Anthro 158 Final Paper

Anthro 158 Final Paper - Brandon Christensen Anthro 158 Dr...

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Brandon Christensen Anthro 158 Dr. Read MW 12:30 Are Hunters and Gatherers an Isolated Bunch? From the 1960’s and into the late 1980’s a heated and controversial debate raged throughout anthropological circles about the status of hunting and gathering societies in local, regional, and even global affairs. The debate largely began after an American anthropologist, Richard B. Lee, published several accounts of his work among the !Kung San 1 , a hunting and gathering society living in southwest Africa. Lee’s conclusions sparked a lively debate with other anthropologists – chief among them the ethnographer Edwin Wilmsen – that has helped students of anthropology to better understand the role that hunters and gatherers play in a larger global context. The clash of theories and their consequences stems from Lee’s early ethnographic work on the !Kung San. In his book The !Kung San: Men, Women, and Work in a Foraging Society , Lee states that his “ultimate goal is to use data on hunter-gatherers to illuminate human evolution” (Lee 1979:2). Lee’s premise for studying the !Kung San for insights into human evolution is that “people who live by hunting and gathering […] are among the few remaining representatives of a way of life that was, until 10,000 years ago, a human universal” (Lee 1979:1). In other words, Lee believes that the !Kung San, among others, offer social scientists a unique chance to explore our past through the lives of the !Kung San people of today. Lee sought to understand human evolution, and he had found a perfect laboratory for his theories in the !Kung San people. 1 There have been many terms for the !Kung San over the years, and I have tried to avoid confusion by simply sticking to !Kung San, however general a term this may be, and have edited passages cited in order to adhere to this term. For more details, see Lee 1979:29-38; Wilmsen 1989:26-32.
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However, there was a catch. Lee wrote “[…] there was the factor of urgency. The hunting and gathering way of life was disappearing rapidly, and many valuable research opportunities had already been lost” (Lee 1979:xviii). In a seemingly futile race against time, then, Lee must set out to analyze the gasping, dying remnants of the hunting and gathering way of life before it disappears completely. Lee states his theoretical reliance upon three distinct traditions: 1) cultural ecology, which “focuses on the core features of subsistence, economics, and technology, and attempts to understand social and political organization and other aspects of culture in terms of this core”, 2) Marxist historical materialism, where “each historical epoch exhibits a distinctive cluster of features centered on a distinctive mode of production”, and 3) ecological systems theory, which views societies as “a complex web of systems, including ecological, energetic, demographic, and information subsystems, that are interconnected in intricate, mutually interdependent feedback relations” (Lee 1979:2-5). It is important to note Lee’s caution in regards to his fieldwork and misinterpretations that
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This note was uploaded on 12/09/2011 for the course VARIOUS Various taught by Professor Various during the Fall '11 term at S.F. State.

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Anthro 158 Final Paper - Brandon Christensen Anthro 158 Dr...

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