chapter  7
34 Pages

Culture and Ecology: Culture as the Master Variable

ByJohn W. Bennett

Possibilism converted environmental influence into an aspect of culture; the environment was defined as a passive agent, furnishing both opportunities and constraints, with culture providing the conditions for selection. Possibilism lacked a theory of the dynamic relationship of human actions to environment. Lacking a dynamic theory of social behavior, anthropologists of the era proposed instead to investigate the existence of concordances between cultural styles and environmental factors. This effort culminated in A. L. Kroeber's 1939 volume, Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America—a monument not only to environmental possibilism but to the entire "culture area" school of Boasian-historical anthropology. Steward's new version of possibilism involved an attempt to locate the causes of cultural phenomena in production, or technoeconomic phenomena, and to avoid metaphysical conceptions like Kroeber's belief that culture causes itself. One of the best expressions of the monographic style is Robert Netting's study of the Kofyar, a group of intensive field-crop agriculturalists in a Nigerian plateau region (1968).