[xmca] The End of Hunting and Gathering

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Fri Nov 28 2008 - 19:35:42 PST

I had a rather loopy thought after reading Lee and Roth's article on "Making|Saving Salmon" as case study in the gradual reconstrual of one activity system as another (viz. the reconstrual of the hatchery based industrial production of salmon as a conservation movement).
In 2005, Mike guest-edited a marvelous issue of MCA with the rather long title of "Combining Longitudinal, Cross Historical, and Cross Cultural Methods to Study Culture and Cognition". It featured an article by Saxe and Esmonde on how the monetizing of the economy in Papua New Guinea had brought about the reconstruction of their mathematics and the reconstrual of the syllable "fu" in their language (once used to express plurality, now used to double a given sum).
In English, the plural form is used to express the general "universal" concept. When we say "I like apples" we mean that we like a kind of Hegelian ideal universal apple, not the set of all apples including rotten, sour, green, unripe ones. There is no obvious reason why the plural should be used in this way, and in most languages it is not.
If we imagine ourselves as outsiders, examining English as an alien anthropologist might, we may see the English plural as a kind of linguistic fossil like "fu" reflecting the fact that the abstract concept was originally derived from sets of large numbers of objects.
What would such an anthropologist make of the transition from hatcheries to conservation? An uninformed anthropologist might see it as a return to hunting and gathering as a mode of production, a sign of cultural devolution. But if we look at the tensions that Lee and Roth REALLY identify (food production vs. environmental preservation) we can understand that what is really going on is a form of functional diversification.
Food production has actually been taken over from hatchery production by fish farming, leaving the SEP free to concentrate on conservation for recreational purposes. With the end of deep sea fishing globally, what we are witnessing is not a return to hunting and gathering but rather the final elimination of a form of production that has served us well literally, for hundreds of thousands of years.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education 

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Received on Fri Nov 28 19:37:24 2008

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