures. Designer tribalism is the end result of a process where brutal aspects of primitive ways of life (e.g. human sacrifice and clan warfare) become forgotten and such cultures end up being morally transfigured.

Designer tribalism praises primitive cultures as being deeply in touch with nature and living in harmony with animals and plants. Sandall disagrees, pointing out that some cultures were far from friendly to the environment, e.g. the Māori in New Zealand were responsible for massive deforestation and the extinction of several indigenous species of birds (most notably the moa). Similarly, the religion, art and music of tribal cultures are held to be deeply meaningful and profound; the corresponding aspects of western civilization are usually denigrated and despised, as are western science and technology.

In an appendix in his book, Sandall describes the Disneyfication of the noble savage, a term that encapsulates many of his beliefs in just a few sentences:

"Sentimentalism begets puerility. The ruthless scalpers of yesterday become Loving Persons. One-time ferocious fighters are discovered to be Artists at Heart. Hollywood becomes interested. ... Soon the primitive is elevated above the civilized. ... The moral transfiguration of real-life tribal culture into the imaginary landscape of romantic primitivism is now complete; the defining texts of this last stage are two: The Man-Eating Myth by William Arens, an influential book denying that cannibalism ever existed; and the 1995 Disney epic: Pocahontas".


  1. ^ "Roger SANDALL Obituary: View Roger SANDALL's Obituary by The Sydney Morning Herald". 11 August 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  • Sandall, Roger. The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism and Other Essays, Westview Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8133-3863-8
  • Sandall, Roger. "", Roger Sandall's New Website, Sydney, September, 2009.