Lecture #6 WebnotesDr. McIlvaine-Newsad

Making a living

How we all get by


Adaptive Strategies

nYehudi Cohen used the term adaptive strategy to describe a group’s system of economic production.

nCohen has developed a typology of cultures using this distinction, referring to a relationship between economies and social features, arguing that the most important reason for similarities between unrelated cultures is their possession of a similar adaptive strategy.



nHuman groups with foraging economies are not ecologically dominant.

nThe primary reason for the continuing survival of foraging economies is the inapplicability of their environmental settings to food production.


Correlates of Foraging

nBand-organization is typical of foraging societies, because its flexibility allows for seasonal adjustments.

nMembers of foraging societies typically are socially mobile, having the ability to affiliate with more than one group during their lifetimes (e.g., through fictive kinship).

nThe typical foraging society gender-based division of labor has women gathering and men hunting and fishing, with gathering contributing more to the group diet.

nAll foraging societies distinguish among their members according to age and gender, but are relatively egalitarian (making only minor distinctions in status) compared to other societal types.



nHorticulture is non-intensive plant cultivation, based on the use of simple tools and cyclical, non-continuous use crop lands.

nSlash-and-burn cultivation and shifting cultivation are alternative labels for horticulture.



nAgriculture is cultivation involving continuous use of crop land, and is more labor-intensive (due to the ancillary needs generated by farm animals and crop land formation) than horticulture.

nDomesticated animals are commonly used in agriculture, mainly to ease labor and provide manure.

nIrrigation is one of the agricultural techniques that frees cultivation from seasonal domination.

nTerracing is an agricultural technique which renders land otherwise too steep for most forms of cultivation (particularly irrigated cultivation) susceptible to agriculture (e.g., the Ifugao of Central Luzon, in the Philippines.


Agriculture: Costs and Benefits

nAgriculture is far more labor-intensive and capital-intensive than horticulture, but does not necessarily yield more than horticulture does (under ideal conditions).

nAgriculture’s long-term production (per area) is far more stable than horticulture’s.


The Cultivation Continuum

nIn reality, non-industrial economies do not always fit cleanly into the distinct categories given above, thus it is useful to think in terms of a cultivation continuum.

nSectorial fallowing: a plot of land may be planted two-to-three years before shifting (as with the Kuikuru, South American manioc horticulturalists) then allowed to lie fallow for a period of years.

nA baseline distinction between agriculture and horticulture is that horticulture requires regular fallowing (the length of which varies), whereas agriculture does not.



nAgriculture, by turning humans into ecological dominants, allows human populations to move into (and transform) a much wider range of environments than was possible prior to the development of cultivation.

nIntensified food production is associated with sedentism and rapid population increase.

nMost agriculturalists live in states because agricultural economies require regulatory mechanisms.



nPastoral economies are based upon domesticated herd animals, but members of such economies may get agricultural produce through trade or their own subsidiary cultivation.

nPatterns of Pastoralism:

nPastoral Nomadism: all members of the pastoral society follow the herd throughout the year.

nTranshumance or Agro-pastoralism: part of the society follows the herd, while the other part maintains a home village (this is usually associated with some cultivation by the pastoralists).


Economic Anthropology

nEconomic Anthropology studies economics in a comparative perspective.

nAn economy is a study of production, distribution, and consumption of resources.

nMode of production is defined as a way of organizing production—a set of social relations through which labor is deployed to wrest energy from nature using tools, skills, organization, and knowledge.

nSimilarity of  adaptive strategies between societies tends to correspond with similarity of mode of production:  variations occur according to environmental particularities.


Nonindustrial Production

nAll societies divide labor according to gender and age, but the nature of these divisions varies greatly from society to society.

nValuation of the kinds of work ascribed to different groups varies, as well.

nExamples are taken from the Betsileo, of Madagascar.


Means of Production

nMeans of production include land, labor, technology, and capital.

nLand: the importance of land varies according to method of production — land is less important to a foraging economy than it is to a cultivating economy.

nLabor, tools, and specialization: nonindustrial economies are usually, but not always, characterized by more cooperation and less specialized labor than is found in industrial societies.


Alienation in Industrial Economies

nBy definition, a worker is alienated from the product of her or his work when the product is sold, with the profit going to an employer, while the worker is paid a wage.

nA consequence of alienation is that a worker has less personal investment in the product, in contrast to the more intimate relationship existing between worker and product in nonindustrial societies.

nAlienation may generalize to encompass not only worker-product relations, but coworker relations, as well.


Economizing and Maximization

nClassical economic theory assumed that individuals universally acted rationally, by economizing to maximize profits, but comparative data shows that people frequently respond to other motivations than profit.


Alternative Ends

nPeople devote their time, resources, and energy to five broad categories of ends: subsistence, replacement, social, ceremonial, and rent.

nSubsistence fund: work is done to replace calories lost through life activities.

nReplacement fund: work is expended maintaining the technology necessary for life (broadly defined).

nSocial fund: work is expended to establish and maintain social ties.

nCeremonial fund: work is expended to fulfill ritual obligations.

nRent fund: work is expended to satisfy the obligations owed (or inflicted by) political or economic superiors.

nPeasants have rent fund obligations.


The Market Principle

nThe market principle obtains when exchange rates and organization are governed by an arbitrary money standard.

nPrice is set by the law of supply and demand.

nThe market principle is common to industrial societies.



nRedistribution is the typical mode of exchange in chiefdoms and some non-industrial states.

nIn a redistributive system, product moves from the local level to the hierarchical center, where it is reorganized, and a proportion is sent back down to the local level.



nReciprocity is exchange between social equals and occurs in three degrees: generalized, balanced, and negative.

nGeneralized reciprocity is most common to closely related exchange partners and involves giving with no specific expectation of exchange, but with a reliance upon similar opportunities being available to the giver (prevalent among foragers).

nBalanced reciprocity involves more distantly related partners, and involves giving with the expectation of equivalent (but not necessarily immediate) exchange (common in tribal societies, and has serious ramifications for the relationship of trading partners).

nNegative reciprocity involves very distant trading partners and is characterized by each partner attempting to maximize profit and an expectation of immediate exchange (e.g., market economies, silent barter between Mbuti foragers and horticulturalist neighbors).


Coexistence of Exchange Principles

nMost economies are not exclusively characterized by a single mode of reciprocity.

nThe United States economy has all three types of reciprocity.

nWhat examples of these types of reciprocity can you think of?



nPotlatches, as once practiced by Northwest Coast Native American groups, are a widely studied ritual in which sponsors (helped by their entourages) gave away resources and manufactured wealth while generating prestige for themselves.

nPotlatching tribes (such as Kwakiutl and Salish peoples) were foragers but lived in sedentary villages and had chiefs—this political complexity is attributed to the overall richness of their environment.

nDramatic depopulation resulting from post-contact diseases and the influx of new trade goods dramatically affected the nature of potlatches, which began to extended to the entire population.

nThe result of the new surplus, cultural trauma, and the competition caused by wider inclusion was that prestige was created by the destruction of wealth, rather than the redistribution of it.

nPotlatches were once interpreted as wasteful displays generated by culturally induced mania for prestige, but Kottak argues that customs like the potlatch are adaptive, allowing adjustment for alternating periods of local abundance and shortage.

nThe Northwest Coast tribes were unusual in that they were foraging populations living in a rich, non-marginal environmental setting.