Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides)


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Anthropology : A Beginner's Guide

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Anthropology A Beginners Guide

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Anthropology: A Beginner's Guide

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Learn more - opens in a new window or tab Postage: May not post to Germany - Read item description or contact seller for postage options. These technoeconomic changes ramify throughout social life and lead to major evolutionary transformations. One of Lenski's most important applications of this theory was to the evolution of social stratification. Marvin Harris , has presented a quite different conception of social evolution. Rather than viewing technology as evolution's driving force, he sees most people throughout history resisting technological change because of the greater costs in human time and energy it requires.

What drives social evolution is the tendency of humans to suffer eventual depletions in their standard of living as the result of population pressure and environmental degradation. But these changes produce yet further and even greater depletions, and so the depletion intensification depletion process spirals ever forward and upward. The current situation is a mixed one. In recent years there has been a substantial reaction against general theories of historical change, and many scholars now assume it is only possible to do limited kinds of theorizing about specific historical situations and trajectories.

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All of this has meant a sharp decline in confidence in any type of evolutionary theory. Indeed, some social scientists have been severely critical of evolutionism see Sanderson ch. Nonetheless, many social scientists remain committed to evolutionary analyses and extensive research on social evolution continues.

This is especially true in anthropology and its subfield of archaeology. Archaeology has long been evolutionary, and, although some archaeologists have turned against evolutionism, most probably remain within that camp. Steward's materialist orientation likely stems from a combination of factors, including his preparatory school experience, undergraduate studies, early fieldwork in the s in archaeology in the harsh environments of the southwest and Great Basin and Plateau, ethnographic field experience with the Shoshoni whose culture appears to have focused on survival , and the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.

Through his fieldwork he cultivated cultural ecology which eventually became a means to the end of his theory of multilinear evolution Steward Ultimately Steward was always interested in the scientific and materialist explanation of culture, including causality; that is, discovering laws of regularities in the patterns, functions, and processes of cultural diversity. This penchant for theorizing and generalizing also set Steward apart from the Boasians. In short, Steward was a rebel, an inclination that actually started in his youth, when he turned away from the Christian Science religion of his parents to pursue instead natural causes through scientific explanations.

These considerations help explain why Steward became the single most important anthropologist in the development of cultural ecology from the s into the s. Unfortunately, Steward did not develop his theory and method in a single, readily accessible publication. Rather, his theory and method have to be extracted from numerous sources, including two edited books of diverse essays Steward , Cultural ecology has continued to strongly influence anthropological research on human environment interactions, while multilinear evolution has been pursued to a much lesser extent Carneiro ; Kirch However, Steward is seldom adequately acknowledged by researchers studying cultural ecology or multilinear evolution.

Rather than arguing on the basis of available literature that either the environment rigidly determines culture environmental determinism or the environment allows some degree of latitude for alternative cultural responses environmental possibilism , Steward avoided prejudgement and advocacy, allowing for influences in either direction environment to culture and culture to environment.

He subjected this relationship to direct empirical investigation through fieldwork on particular cultures in their habitat. Through ethnographic fieldwork with the Shoshoni and Paiute, Steward specified three successive but interrelated steps in the investigation of the cultural ecology of a particular society: 1 the natural resources and the technology used to extract and process them; 2 the social organization of work for these subsistence and economic activities; and 3 the influence of these two phenomena on other aspects of culture, including social, political, and religious institutions.

In this manner Steward developed an ecological framework for describing and to some degree explaining a particular culture. This framework focused on the specific behavior involved in the technology and work of extracting natural resources for survival. Thus Steward's approach has proven most applicable to societies with economies focused on subsistence; that is, foragers or hunter gatherers, Swidden horticulturalists, fishers, and pastoral nomads. Steward, however, was not satisfied with this particular level of research.

An introduction to the discipline of Anthropology

Ultimately he was more interested in the comparative level in order to discover the underlying causes and laws of cultural phenomena. He was especially concerned with employing empirical data from research in cultural ecology to compare a small sample of cultures in order to formulate generalizations about limited parallels in patterns, functions, and processes. Steward's methodological approach to multilinear evolution was to select for detailed comparison a small number of particular cultures that were in similar environments e.

The great spatial distance between the cultures chosen for the sample was supposed to eliminate the possibility of cultural similarities arising from DIFFUSION, thus controlling for the historical factor that had been so prominent in the anthropology of the Boasians. Accordingly, similarities in the sample of cultures that Steward selected would have to be the result of parallel adaptations, that is, similar responses to similar environmental conditions.

In this way Steward attempted to go beyond ethnographic description to the scientific and materialist explanation of cultural similarities and differences Sponsel The principal criticisms of Steward's approach are that his theoretical concepts were not very clear and useful; that his method was mostly intuitive; that he was a functionalist; and that he focused rather narrowly on subsistence economy to the neglect of many other important factors, such as population dynamics, natural hazards, political institutions, and religion see J.

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However, assessed in historical context, Steward's contributions were and remain significant. White's support of evolutionary theory was not well received until near the end of his career, in part because he took aim at Boas and his followers in a polemical style that took no prisoners. His position, stated most completely in The evolution of culture a , was strongly materialist and became best known for its assertion that use of energy per capita was the best way to measure social complexity and rank societies in an evolutionary scheme.

The environmental objection may seem strange for a materialist, but White's other passion was promoting what he called "culturology," the idea that CULTURE was defined only by human manipulation of symbols and formed an autonomous class of phenomena that could be studied as a science. Similar to KROEBER's a "superorganic," culture was something real that existed outside the individual, independent of psychology, biology, or the environment. Expressed at length in The science of culture , White's theory suggested that there could be laws of culture.

Many found White's position contradictory: how could a materialist give primacy to cultural determinism when his own evolutionary model had focused on such noncultural criteria as energy use? Nor were students of symbolic anthropology likely to believe that they were producing a set of scientific laws.


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The specifics of White's theories have ultimately proved less influential than his support of the principle of evolution.

Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides) Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides)
Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides) Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides)
Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides) Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides)
Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides) Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides)
Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides) Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides)
Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides) Anthropology: A Beginners Guide (Beginners Guides)

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