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Agricultural Determinism: How Mode Of Production Shapes Society

1785 words - 8 pages

Of all the natural variables in the development of culture in the New World, none have had so great an impact as those that determined the rise and spread of agriculture as the primary mode of food production. The adoption of agriculture allowed the earliest societies of North America to have surpluses of their most valuable resources. These surpluses allowed those within the community to be able to spend time on tasks unrelated to food production for the first time. This led to the development of many of mankind's foundational inventions, and gave way to the kind of occupation specialization that we see in society today. Without the incitation of agriculture, such conventional cultural concepts as writing, social hierarchy, and even warfare may have never come to fruition. For these reasons, it can be argued that the precursors that dictated the ascension of agriculture are amongst the most pivotal in the natural development of human history in the New World.
To understand how great an impact the development of agriculture had on the early evolution of the New World, we must first examine foraging societies to gauge what kinds of social developments were already in progress prior to the shift in mode of production. With the exception of “complex foragers”, who were fortunate enough to live in environments that could to sustain large populations without the need for regimented food production, hunter-gatherer bands simply did not have time for anything other than searching for their next few meals (Diamond). Without a surplus of food, they live much more similarly to the rest of the animal kingdom, focusing most of their efforts on sustenance, rather than things such as progression of technology and construction of monuments. Instead they use what works, and are sure to never waste their energy. This why we see minimal evolution in hunting technology in the dozen or so millennia from the Clovis-era projectile points to the Woodland period, when most archaeologists agree the bow and arrow was independently invented in the New World , as opposed to the astronomical amounts of innovation that have occurred since the rise of industrial agriculture (Fagan). This is also why we see most basic hunter-gatherers most frequently living in small, rudimentary, and often easily transportable shelters, instead of the large, permanent settlements associated with agricultural societies (Smith). Also factoring is population, which remained quite steady until agriculture became the dominant means of food production, after which it has grown exponentially (Livi-Bacci).
Perhaps the most substantial way in which the surpluses created by agriculture influence the development of culture is through the creation of social hierarchy. In hunter-gatherer communities, leadership of groups often changed hands depending primarily upon how successful the “big man” is (Sahlins). In agricultural societies, control over the general population is often held by those who control...

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