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Making A Living Subsistence, Economy, and Distribution: How Humans Do It Economic Production as an Adaptive Strategy Food is necessary for survival; the means of subsistence of a given group has been called their adaptive strategy.

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making a living

Making A Living

Subsistence, Economy, and Distribution: How Humans Do It

economic production as an adaptive strategy
Economic Production as an Adaptive Strategy
  • Food is necessary for survival; the means of subsistence of a given group has been called their adaptive strategy.
  • Cohen describes five adaptive strategies: foraging, horticultural, agriculture, pastoralism, and industrialism.
foraging a k a hunting and gathering
Foraging (a.k.a. Hunting and Gathering)
  • Foraging was the only means of subsistence for the first 5 million years of human history.
  • Hunting and gatherer continued to exist after the multiple inventions of agriculture in those areas ill suited to growing crops.
what is foraging
What is Foraging?
  • Foraging relies on the collection of nutritionally significant plant resources and the capture of important animal protein sources for food.
the importance of gathering
The Importance of Gathering
  • For much of the 20th Century, anthropologists assumed hunting was more important than gathering.
  • Subsequent ethnographic work showed plant resources usually make up 80% of the diet.
foragers live off the land usually in small groups called bands
Foragers live off the land, usually in small groups called “bands”
  • Because foragers are highly mobile and frequently live in marginal environments, they tend to live in groups of 100 or less.
  • This mobile lifestyle leads to temporary housing structures.
other forager characteristics or correlates
Other Forager Characteristics or Correlates
  • Most members of bands related.
  • Practice band exogamy.
  • Membership of band may change during the course of a year.
  • Practice seasonal transhumance.
  • Egalitarian.
  • Sexual division of labor.
examples of foragers
Examples of Foragers
  • California Indians (balanophagy).
  • Great Basin Indians (Paiute, Shoshone, Ute).
  • Inuit (a.k.a. Eskimos).
  • Australian Aborigines.
  • !Kung San of South Africa.
  • Baka.
  • Cultivation is food production rather food gathering.
  • According to Cohen’s scheme, the three forms of food production are horticulture, agriculture, and pastoralism.
  • Horticulture and agriculture focus on plant resource production; pastoralism focuses on herding and “harvesting” their animals.
what is horticulture
What is horticulture?
  • Horticulture is the small-scale planting and harvesting of food plants using simple tools and small garden plots.
  • Horticulturalists frequently use swidden or “slash-and-burn” techniques for fertilization of the soil.
  • Shifting cultivation common.
advantages and disadvantages of horticulture
Advantages and Disadvantages of Horticulture


  • Can sustain large groups (example: Kuikuru of South America).
  • Allows for flexible sedentism (staying in one place).


  • Limited carrying capacity.
  • Leads to rapid soil exhaustion.
horticultural groups
Horticultural Groups
  • Yanomami.
  • The tribes of Papua New Guinea.
  • The Maya of Mexico.
  • Hawaiian Islanders
  • Various Bantu-speaking tribes of Africa.
  • Differs from horticulture in that it is more labor intensive, uses more sophisticated tools (such as plows), engages the use of draft animals, may use terracing, and employs irrigation.
  • More land is used, and greater quantities of crops are produced.
domesticated animals and farming
Domesticated Animals and Farming
  • Domesticated animals, especially cattle and horses, have played an important role in raising crops, providing both labor (plowing) and fertilizer.
irrigation and terracing
Irrigation and Terracing
  • Irrigation provides nutrients and a continual source of water to crops, allowing for continual use of fields (rather than shifting).
  • Terracing allows for cultivation of crops in mountainous areas.
costs and benefits of agriculture
Costs and Benefits of Agriculture
  • Human labor input greater for agriculture, since time and energy are required to build and maintain canals and terraces, as well as to feed and care for animals.
  • Yields are much greater with agriculture over horticulture; provides long-term, dependable crops that translates to lower labor costs per unit.
the cultivation continuum
The “cultivation continuum”
  • Horticulture = low-labor, shifting-plot
  • Agriculture = labor-intensive, permanent plot.
  • Some world economies are intermediate between horticulture and agriculture, using sectorial fallowing, which is a form of horticulture that is employed by larger populations.
intensive agriculture
Intensive Agriculture
  • Intensive agriculture allows for large populations.
  • However, large populations combined with intensive agricultural practices result in extreme environmental degradation.
  • Intensive agriculture often leads to specialization in certain crops (i.e., rice, maize, potatoes), thereby sacrificing dietary diversity.
intensive agriculture gone wrong
Intensive Agriculture Gone Wrong
  • The ancient Maya civilization collapsed about A.D. 800, following a combination of agricultural intensification and population growth that led to deforestation and soil erosion.
  • Pastoralists are herders who focus on animals such as goats, sheep, cattle, camels, and yaks.
  • Traditional pastoralists are found in parts of north and eastern Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.
pastoralism as a living
Pastoralism as a living
  • Pastoralists use their herds for food (milk, blood, meat).
  • Pastoralists frequently trade with farmers for grains and vegetables, or may engage in limited horticulture or foraging.
  • Pastoralists practice pastoral nomadism (the whole group moves) or transhumance (only certain members of the group follow the herd animals).
modes of production
Modes of Production
  • Economy = a system of production, distribution and consumption of resources.
  • A mode of production is a way of organizing production:

“A set of social relations through which labor is deployed to wrest energy from nature by means of tools, skills, organization, and knowledge.”

(Wolf 1982).

capitalism vs non industrial modes of production
Capitalism vs. Non-Industrial modes of production
  • In non-industrial societies, labor is given as a social obligation, and is frequently kin-based.
  • In capitalist industrial societies, money buys labor power, and their exists a social gap between the purchasers of labor and their laborers (bosses and workers).
  • Large scale, industrial production, involving factories and mechanization.
  • Industrial production can be either capitalist or socialist.
  • Industrialism relies on corporate agriculture.
means of production
Means of Production
  • The means, or factors of production, involve territory, labor, and technology.
  • In non-industrial societies, there is a closer relationship between laborers and the means of production.
  • In industrial societies, there is frequent alienation of the workers from the means of production.
economic anthropological questions
Economic Anthropological Questions
  • How are production, distribution, and consumption organized in different societies? The focus of this question is on systems.
  • What motivates people in different cultures to produce, distribute or exchange, and consume? The focus of this question is on individuals.
distribution and exchange
Distribution and Exchange
  • The Market Principle: operates in a capitalist economy by governing the distribution of land, labor, natural resources, technology, and capital. Items are bought and sold, and rely on the law of supply and demand.
  • Redistribution: goods and services move towards the center, then redistributed (example: Cherokee chiefs).

Reciprocity is an exchange between social equals; common in egalitarian societies. There are three types:

  • Generalized: someone gives with no explicit expectation for a like gift.
  • Balanced: giving with expecting something in return.
  • Negative: giving with the expectation of immediate return.