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Society and Culture

"Society" describes the economic basis of a culture. That economic basis frequently is frequently determined by geography and in turn determines some of the characteristics of the cultures. Historically, societies are assumed to evolve through definite stages as they develop surplus of food, population and other resources, from hunter-gatherer to post-industrial.  



Hunter-gatherers rely on gathering wild plants and hunting animals for food, shelter and clothing. It is believed that all human groups began as hunter-gatherer groups. Hunter-gather culture tends to be egalitarian. Egalitarian means everyone is treated the same and no one person is more important than the others.  Hunter-gatherer culture also tends to be non-hierarchicalHierarchical means that there is a "chain-of-command" structure such as exists in a school or an American family.  In a school, the teacher is in charge of the classroom and the principal is in charge of all of the classrooms and teachers. That's a hierarchy.  Hunter-gatherer groups usually don't have anyone "in charge" and make all group decisions by talking the problem over and coming to an agreement. In an American family, usually the parents are in charge of the kids and then each parent will also have a boss at their job. In many hunter-gatherer groups, all elders are in charge of all children. Hunter-gatherers usually don't have surplus food or surplus labor although they do some trading of handmade items and food. Out of necessity, hunter-gatherers are nomadic, following food sources. There are very few hunter-gatherer groups in the modern world and they live in parts of the world that are not suitable for agriculture. The San, Khoikhoi, and Khoisan are hunter-gatherers living in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia.



Pastoralists rely on domesticated animals and some farming. They herd animals, cattle, sheep, goats, camels and other livestock. Pastoralists tend to be also semi-nomadic and to live in areas that are not suitable for large scale farming. Pastoralists will frequently have a base of operations where they will plant a garden for supplemental food or they will have places where they will grow crops that don't require daily tending. Pastoralists can generate some surplus food and not everyone will have to work equally hard. Pastoralist groups can have more heirarchy and may be less egalitarian. The Pokot and Turkana in Kenya are pastoralists.



Agricultural societies rely on farming, frequently on a large scale. Agricultural societies can only develop where the land is suitable for farming and with enough surplus labor.  Agricultural societies can develop large surplus of both food and labor which can pave the way for development of an industrial society. Trade will be a big part of an agricultural society as they trade surplus food for manufactured goods. The Dogon in Mali and Ndebele in South Africa and Botswana are agriculturalists. The Ashanti of Ghana are agriculturalist but developed agriculture along a slightly different path. The Ashanti were hunter-gatherers with easy access to gold, an incredibly valuable commodity in the world market at the time. Trade was a much bigger part of Ashanti life than is normal in hunter-gatherer cultures. The Ashanti were able to trade gold for both goods and slaves which allowed them to develop extensive mining operation and to clear the Ghana jungle for agriculture. As a result, Ashanti culture is hierarchical and non-egalitarian. 



Industrial societies rely on the mechanized manufacture of goods.  Trade is usually a large part of industrial societies.  An industrial society requires a stable labor force and a solid agricultural base. Manufacturing frequently requires specialized jobs so industrial cultures tend to be non-egalitarian and hierarchical.



Post-industrial societies depend on services and information. A post-industrial society trades knowledge to acquire manufactured goods and food. The United States is considered Post-industrial.  There is no agreement on the characteristics of a post-industrial culture.  Both manufacturing and agriculture require a certain amount of structure leading to a hierarchical culture.  However, trading in information and knowledge requires less structure.  Will this change our culture?

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