Marvin Harris’s Standardized Faces

In the 1960s, Marvin Harris and his students carried out a series of systematic ethnographic studies of emic ethnic classification in Brazil.The most well-known publication from these studies is Harris’s 1970 article “Referential Ambiguity in the Calculus of Brazilian Racial Identity,” published in the Southwestern Journal of Anthropology (now Journal of Anthropological Research). In this influential paper, Harris argued that emic ethnic classification in Brazil is characterized by uncertainty and disagreement, a view that is still widely held among scholars of ethnicity in Latin America.

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Harris’s argument was based on structured ethnographic interviews in which he and his students asked Brazilian respondents to identify the qualidade of 72 standardized facial drawings. These standardized faces contain all possible combinations of two sexes, three skin tones, three hair types, two nose shapes, and two lip forms. Harris’s methods were state-of-the art in the 1960s, but significant developments in the methods of cultural domain analysis have made it important to replicate and extend this early work. My replication of Harris’s work in Puerto Rico illustrates the value of taking a second look at this research strategy.

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With support from a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, I produced professional digital copies of Harris’s originals and have made them available here as a resource to interested scholars. The image files are in TIFF format and can be downloaded by right-clicking on the images above and saving the compressed (.zip) files to your computer. Alternatively, you may request a CD with the images files by contacting me at Either way, I’d appreciate your letting me know if you use Harris’s standardized faces in your own work.

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