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Holism in ecological anthropology

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Title: Holism in ecological anthropology  
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Holism in ecological anthropology

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Ecological anthropology is a sub-field of anthropology and is defined as the “study of cultural adaptations to environments”.[1] The sub-field is also defined as, "the study of relationships between a population of humans and their biophysical environment".[2] The focus of its research concerns “how cultural beliefs and practices helped human populations adapt to their environments, and how people used elements of their culture to maintain their ecosystems.”[1] Ecological anthropology developed from the approach of cultural ecology, and it provided a conceptual framework more suitable for scientific inquiry than the cultural ecology approach.[3] Research pursued under this approach aims to study a wide range of human responses to environmental problems.[3]

History of the domain and leading researchers

In the 1960s, ecological anthropology first appeared as a response to cultural ecology, a sub-field of anthropology led by Julian Steward. Steward focused on studying different modes of subsistence as methods of energy transfer and then analyzed how they determine other aspects of culture. Culture became the unit of analysis. The first ecological anthropologists explored the idea that humans as ecological populations should be the unit of analysis, and culture became the means by which that population alters and adapts to the environment. It was characterised by systems theory, functionalism and negative feedback analysis.[4]

One of the leading practitioners within this sub-field of anthropology was Roy Rappaport. He delivered many outstanding works on the relationship between culture and the natural environment in which it grows, especially concerning the role of ritual in the processual relationship between the two. He conducted the majority, if not all, of his fieldwork amongst a group known as the Maring, who inhabit an area in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.[2]

Patricia K. Townsend's work highlights the difference between ecological anthropology and environmental anthropology. In her view, some anthropologists use both terms in an interchangeable fashion. She states that, “Ecological anthropology will refer to one particular type of research in environmental anthropology – field studies that describe a single ecosystem including a human population”.[2] Studies conducted under this sub-field “frequently deal with a small population of only a few hundred people such as a village or neighbourhood”.[2]

Globalization effects on the discipline

Studies under the discipline are concerned with the ethnoecologies of indigenous populations.[1] Due to various factors associated with globalization, indigenous ethnoecologies are facing increasing challenges such as, “migration, media, and commerce spread people, institutions, information, and technology”.[1] “In the face of national and international incentives to exploit and degrade, ethnological systems that once preserved local and regional environments increasingly are ineffective or irrelevant”.[1] Threats also exist of “commercial logging, industrial pollution, and the imposition of external management systems” on their local ecosystems.[1] These threats to indigenous ways of life are a familiar occurrence in the field of anthropology. Conrad Phillip Kottak states that, “Today’s ecological anthropology , aka environmental anthropology, attempts not only to understand but also to find solutions to environmental problems”.[1]

Criticisms of ecological anthropology

From the beginning various scholars criticised the discipline, saying it inherently was too focused on static equilibrii which ignored change, that it used circular reasoning, and that it oversimplified systems.[6][attribution needed] One of the current criticisms[by whom?] is that, in its original form, ecological anthropology relies upon cultural relativism as the norm.[4] However, in today's world, there are few cultures that are isolated enough to live in a true culturally relative state. Instead, cultures are being influenced and changed by media, governments, NGOs, businesses, etc.[1] In response, the discipline has seen a shift towards applied ecological anthropology, political ecology and environmental anthropology.[1]

Universities with ecological anthropology programs

University University University
Indiana University North Carolina State University Oregon State University
Rutgers University Stanford University University of Arizona
University of Florida University of Georgia University of Hawaii
University of Kent University of London University of Maryland
University of Texas at San Antonio University of Washington

See also


Further reading

External links

  • McGrath, Stacy (n.d) "Ecological Anthropology", M.D Murphy (Ed) Anthropological Theories. Department of Anthropology, University of Alabama webpage Accessed 8 August 2009
  • Online Journal of Ecological Anthropology, University of South Florida Accessed 9 August 2009
  • Open Access Journal entitled "Ecological and Environmental Anthropology" Accessed 9 August 2009

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