Conrad M. Arensberg, an anthropologist and Columbia University professor emeritus who was a pioneer in the study of modern industrial societies, died Monday (February 10, 1997) in Monmouth County, N.J. He was 86 and lived in New York City and Rumson, N.J.
He died of respiratory failure after a long illness, said his wife, Vivian Garrison Arensberg.
He was president of the American Anthropological Association in 1980 and received the Society of Applied Anthropology's Malinowski Award in 1991.
During the 1930's and 1940's, Professor Arensberg helped define the scope of anthropological investigation at a time when the field was turning away from the study of exotic non-industrial societies to the examination of complex industrial culture.
He conducted pioneering research on industrial organizations before World War II and played a key role in establishing applied anthropology as an essential area of inquiry. His research paved the way for the application of anthropological studies to solve social problems. He was a founder in 1940-41 of the Society of Applied Anthropology and served as president of the group in 1945-46 and editor of its journal, Human Organization, from 1945 to 1951. He was a consultant to the State Department, UNESCO and other government agencies.
As a senior at Harvard College in 1930-31, he worked on a field study of social groups in the Northeast known as the Yankee City project under W. Lloyd Warner, concentrating on ethnic groups. Following graduation, he went to Ireland to conduct a comparative field study of the Irish in the Old World that became the basis for his doctoral dissertation and first book, The Irish Countryman, first published in 1937. A classic ethnography on rural Irish life, it is still in print and used as a college textbook today.
He collaborated with Solon T. Kimball on Family and Community in Ireland, (1940) also a classic study. During this research, he developed a study method for contemporary cultures, which has been used by generations of scholars.
He joined the Columbia faculty in 1953 and served as chairman of the Anthropology Department from 1956 to 1959. He held the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professorship of Human Relations from 1970 until his retirement in 1980, when he joined the faculty of the Joint Applied Anthropology Program at Columbia's Teachers' College.
Fluent in many languages, he was known for the breadth of his knowledge and interests and contributions to interdisciplinary research.
He and Alan Lomax related folk songs and dance styles to subsistence economics and social structure worldwide. In their 1942 book, Measuring Human Relations, he and Elliot Chapple analyzed non-verbal behavior. With Karl Polanyi, he developed methods of analyzing the economies of ancient empires, comparing them with modern market economices. Their book, Trade Markets in the Early Empires, was published in 1957.
Professor Arensberg also wrote Introducing Social Change with Arthur Niehoff in 1964 and Culture and Community with Solon T. Kimball in 1965.
He served in the U.S. Army during World War II as a major in the Special Security Group analyzing decoded Japanese communications. He worked on a document outlining the whereabouts of Japanese units that was critical to the Allied success at the Battle of Midway. Later he worked on the Strategic Bombing Surveys in both Germany and Japan.
After the war, he was a consultant in Germany and later research director of UNESCO's Institute for the Social Sciences in Cologne. In 1949-50 at the request of anthropologist Margaret Mead, he directed a Columbia research project on Eastern European Jews.
Born in Pittsburgh on September 12, 1910, he was the eldest of four sons born to Charles Frederick Covert Arensberg, a prominent attorney who was a president of the Pennsylvania state bar association. Educated in the public schools of Oakmont, Pa. and at Shady Academy, Pittsburgh, where he graduated first in his class, he earned the B.A. summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard in 1931. Three years later, he received the Ph.D. from Harvard.
Besides his wife, who is also an anthropologist, he is survived by two daughters and a son from a previous marriage, Emily Barton of San Jose, Ca.; Margaret Olson of McMinneville, Or. and Cornelius of Tampa, Fla; and a brother, Charles of Pittsburgh.