Adaptation is a concept derived from evolutionary ecology, which refers to the ability of organisms to respond to changes in their environment. These changes were initially viewed as good, but recent research shows that these adjustments are a series of trade-offs, and that there are costs and benefits associated with the choices made. Anthropology has a long history of exploring the facets of human-environment interactions. Humans and the environment are viewed as a single and complex system. The relationship between environment and humans is interactive. Julian Stewart developed the concept of cultural ecology, which tries to explain how culture is affected by environment. Cultures possessed by people are determined by the environment.
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Many researchers were able to demonstrate that many comparable cultural practices and beliefs such as food, dress and religion, were found in areas with similar physical environment, suggesting that the environment led to these similarities. However, this belief was followed by a strong criticism arguing that the environment had little or nothing to do with human culture. Thus, the limitations of the environment may produce a specific type of social organization or group. Cultural and social aspects of a group are intimately tied to the group’s ecosystem and how group members perceive that ecosystem. A good example is the Turkana people of Kenya who live in a harsh dry environment, but are yet able to maintain their large herds of cattle and food supply throughout the year. They have adapted well to their environment. Human behavioral ecology embraces Darwin’s notion that differential reproduction is the key factor shaping biological adaptation and diversity.
In early1900s, Franz Boas argued that nature dictates the choices available to the society but cultural decisions determine what a human society uses in the natural environment. For instance, one society may focus on agricultural production while another focuses on hunting and gathering as mode of existence. On the other hand, Steward explored how the process of adapting to, and utilizing, the resources of a specific environment shapes culture. Steward was interested in whether adjustments of human societies to their environments required specific types of behaviors or whether there was a wide variety of behaviors. Rappaport clearly demonstrated how ritual helped maintain equilibriumin the physical and social environment.
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