chapter  3
31 Pages

Human Ecology as Human Behavior: A Normative Anthropology of Resource Use and Abuse

ByJohn W. Bennett

The concept of culture was defined in chapter 2 as a set of descriptive generalizations made from observing behavior. It therefore follows that culture cannot be a cause of that same behavior. However, some of the empirical phenomena included in the traditional catchall conception of culture are undeniably influential in shaping concepts and practices related to the physical environment. These phenomena have differing roles to play in this complex process and therefore must be researched separately. For example, while ideology may influence, say, conceptions of the conservation of resources for the benefit of posterity, consumer desires may exert pressure in the opposite direction. To say that “culture” shapes or determines our use of the environment therefore has no precise meaning. It is necessary to specify what components of culture, in what circumstances, at what times. Moreover, it is necessary to translate these cultural elements into active behavioral tendencies: responses and adaptations46 made by real people in real-life contexts. That is, although human behavior is multipotential, at any point in the life cycle of individuals the number of possible responses to a given situation is in fact constrained by previous learning, standardized responses, and conventional values. Still, it is never possible to rule out completely novel and unforeseen responses.