Cultural Ecology

Ecology is the study of natural systems, such as the relationships between predators and prey in a rainforest. We tend to think of human civilization as opposed to the “natural” world, but in fact human cultures share many characteristics with ecosystems. For instance, both are made up of interlocking feedback loops that tend to maintain dynamic equilibrium over time, and they’re both complex systems that behave nonlinearly — small changes can add up over time, but at critical thresholds they can tip into a completely new configurations or states unexpectedly, even catastrophically. A number of influential anthropologists have applied ecological thinking to human cultures and societies. In this seminar, we’ll read selections from their works and discuss the relevance of ecological thinking to topical questions such as political polarization, climate change, and technology. 

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