The Concept and Method of Cultural Ecology

Steward, J. (1955). The Concept and Method of Cultural Ecology. In Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

In “Concept and Method of Cultural Ecology” Steward defines cultural ecology and discusses how culture influences management of the environment and vice versa. Cultural ecology is defined as the study of how culture effects adaptions to the environment. Any human adaption involves technologies, practices and knowledge that allow people to live in an environment. In her work Steward documents different technologies and methods various cultures use in order to survive off their environment, and looks for patterns between certain techniques and certain types of cultures. She also looks at how these patterns influence the culture, in other words, how the culture has adapted. To conclude, Steward examines the three fundamental procedures of cultural ecology. First, the relationship of exploitative technology and the environment. Second, the behavior involved in the exploitation of an area by a particular means. Third, to ascertain the extent to which the behavior patterns entailed in the exploitation of the environment affect other aspects of the culture. By using cultural ecology anthropologists are able to figure out whether adaptions are similar in similar environments and how humans adapt to such a wide variety of environments. Steward’s work contrasts with the popular idea that practices are all determined by the culture and not the environment and suggests that anthropologists should consider how cultures themselves have changed due to the introduction of new technologies and practices for environmental management. Virginia Nazarea is another author who discusses cultural ecology and focuses on local knowledge but instead of analyzing the relationship between culture and environmental adaptions she examines how culture influences the categorization of aspects of the environment.