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Chapter 11: Ecological and Neo-Evolutionary Approaches © 2014 Mark Moberg
Materialist theories in anthropology share an assumption that the features of cultural systems can be explained in terms of the material conditions of life, meaning those behaviors and technologies related to satisfying human subsistence needs. Materialists concur that a society’s “material base” ultimately affects the other, non-economic aspects of culture, such as its social structure and beliefs. Two broad types of materialism in anthropology: ecological approaches (including cultural ecology, human ecology, cultural materialism, and political ecology) and Marxism (including dialectical materialism and structural Marxism). Early materialists from the 1930s to 1960s avoided direct reference to the ideas of Marx due to political pressures of the time. Some politically active anthropologists were investigated by the FBI; some lost their jobs. Ecological approaches stem from geographical theories relating the region in which a culture is found to its subsistence practices. In American anthropology this eventually became the culture and food area concepts of the early 20th century. © 2014 Mark Moberg
In the late 1930s, Julian Steward developed the theory of cultural ecology, examining how a particular combination of subsistence technology and environmental characteristics result in distinct forms of social organization. Steward first applied his theory to hunter-gatherers, leading a longstanding view that sparsity of resources created major challenges to life. The Boasian perspective rejected cultural evolution, but by the 1940s Leslie White had once again introduced such notions into anthropology. By the 1960s, cultural evolution had been re-established as an accepted tenet: in addition to White, anthropologists Julian Steward, Marshall Sahlins, Elman Service, and Morton Fried all developed evolutionary theories. Since the advent of postmodernism, cultural evolution has been less widely accepted in cultural anthropology, but remains important in archaeology. © 2014 Mark Moberg
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