Steward, Julian

Steward, Julian

Bio: (1902-1972) American anthropologist. Steward got his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1929 at the University of Berkeley. From 1928-1930 he taught at the University of Michigan, and the University of Utah from 1930–1933, where he began research on the Pueblo Indians. After a short stay at Berkeley (1933–1934) Steward worked in the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution from 1935-1946.

He is best known for his advocacy of multilineal evolution and for the creation of his approach he named „cultural ecology“. His approach is best presented in his book Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution (1955). Steward sees culture as a connected whole consisting of parts that predetermine, condition, and limit each other. He analyzed culture from the perspective of the objective usefulness of institutions, and he attached less importance to how members of a certain culture value and explain their own cultural institutions. Any cultural system can vary only within certain limits, otherwise, it will not survive. So the behavior of individuals that sometimes seems purely traditional can actually be very practical. Culture is subject to spontaneous and subjective variation, but once a change occurs, if it comes into conflict with a subsistence system, it will either adapt or not survive.

Steward's theory of multilinear evolution differs both from the classical theories of evolution, but also from the universal evolution of Leslie White and Gordon Vera Child. Older unilinear evolutionists failed to notice many local trends of development, and by studying a limited number of trends they tried to discover universal stages of evolution. On the other hand, universal evolution was not concerned with specific cultures, but with the culture of the entire humanity, ignoring specific ethnographic and historical data. Multilineal evolution is essentially a methodology that studies regularities in cultural change and seeks to establish cultural laws. It advocates historical reconstruction, but it does not try to classify these data into universal stages, it has no a priori schemes and laws.

The basic unit of analysis is the cultural type. A cultural type is characterized by a certain number of elements, not their totality. Those elements form specific constellations of causally interrelated characteristics found in two or more cultures, and the selection of those elements is determined by the framework of the study. Finally, it is assumed that the selected features have the same functional interrelationships with others in each case. Examples of cultural types are: oriental absolute society, patrilineal group, feudal society, etc. The hunter-gatherer way of life in Steward's scheme has several cultural types, which do not have to be any evolutionary stages, and even some cases can be isolated products of specific ecological circumstances.

While in biology ecology represents mutual relations between organisms and their environment, the key meaning of ecology for Steward is the adaptation of culture to its environment. Steward opposes the then-orthodox view that the history of an individual culture explains its peculiarities, but believes that they are more the result of an ecological adaptive process. The cultural-historical approach has as the main unit of analysis the cultural area or cultural patterns, which take into account only the particularizing aspects of culture. For Steward cultural ecology is both a problem and a method.

He solves this problem by introducing the cultural core as an analytical category – a constellation of characteristics most closely related to activities important for subsistence and economic organization. The core includes social, political, and religious patterns that have been empirically proven to be closely related to subsistence and economic survival. Features that are not directly related to the cultural core are secondary features, subject to frequent changes, and to a greater extent determined by purely cultural and historical factors.

There are three formal methodological procedures in cultural ecology: the first is that the interrelationships between exploitative or productive technology and the environment must be analyzed; the second is that the patterns of exploitation of a certain area with a certain technology must be analyzed; and the third is to determine to what degree behavioral patterns associated with the exploitation of the environment affect other aspects of culture.

Levels of sociocultural integration are an analytical tool that serves to place different societies at different quantitative and qualitative levels of complexity and integration, although they (levels) do not necessarily represent evolutionary stages. The levels of sociocultural integration are: family, group, tribe, and nation. Some pre-civilization societies functioned at the family level as politically, economically, and religiously self-sufficient groups, while others functioned as highly integrated tribal societies. As the biggest distinction between the tribal and national levels of integration, Steward puts the existence of the state, class groups, and subcultural groups.

The Shoshone and the Eskimo are an example of socio-cultural integration at the family level. The Shoshone live in an area of the US called the Great Basin. This area consists of mountains with steppes and deserts in between. The Shoshone are engaged in hunting and gathering. Their societies are made up of individual families, or at most two or three families, and nuclear families, not extended ones. Other relatives become part of the family only if they do not have their own. Even religious life takes place in isolation. The cause of this Shoshone socio-cultural organization is extremely poor natural resources. In more fertile areas, the population density is one person per 15 square kilometers, and in deserts one person per three hundred square kilometers. There are few edible plants, and the most important animals for hunting are rabbits and antelope. Since the conditions of gathering and hunting do not allow safe survival for a larger group of people, the only possible adaptation was to divide society into the smallest possible unit that could be reproductive and sustainable - the family. Similar living conditions, only in polar conditions, apply to the Eskimos. Steward believes that the family as a level of socio-cultural integration was not dominant in human evolution, therefore it does not represent the lowest evolutionary stage of the human species, but a specific adaptation to specific conditions.

The „band“ is a level of socio-cultural integration made up of several families living together. They have over 15 members and a maximum of several hundred. The bands probably represent the original evolutionary stage of the human species, because similar societies are also found in the closest apes to humans. Bands can be patrilineal, matrilineal, or mixed.

Patrilineal bands are found on many continents, and they all show great similarities. They have from 15 to 100 members. Several factors influence the formation of a patrilineal band. The first condition is that the population density is low, less than one person per five square kilometers, in a territory with weak natural resources. Another condition is that the main species being hunted are non-migratory and scattered. This circumstance has the effect that men (who in all hunter-gatherers hunt) live in the territory where they grew up because they know the terrain better. The third condition is that no animals are used to transport the load. The last condition, and it is cultural, is that the incest taboo should be extended from the biological family to all members of the band. Patrilineal bands have no leaders, and ownership of the land is shared. The only form of central authority is the shaman.

A mixed band is made up of several families that are not connected by real or attributed kinship. A mixed band, in contrast to a patrilineal one, is larger, usually several hundred members, and there are no rules of endogamy, patrilocal residence in marriage, or patrilineality. These bands usually have a chief. The mixed band is a product of specific ecological circumstances, the areas they inhabit have a low population density, and they primarily hunt animals that live in herds and migrate. Such animals are hunted by a larger band of people seasonally, and the fact that they live in herds allows a larger number of people to be fed. Factors that can influence the existence of a mixed band in areas where there is normally a patrilineal band are: the adoption of children between bands, endogamy caused by the legitimization of cross-relative marriages, and matrilocal housing due to the lack of men.

All those societies that have only one line of kinship constitute one level of socio-cultural integration despite belonging to different cultural types. As society grows larger, one line of kinship splits into multiple lines, and people begin to lose track of their common origins. Therefore, instead of genealogical origin, people introduce belief in a common totemic ancestor, common residence, and common ceremonies. When this calculation of descent and community is introduced and the rules of exogamy are introduced in a society that has several lines of kinship, a localized clan is formed. The basic prerequisite for the formation of a clan - an increase in the size of the population - is associated with a higher population density. This allows multiple bands to live together in larger communities. Often some external circumstances, such as war or the mixing of genealogically unrelated bands, influence the formation of a clan. But the most important feature of the clan, and at the same time its prerequisite is a strong common identity maintained by a common totem, ceremonies, and name.

Main works

The Ceremonial Buffoon of the American Indian (1931);

Basin-Plateau Aboriginal Sociopolitical Groups (1938);

Handbook of South American Indians, 6 vols. (1946-1949);

Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution (1955);

Native peoples of South America (1959);

Contemporary Change in Traditional Societies (1967).

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