(noun) A kinship system based on people sharing a common totem which is a real or mythical ancestor, creature, or object that serves as a symbol for a group.

Audio Pronunciation: (to·te·mism)

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Usage Notes:

  • Totem is derived from the Ojibwe word odoodem “his kinship group” and the tribe builds totem poles which are representative sculptures made from trees.
  • A totem is both sacred and taboo.
  • Totemism is often compared with animism, the belief that all things animate and inanimate have a soul or are inhabited by a spirit.
  • Totemism is oft discussed in sociology and anthropology and is still lively debated. Notable social scientists such as Émile Durkheim (1858–1917), Edward Evans “E. E.” Evan-Prichard (1902–1973), James Frazer (1854–1941), Claude Levi-Strauss (1908–2009), and Bronislaw Malinowski (1884–1942) have engaged and debated totemism.
  • Also called totemic religion.

Additional Information:

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Works Consulted

Encyclopædia Britannica. (N.d.) Britannica Digital Learning. (

Griffiths, Heather, Nathan Keirns, Eric Strayer, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Gail Scaramuzzo, Tommy Sadler, Sally Vyain, Jeff Bry, Faye Jones. 2016. Introduction to Sociology 2e. Houston, TX: OpenStax.

Hughes, Michael, and Carolyn J. Kroehler. 2011. Sociology: The Core. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Macmillan. (N.d.) Macmillan Dictionary. (

Marsh, Ian, and Mike Keating, eds. 2006. Sociology: Making Sense of Society. 3rd ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Merriam-Webster. (N.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (

Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. 2005. A Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Stewart, Paul, and Johan Zaaiman, eds. 2015. Sociology: A Concise South African Introduction. Cape Town: Juta.

Taylor & Francis. (N.d.) Routledge Handbooks Online. (

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary. Wikimedia Foundation. (

Wiley. (N.d.) Wiley Online Library. (

How to Cite the Definition of Totemism

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “totemism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 17, 2019 (

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

totemism. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “totemism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 17, 2019.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“totemism.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 17 Jun. 2019. <>.