agecological anthropology

agecological anthropology - Ecological Anthropology...

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Ecological Anthropology DEVELOPMENT OF ECOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY As discussed in Vayda & Rappaport reading [V&R], there have been various approaches to relation between human societies and their environments in the history of Western scholarly thought First 2 perspectives environmental determinism and possibilism are really precursors of ecological anthro, but provided part of context in which it developed My primary interest in these is not historical, but rather in the ways in which they illustrate certain logical problems that can arise in analyzing relationship between culture and environment In particular, since many people (esp. critics of ecological approach) still mistakenly equate ecological explanations with environmental determinism, it's important to grasp why this equation is wrong Environmental Determinism Environmental determinism (ED) has deep roots in Western thought (e.g., Hippocrates' theory of "humours" from ancient Greece) Essential feature of ED = claim that environmental features directly determine features of human behavior (and hence of society) ED takes various forms: a) Strong claim (environment accounts for most social variation) vs. more moderate one (environment affects some aspects) b) Various environmental factors might be emphasized (e.g., climate; topography; foodstuffs) ED achieved considerable popularity among various 18th and 19th century scholars, partly as product of Enlightenment -- ED was one alternative to racial determinism, and in tune with views on the "psychic unity of mankind" (i.e., notion that thought processes of people everywhere are fundamentally the same, so that diffs. must be due to history of their surroundings rather than being innate) However, in its cruder forms, ED just as insensitive to cultural differences and culture history as the racial determinism it supplanted Most popular version of ED ascribed direct effects of climate on human social variation: e.g., hot climates lead to passionate, lazy people who fail to build culture; extremely cold, dark climates lead to morose peoples, while temperate environments are most conducive to elaboration of civilization, etc. Main problems with ED are now clear:
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1) use of loose correlations and anecdotal evidence (e.g., Huntington's view that hot climates dulled mental and physical energies supported by statements that "no one touches serious books in Virginia 2) Ignoring contrary evidence (e.g., earliest civilizations all arose in hot tropical/subtropical regions: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Indus, Mesoamerica, coastal Peru) 3) Inability to explain occurrence of different types of societies in same environment (either sequentially or simultaneously) 4) Strong tendency toward ethnocentric ranking of environments (e.g., Hippocrates put ideal climate in Greece, Cicero in Rome, Montesquieu in France, and Huntington in New England) For these reasons and others, no scholars take ED seriously any more, though continues to be
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This note was uploaded on 02/22/2012 for the course AG 3306 taught by Professor Staff during the Fall '11 term at Texas State.

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agecological anthropology - Ecological Anthropology...

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