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Steward says, "...cultural ecological adaptations constitute creative processes." Give an example of the kind of processes he's talking about. Where does the creativity come in?



Jill Coen

It seems as though the “creative processes” refers to the cultural type or “social type…determined within exceedingly narrow limits by the cultural ecology—by the interaction of technology and environment” (257). Moreover, “creative processes” entails the particular instances of a cultural type in terms of its unique features like “clans, moieties, age-grades…ceremonialism, totemism and mythology,” which would present themselves as the need for them arose in terms of technology and environment (257). In other words cultures adapt their unique creative processes (mythology, language, ritual, taboo) in terms of what technology they can produce, how that technology interacts with their surroundings, and what needs arise from that technology in terms of social interaction. Moreover, people engage in particular social formations, or types, according to what will yield maximum survival. An example of this might be the functional origins of kashrut, the Jewish laws of food preparation and consumption. Some have suggested that given their technology and surroundings, early Jews were challenged by the harsh desert conditions and scarcity of meat. Jews banded together and consumed food often in social, banquet settings. The practice of draining blood out of meat and heavily salting it is perhaps one method of preserving meat, and perhaps serves as the functional basis behind the ritual practice passed down through Jewish mythology. In this sense the ancient Jewish cultural type, a matrilineal but seemingly patrilocal group, has adapted its cultural creative processes according to ecology or environment. In this sense, the cultural ecological adaptation would be the cultural type (household, band, society, etc.) and how that type allows people to maximize survival in a given environment. Creativity occurs when negotiating cultural (mythological, totemic, ritual, historical) foundations and practices with the ecological needs for food preservation. ****


Sara Ray

I agree with Jill's reading of what Steward means by creative process. He essentially means that an ecological condition doesn't mandate a cultural practice, but that people's creative processes incorporate their environment into their overarching social system. The first example to come to my mind was food as well, specifically the variation of tastes across the world. I've always thought it was fascinating that somewhere in the rainforest someone loves to eat ants just as much as I love to eat Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza and that some cultures can eat the puppies that people in the US buy sweaters and backpacks for. This correlates well with Steward's assertion that there is no biological basis for these variations, they're just creative mechanisms of coping with the situation at hand. I also can't help but think of Inuit cultures and the way that they are able to successfully survive in a climate that most of the world would view as totally uninhabitable. They have mythology, rituals and social systems that all incorporate this very hostile environment. I remember in symbolic anthropology last semester, we discussed the ways that the Inuit were able to navigate all around what (to us) appear to be blank ice scapes. It's just a matter of being culturally attuned to a different frequency of nature and the ways in which their navigation system works (in response to winds, etc) is a way of creatively incorporting that ecological feature into a practical, social function.



Re: Jill Coen (By Sara Coburn)

I think what Jill mentioned about the rational for food preservation in the harsh desert conditions of early Jews is an excellent example of showing the creative process and cultural ecological adapatation at work. I think this is a really good example that is probably one of the initial forms of cultural ecological adaptation.....the bodily needs.....versus I have discussed a slightly more advanced "creative process" of women utilizing their environment to weave their Story of Creation through textile works. It is interesting to note how the creative process of cultures probably all had a very common starting place....food, shelter, etc, and gradually moved into more complex cultural ecological adaptations such as religion, mythology, and clothing. I think it's cool how 2 people can think of two different stages of such "creative processes" during cultural ecological adaptations. It just furthers the idea of how variable the cultural process is and how extensive it is in many cultures around the world.


Tyson Johnson

In his arguments regarding cultural ecology, Steward calls attention to the importance of the creative process in the creation of cultural ecological adaptations. Where Morgan and Tyler once claimed that environmental conditions will invariable result in the same set of adaptive responses, Steward claims that the same set of environmental stimuli acting upon two different cultures is likely to result in two different adaptive responses. The invention of clothing as an adaptation to cold weather serves as an example of this type of creative process. While the need to protect the body from extreme cold with some sort of covering is clear, the form of the clothing a culture chooses to create is highly variable. One culture may use animal hides to create clothing, while another culture discovers how to weave cloth from natural fibers. Still other cultures might chose an entirely different avenue of adaptation and built more insulated shelters and develop methods for extended food storage that would make braving the cold less of a necessity. Ultimately, there is no “one right answer” to any ecological problem or obstacle that faces human societies. Creativity enables people to envision a number of different solutions or possible adaptations and then proceed with whichever one is the most appealing.




Joey Perry

I agree with what everyone has been saying but have a question regarding the application of this concept to contemporary society.  I think Steward refers mainly to societies that are completely dependent on their environments for survival, but what about our society today?  If we need nourishment, we walk to the grocery store to buy food; if the temperature outside is inhumane, we adjust the thermostat accordingly.  We have irrevocably transformed our environment to suit our current wants and needs.  For instance, DC used to be swamp-land that originally had been considered inhabitable.  Now the swamp has been transformed into miles and miles of cement to make it livable in accordance to today’s standards.  Perhaps that is our contemporary creative adaptation to an ecological situation, but you have to admit that hiding the ecological environment under miles of cement- in addition to other technological adaptations such as heating, a/c, and imports such as food and oil- have made our culture far less susceptible to and dependent on fluctuations in the environment.  


Heddy Waters

I just recently read the book “Revitalizations and Mazeways,” by Alfred F.C. Wallace, for by book review article.  In the book, he cites several examples of cultures adapting to new ecological/technological circumstances, and I immediately thought of those upon reading this quote.  My interpretation of the word ‘creative’ is that a culture really has the choice of reacting to a certain situation in a myriad of ways, thus accounting for the cultural variety within human society amongst peoples with similar ecological circumstances; rather than a simple statement that each culture has unique characteristics.  I think ‘creative’ refers to the fact that humans are quite inventive, adept at dealing with new factors, and accordingly modifying culture to deal with the changes.


One example of these “creative processes” comes from the aforementioned book.  Wallace was an expert on the Iroquois and described their traditional society as one that was matrilineal and matrilocal.  The cultural core of this group was shaped in this way, because men were required to be nomadic and roam, due to the need to hung migratory animals and enter warfare with neighboring tribes.  Women were thus left in the huts, and took care of everything, including planting, harvesting, kids, and tent repair.  Adultery and flexible relationship patterns were also quite acceptable, because husbands were constantly absent, and new men were constantly entering the area in search of food and shelter.  However, once the Iroquois lost their land to the American settlers, men could no longer roam and women could no longer be the sole ‘head of household.’  The result was a whole slew of changes to the Iroquois culture (that one sees today) that resulted to adapt to the new economic circumstances. 


I think this example is a good one in showing (a) how cultures evolve to adapt to ecological circumstance and (b) how changes in that circumstance require changes in culture.  The change and adaptation can be multitudinous (with some men reacting to the aforementioned situation by drinking sorrows away, while others took up the ‘white man’s’ plow) and show the great flexibility of culture and how “cultural ecological adaptations constitute creative processes.”


Sara Coburn

To start this discussion, I think it is relevant to take a quick glance at an excerpt from Steward’s “The Patrilineal Band”:




[Certain cultural factors] may be derived from cultural heritage of the group or they may be borrowed from neighboring tribes. In each group they are integrated in a total sociocultural system, but the nature of this system is not explained merely by tracing the diversified history of the features or by describing the functional interdependency of the parts. These features must be adjusted to the subsistence patterns that are established through the exploitation of a particular habitat by means of a particular technology; and the subsistence patterns are only partly explainable in terms of cultural history. (257)




This excerpt struck me as particularly interesting because it leads me to believe that according to Steward, the “creative process” is both a combination of cultural history and cultural ecological adapation. Thus, while cultural ecological adaptations may have derived from cultural heritage and/or borrowed from other groups, it is the environment that shapes our “creative processes.” Each cultural adaptation is unique and particular to a people’s environment. What comes to mind for me is the textile works made by the indigenous women of Guatemala, which serve both to tell the story of how they came to this Earth, and also is a direct cultural ecological adaptation of their environment. The weaving of the cotton to tell their stories and the actual telling of the story through the weaving of cotton are just parts of the whole of which Steward calls this creative process. I think that the creativity comes from an accumulation of technological experiments that are inspired by the cultural history and heritage. Either way, technology and subsistence cannot exist without the cultural heritage and history and cultural heritage and history could not have evolved as they have around the world without the concept of cultural ecological adaptation.









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