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In the unilineal evolution model at left, all cultures progress through set stages, while in the multilineal evolution model at right, distinctive culture histories are emphasized.
Sociocultural evolution(ism) is an umbrella term for theories of cultural evolution and social evolution, describing how cultures and societies have developed over time. Most 19th century and some 20th century approaches aimed to provide models for the evolution of humankind as a whole, arguing that different societies are at different stages of social development. Virtually all anthropologists and sociologists assume that human beings have natural social tendencies and that particular human social behaviors have non-genetic causes and dynamics (i.e. Specific theories of social or cultural evolution are usually meant to explain differences between coeval societies, by positing that different societies are at different stages of development. Most 19th-century and some 20th-century approaches aimed to provide models for the evolution of humankind as a single entity. The 14th century Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun, considered by some to be the father of sociology, concluded that societies are living organisms that experience cyclic birth, growth, maturity, decline, and ultimately death due to universal causes several centuries before the Western civilisation developed the science of sociology.
The Enlightenment thinkers often speculated that societies progressed through stages of increasing development and looked for the logic, order and the set of scientific truths that determined the course of human history.
While earlier authors such as Michel de Montaigne discussed how societies change through time, it was truly the Scottish Enlightenment which proved key in the development of sociocultural evolution.
The second process was the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism which allowed and promoted continual revolutions in the means of production.
Eventually, in the 19th century three great classical theories of social and historical change were created: the sociocultural evolutionism, the social cycle theory and the Marxist historical materialism theory. While sociocultural evolutionists agree that the evolution-like process leads to social progress, classical social evolutionists have developed many different theories, known as theories of unilineal evolution.
The term "Classical Social Evolutionism" is most closely associated with the 19th-century writings of Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer (who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest") and William Graham Sumner.
Both Spencer and Comte view the society as a kind of organism subject to the process of growth—from simplicity to complexity, from chaos to order, from generalisation to specialisation, from flexibility to organisation. August Comte, known as father of sociology, formulated the law of three stages: human development progresses from the theological stage, in which nature was mythically conceived and man sought the explanation of natural phenomena from supernatural beings, through metaphysical stage in which nature was conceived of as a result of obscure forces and man sought the explanation of natural phenomena from them until the final positive stage in which all abstract and obscure forces are discarded, and natural phenomena are explained by their constant relationship.
Herbert Spencer, who believed that society was evolving toward increasing freedom for individuals; and so held that government intervention ought to be minimal in social and political life, differentiated between two phases of development, focusing is on the type of internal regulation within societies. Regardless of how scholars of Spencer interpret his relation to Darwin, Spencer proved to be an incredibly popular figure in the 1870s, particularly in the United States. Emile Durkheim, another of the "fathers" of sociology, has developed a similar, dichotomal view of social progress. Theorists usually measured progression (that is, the difference between one stage and the next) in terms of increasing social complexity (including class differentiation and a complex division of labour), or an increase in intellectual, theological, and aesthetic sophistication. Lester Frank Ward developed Spencer's theory but unlike Spencer, who considered the evolution to be general process applicable to the entire world, physical and sociological, Ward differentiated sociological evolution from biological evolution. Edward Burnett Tylor, pioneer of anthropology, focused on the evolution of culture worldwide, noting that culture is an important part of every society and that it is also subject to the process of evolution. Ferdinand Tonnies describes the evolution as the development from informal society, where people have many liberties and there are few laws and obligations, to modern, formal rational society, dominated by traditions and laws and are restricted from acting as they wish. Although not usually counted as a sociocultural evolutionist, Max Weber's theory of tripartite classification of authority can be viewed as an evolutionary theory as well. The early 20th century inaugurated a period of systematic critical examination, and rejection of the sweeping generalisations of the unilineal theories of sociocultural evolution.
Later critics observed that this assumption of firmly bounded societies was proposed precisely at the time when European powers were colonising non-Western societies, and was thus self-serving. It equated evolution with progress or fitness, based on deep misunderstandings of evolutionary theory.
Because social evolution was posited as a scientific theory, it was often used to support unjust and often racist social practices—particularly colonialism, slavery, and the unequal economic conditions present within industrialised Europe. When the critique of classical social evolutionism became widely accepted, modern anthropological and sociological approaches changed to reflect their responses to the critique of their predecessor. In 1941 anthropologist Robert Redfield wrote about a shift from 'folk society' to 'urban society'.
The anthropologists Marshall Sahlins and Elman Service wrote a book, Evolution and Culture, in which they attempted to synthesise White's and Steward's approaches[4]. Some years ago now a team of Swedish scientists proposed an interesting framework for understanding planetary environmental problems. Estimates of how the different control variables for nine planetary boundaries have changed from 1950 to present.
First, though, I want to say that the identification of the nine interrelated environmental ‘boundaries’ has been unquestionably of great value (Planetary Boundaries).
What I am suggesting in this blog is that parallel to the environmental problems are a list of ‘sociocultural problems’, which as they say, are big slow changes that may (also) change everything. The sociocultural variables that I am considering are found in this diagram that I have published and discussed elsewhere.
The perceptive reader might notice in my diagram a hint of infrastructure, structure, and superstructure, a la Marx or Harris. The eight sociocultural problems that I name are related to these eight variables and are presented in my own ‘boundaries’ diagram.
Renewables – these are renewable energy sources that support the global systems of humanity. Slow-renewables – these are renewable energy sources that due to their slow production within global ecosystems and water cycles deserve a special designation. Non-renewables – These are the essential energy sources in use today that are emphatically not renewable. Population – global human population continues to grow towards a projected 9 billion by 2050. Assets and Technologies – this refers to the countless material products and machines and structures that we have created as part of our human adaptation.
Language – refers to language diversity, which provides alternative conceptual frameworks for understanding the world. Cultural Models – could be called symbolic culture, and refers to the many meaningful models of the world that we use in our reasoning and communication. As with environmental problems, interaction effects exist between the sociocultural variables. Another dramatic potential effect is with population, which due to its slow turnover time (people live 70 years!) and current momentum will continue inevitably for a time to draw resources away from the other storages. Perhaps the greatest dilemma exists in the contradiction between the requirements for the sociocultural variables, especially the burning of fossil fuels, and the source of human-induced global climate change, which is the burning of those very same fossil fuels. The last of my ‘dilemmas’ is more technical and refers to the scientific evaluation of the ‘net energy’ or ‘net emergy’ of renewable energy sources. With all this naysaying, you might wonder if I see a way out of our current environmental, and energy, and economic dilemmas. The intention of this post is certainly not to make light of the environmental problems identified by the ‘planetary boundaries’ research effort. Specific arguments aside, we should view our societies, economies, and cultures as composed of processes and variables that are no less tractable than the nine environmental problems identified by the Swedish scientists as planetary boundaries.
And below it, you can see how many pieces of news have been created about sociocultural evolution in the last years. Although such theories typically provide models for understanding the relationship between technologies, social structure, the values of a society, and how and why they change with time, they vary as to the extent to which they describe specific mechanisms of variation and social change.
At present this thread is continued to some extent within the World System approach (especially within its version produced by Andre Gunder Frank). Although such theories typically provide models for understanding the relationship between technologies, social structure, or values of a society, they vary as to the extent to which they describe specific mechanisms of variation and change.
These 19th-century unilineal evolution theories claimed that societies start out in a primitive state and gradually become more civilised over time, and equated the culture and technology of Western civilisation with progress. Most 20th-century approaches, such as multilineal evolution, however, focus on changes specific to individual societies. Nonetheless, theories of social and cultural evolution were common in modern European thought.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, for example, argued that social development was an inevitable and determined process, similar to an acorn which has no choice but to become an oak tree. After Scotland's union with England in 1707, several Scottish thinkers pondered what the relationship between progress and the 'decadence' brought about by increased trade with England and the affluence it produced. Emerging theories of sociocultural evolution reflected a belief that the changes in Europe wrought by the Industrial Revolution and capitalism were obvious improvements. Those theories had one common factor: they all agreed that the history of humanity is pursuing a certain fixed path, most likely that of the social progress. Sociocultural evolutionism was the prevailing theory of early sociocultural anthropology and social commentary, and is associated with scholars like August Comte, Edward Burnett Tylor, Lewis Henry Morgan, Benjamin Kidd, L.T. In many ways Spencer's theory of "cosmic evolution" has much more in common with the works of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and August Comte than with contemporary works of Charles Darwin.

They agreed that the process of societies growth can be divided into certain stages, have their beginning and eventual end, and that this growth is in fact social progress—each newer, more evolved society is better. Morgan, an anthropologist whose ideas have had much impact on sociology, in his 1877 classic Ancient Societies differentiated between three eras: savagery, barbarism and civilisation, which are divided by technological inventions, like fire, bow, pottery in savage era, domestication of animals, agriculture, metalworking in barbarian era and alphabet and writing in civilisation era. His key concept was social solidarity, as he defined the social evolution in terms of progressing from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity. Tylor in England and Lewis Henry Morgan in the United States worked with data from indigenous people, whom they claimed represented earlier stages of cultural evolution that gave insight into the process and progression of evolution of culture. These 19th-century ethnologists used these principles primarily to explain differences in religious beliefs and kinship terminologies among various societies. He stressed that humans create goals for themselves and strive to realise them, whereas there is no such intelligence and awareness guiding the non-human world, which develops more or less at random.
He believed that societies were at different stages of cultural development and that the purpose of anthropology was to reconstruct the evolution of culture, from primitive beginnings to the modern state.
He also notes that there is a tendency of standardisation and unification, when all smaller societies are absorbed into the single, large, modern society. Weber distinguishes three ideal types of political leadership, domination and authority: charismatic domination (familial and religious), traditional domination (patriarchs, patrimonalism, feudalism) and legal (rational) domination (modern law and state, bureaucracy).
Cultural anthropologists such as Franz Boas, and his students like Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead, typically regarded as the leader of anthropology's rejection of classical social evolutionism, used sophisticated ethnography and more rigorous empirical methods to argue that Spencer, Tylor, and Morgan's theories were speculative and systematically misrepresented ethnographic data. Many anthropologists and social theorists now consider unilineal cultural and social evolution a Western myth seldom based on solid empirical grounds. Social Darwinism is especially criticised, as it led to some philosophies used by the Nazis. Modern theories are careful to avoid unsourced, ethnocentric speculation, comparisons, or value judgements; more or less regarding individual societies as existing within their own historical contexts. By the 1940s cultural anthropologists such as Leslie White and Julian Steward sought to revive an evolutionary model on a more scientific basis, and succeeded in establishing an approach known as the neoevolutionism. Other anthropologists, building on or responding to work by White and Steward, developed theories of cultural ecology and ecological anthropology. Raising awareness about the problems and emphasizing nonlinear feedbacks effects, and so the possible triggering of abrupt global environmental changes, are integral to a more sophisticated discussion of climate change and the other problems they highlight. The Swedish authors have called our times the ‘great acceleration’, a time of rapid growth of a number of environmental problems. I introduce them by first proposing three dilemmas of fossil fuels and sociocultural problems.
All components are supported by energy on the left, and each feeds-back to sustain and amplify energies when they are available. This is a simplified model of a ‘sociocultural system’ found anywhere in the world, or in the world as a whole.
There is also the intention to represent increasing average turnover times from left to right, though each storage is in fact also a hierarchy.
Values associated with the variables are not substantiated by research (and thus they are here in a blog and not in a journal), but are based on my intuitions.
They exist in usable forms that once consumed may take decades or centuries to be replenished by natural processes. It refers here to the maintenance or replacement of assets for transportation, housing, and industry. Cultural models are produced and cycled in distinct scales of communication that we know as discourse, social media, TV, ritual, art, education, research, economic markets, legal codes, and others. Unlike the environmental problems, all the sociocultural storages are ultimately dependent upon the three energy source variables. Human populations worldwide have grown to over 7 billion via the sociocultural innovations associated with fossil fuel energy capture and use. This refers to the fact that there is no guarantee, and current evidence suggests, that using renewable sources will actually ‘replace’ fossil fuel use. Renewable energy can only power the existing global society if it has a significant positive ‘net’. Solutions for our biospheric problems have been proposed by atmospheric, ocean, or other systems scientists. Many of the more recent 20th-century approaches focus on changes specific to individual societies and reject the idea of directional change, or social progress. Some forms of early sociocultural evolution theories (mainly unilineal ones) have led to much criticised theories like social Darwinism, and scientific racism, used in the past to justify existing policies of colonialism and slavery, and to justify new policies such as eugenics. Prior to the 18th century, Europeans predominantly believed that societies on Earth were in a state of decline. Likewise, it was assumed that societies start out primitive, perhaps in a Hobbesian state of nature, and naturally progress toward something resembling industrial Europe. In France authors such as Claude Adrien Helvetius and other philosophes were influenced by this Scottish tradition. Although imperial powers settled most differences of opinion with their colonial subjects with force, increased awareness of non-Western peoples raised new questions for European scholars about the nature of society and culture. Industrialisation, combined with the intense political change brought about by the French Revolution, U.S.
Thus, each past event is not only chronologically, but causally tied to the present and future events.
Thus progressivism became one of the basic ideas underlying the theory of sociocultural evolutionism. The earlier, more primitive military society has a goal of conquest and defence, is centralised, economically self-sufficient, collectivistic, puts the good of a group over the good of an individual, uses compulsion, force and repression, rewards loyalty, obedience and discipline.
In mechanical solidarity, people are self-sufficient, there is little integration and thus there is the need for use of force and repression to keep society together.
Morgan would later have a significant influence on Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who developed a theory of sociocultural evolution in which the internal contradictions in society created a series of escalating stages that ended in a socialist society (see Marxism). He also notes that legal domination is the most advanced, and that societies evolve from having mostly traditional and charismatic authorities to mostly rational and legal ones.
Critical theorists argue that notions of social evolution are simply justifications for power by the elites of society. These conditions provided the context for new theories such as cultural relativism and multilineal evolution. White rejected the opposition between "primitive" and "modern" societies but did argue that societies could be distinguished based on the amount of energy they harnessed, and that increased energy allowed for greater social differentiation (White's law). I had what is undoubtedly a very unusual response to their framework, and while it is perhaps old news, it may still be useful to present it here. To list them, they are climate change, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, nutrient fluxes, global freshwater use, land use change, biodiversity loss, aerosol loading, and chemical pollution. If the wedge exceeds the green space then it has already crossed its threshold and become a threat of flipping to a disastrous state for our human presence on the planet.
Notice further that (unlike Harris) population is just one of the supported ‘storages’ in the sociocultural system, it does not by itself ‘push’ cultural change; each of the storages have feedbacks that amplify the whole when energies are available, and each subtracts from the energy pie for maintenance. But it also includes the heat energies added by burning fossil fuels and greenhouse CO2, which result in the transformations we are witnessing in climate change, especially larger pulses of rainfall and drought and more powerful storms. The point is to raise these issues and suggest the possible levels of danger that we face from each. The nine variables identified by the Swedish team are particularly threatening to our renewable resources. Historically and presently important slow-renewables for our human adaptation are topsoil, groundwater, and forest timber.
Oil is the most important fossil fuel, as the source of motor fuels, plastics, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals. It refers to our many technologies, but especially today to the information technologies in finance, sales, data storage, and internet processing. This is a hierarchy, discourse is rapid and voluminous and small in spatial scale, while legal codes are few and slow to change, but have the greatest feedback influence. The difficulty is to move progressive ideas for peace and social justice to the higher scales of information cycles. Net decline in energy sources will lead to instabilities and fluctuations in the others, which may cascade feedbacks across all the storages. The majority of the world economies rely on fossil fuel energy sources or manufacturing techniques that release greenhouse gases at almost every stage of production, transportation, storage, delivery, and disposal. Human societies are apparently drawn to make use of potent energy sources when they are available.
That is, a renewable energy technology must produce much more energy than it takes to produce it. We should expect that sociocultural variables also have thresholds past which nonlinear change can be expected.
Global sociocultural systems are similarly complex systems dependent on energy and innerved with feedbacks, with negative, positive or amplifying potential for nonlinear change. Most archaeologists and cultural anthropologists work within the framework of modern theories of sociocultural evolution. European society held up the world of antiquity as a standard to aspire to, and Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome produced levels of technical accomplishment which Europeans of the Middle Ages sought to emulate. Authors such as Adam Ferguson, John Millar, and Adam Smith argued that all societies pass through a series of four stages: hunting and gathering, pastoralism and nomadism, agricultural, and finally a stage of commerce. Similarly, effective administration required some degree of understanding of other cultures. Constitution and Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791, which were paving the way for the dominance of democracy, forced European thinkers to reconsider some of their assumptions about how society was organised.

Those theories postulated that by recreating the sequence of those events, sociology could discover the laws of history. Sociocultural evolutionism represented an attempt to formalise social thinking along scientific lines, later influenced by the biological theory of evolution. In regard to social institutions, however, there is a good case that Spencer's writings might be classified as 'Social Evolutionism'.
Morgan and other thinkers of the gilded age all developed similar theories of social evolutionism as a result of their exposure to Spencer as well as Darwin.
In organic solidarity, people are much more integrated and interdependent and specialisation and cooperation is extensive. Tylor and Morgan elaborated the theory of unilinear evolution, specifying criteria for categorising cultures according to their standing within a fixed system of growth of humanity as a whole and examining the modes and mechanisms of this growth. Tonnies was also one of the first sociologists to claim that the evolution of society is not necessarily going in the right direction, that the social progress is not perfect, and it can even be called a regress as the newer, more evolved societies are obtained only after paying a high cost, resulting in decreasing satisfaction of individuals making up that society.
Additionally, they rejected the distinction between "primitive" and "civilised" (or "modern"), pointing out that so-called primitive contemporary societies have just as much history, and were just as evolved, as so-called civilised societies. Finally, the devastating World Wars that occurred between 1914 and 1945 crippled Europe's self-confidence. Steward on the other hand rejected the 19th-century notion of progress, and instead called attention to the Darwinian notion of "adaptation", arguing that all societies had to adapt to their environment in some way.
As an anthropologist, I see planetary problems from a cultural and evolutionary perspective that could offer a different take on the subject. In addition to the five sociocultural variables, three other variables in my diagram are the interactions with the three categories of energy that support our current global system, the renewable, slow-renewable, and non-renewable energy sources. For each of these variables, I will present a list of features and possible thresholds that threaten to be crossed or have arguably already been crossed. In our current production systems, fossil fuels are consumed at nearly every stage of production, transportation, storage, delivery, and disposal.
As models are regularly cycled in their use they may be selected and bumped up-scale, where added energies and durable carriers give them more influence in the larger society.
Simply reversing the trends in energy use could lead to destabilizing fluctuations throughout societies, with the potential for loss of life and assets.
Instead, renewable sources will simply be ‘added to’ existing fossil fuel sources, giving economies new energies to grow on, as argued by Ozzie Zehner in Green Illusions.
Bottom-up initiatives are social movements such as bioregionalism, permaculture, ecovillages, or transition towns. We should expect that sociocultural variables have interaction effects that can amplify the dangers presented by those variables taken individually. In my opinion, only when our human presence is better understood and incorporated into complex systems theorizing about global problems will we perhaps see some real solutions forward.
Solutions we can hardly admit to ourselves the scale of the problems much less adopt solutions.
Modern approaches to sociocultural evolution include neoevolutionism, sociobiology, theory of modernisation and theory of postindustrial society. At the same time, Christianity taught that people lived in a debased world fundamentally inferior to the Garden of Eden and Heaven. These thinkers thus understood the changes Scotland was undergoing as a transition from an agricultural to a mercantile society. August Comte in particular presented a coherent view of social progress and a new discipline to study it—sociology.
Emerging theories of sociocultural evolution allowed Europeans to organise their new knowledge in a way that reflected and justified their increasing political and economic domination of others: colonised people were less evolved, colonising people were more evolved. If organisms could develop over time according to discernable, deterministic laws, then it seemed reasonable that societies could as well. Although he wrote that societies over time progressed, and that progress was accomplished through competition, he stressed that the individual (rather than the collectivity) is the unit of analysis that evolves, that evolution takes place through natural selection and that it affects social as well as biological phenomenon.
Progress from mechanical to organic solidarity is based first on population growth and increasing population density, second on increasing "morality density" (development of more complex social interactions) and thirdly, on the increasing specialisation in workplace. They therefore argued that any attempt to use this theory to reconstruct the histories of non-literate (i.e. After millions of deaths, genocide, and the destruction of Europe's industrial infrastructure, the idea of progress seemed dubious at best.
As an example of dangerous interactions, loss of soil moisture, degradation of land to new land types, and biodiversity loss all reduce the ability of ecosystems to sequester CO2, and thus increase greenhouse effects.
Simplified models with aggregate variables are not realistic, but they may offer a way through the great complexity of society and nature to create a degree of understanding. This is the other reason that I did not place cultural models yet past their threshold, we are still living with more democratic legal models from earlier times. However, all renewable power technologies are built today with energies produced largely by fossil fuels.
All of these initiatives require a significant transformation away from the ‘business-as-usual’ solutions that are often proposed, solutions that keep the current global political-economic systems while tweaking energy sources or market mechanisms, for example. A collapse of food production due to loss of one of the super varieties of corn to disease, for instance, would exacerbate the problems of overpopulation, social inequality, topsoil and forest timber losses, and eventually the ability of financial technologies to service debt. Other contemporary approaches to social change include neoevolutionism, sociobiology, theory of modernisation and theory of postindustrial society.
During The Age of Enlightenment, however, European self-confidence grew and the notion of progress became increasingly popular. When the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes described primeval man as living in conditions in which there are "no arts, no letters, no society" and his life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short", he was very much proclaiming a popular conception of the "savage." Everything that was good and civilised resulted from the slow development out of this lowly state.
They developed analogies between human society and the biological organism and introduced into sociological theory such biological concepts as variation, natural selection, and inheritance—evolutionary factors resulting in the progress of societies through stages of savagery and barbarism to civilisation, by virtue of the survival of the fittest.
Nonetheless, the publication of Darwin's works proved a boon to the proponents of sociocultural evolution.
The nine environmental variables of the Swedish team are equally abstractions from our complex natural world. In my diagram, population size with its slow turnover time is important, it is the ‘variable’ most dear to us all, should only shrink by gradual and natural means, and so will stress all variables if energy sources contract quickly. Or inversely, another collapse of the financial system as in 2008, perhaps related to the current bubble of student loan debt or the trillions in national debt, could trigger a cascade of failures across most or all the other scales. It was during this period that what would later become known as "sociological and cultural evolution" would have its roots.
In the course of this effort they tried several highly divergent pathways, some suggested by methods and contents of other sciences, others invented outright by the imagination of the scholar. Even rationalistic philosophers like Voltaire implicitly assumed that enlightenment gradually resulted in the upward progress of humankind. The world of social science took the ideas of biological evolution as an attractive solution to similar questions regarding the origins and development of social behaviour and the idea of a society as an evolving organism was a biological analogy that is taken up by many anthropologists and sociologists even today. Finally, when society develops, so does sociogenesis, which is the science of shaping the society to fit with various political, cultural and ideological goals.
They observed that the postulated progression, which typically ended with a stage of civilisation identical to that of modern Europe, is ethnocentric. Also, fossil fuel use is critical, because the high net energies of fossil fuels have driven the existing global system.
In fact, it was arguably the oil price rise associated with global pressure on reserves that dragged the housing market down and popped the housing bubble that triggered the 2008 financial crisis that we are still suffering from.
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They also pointed out that the theory assumes that societies are clearly bounded and distinct, when in fact cultural traits and forms often cross social boundaries and diffuse among many different societies (and is thus an important mechanism of change). What happens when fossil fuels are gone or declining, can these energy technologies continue to be built?
Rapid weaning from those energy sources could lead to dramatic destabilizing fluctuations, as occurred in 2008 when oil reached $148 per barrel. It is easily forgotten now that the US twice dipped into its strategic reserves of oil before 2008 to pump up supply and lower price pressures.
Some writers also perceived in the growth stages of each individual a recapitulation of these stages of society.
Boas introduced the culture history approach, which concentrated on fieldwork among native peoples to identify actual cultural and historical processes rather than speculative stages of growth. Instead, we should support a coordinated downsizing of sociocultural variables and new smaller scales of organization, together with the maintenance of (shrinking) fuel production and transportation in fair global markets, and with the proper use of renewable energies like geothermal and hydropower, if we are to reduce the chance of the cascades of collapse.
It was only the emergence of fracking technology that has temporarily boosted global and especially US oil production that has eased the energy pressure on the US economy. Strange customs were thus accounted for on the assumption that they were throwbacks to earlier useful practices.
This "culture history" approach dominated American anthropology for the first half of the 20th century and so influenced anthropology elsewhere that high-level generalisation and "systems building" became far less common than in the past. This also marked the beginning of anthropology as a scientific discipline and a departure from traditional religious views of "primitive" cultures.

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