“A way of life.” Many people use this expression as a way to talk about their subsistence and how they perceive their everyday life. What they fail to recognize, however, is the fact that their way of living is connected in a much broader category than they think. Anthropologists study these categories broad, narrow, present, and past to try and find out what exactly a “way of life” was for individual cultures. By studying these cultures Anthropologists try and deduce different methods of survival. They have also discovered a few major social institutions that all cultures have a common bond together. These social institutions are the basis for which culture is founded.
In order for a culture to become distinct from other cultures it has to apply different rules and change around these institutions. Anthropologists use these social institutional changes to understand the development of a culture and their way of being. They research these processes through fieldwork mostly. By using fieldwork as a means of research they can directly observe, interview, survey, and then analyze the situation. This gives them the advantage of seeing with their own eyes what happens within a culture. Fieldwork and the analysis of the fieldwork will be the basis on which this paper will investigate the social institution of subsistence and economics among a subgroup of our culture.
One of the defining aspects of culture is subsistence. Through subsistence you can find out how a culture has survived or what they did wrong that caused them to become extinct. This is based on the fact that a group has to adapt to their environment for the basic elements needed to survive. These basic elements are: food, shelter, technology, and clothing (clothes are necessary in some environments). How a group utilizes their environment places them into one of the four categories of subsistence styles. These four known categories are: hunting and gathering, fishing and gardening, herding and gardening, and agriculture.
Each of these categories is in sequence, from hunting to agriculture, in order of least to greatest impact that they leave upon the environment. Every culture can fit into one of these subsistent styles. How a culture turns this style into a way of living is how each culture individualizes and becomes unique from each other. Which style the culture resides in mainly has to do with what the surrounding area has to offer them. The ecology of the environment has a great importance in deciding which style the group needs to adapt to in order to survive.
For example, the Trobriand Islanders in Malaysia have a limited supply of where they can obtain their food. Since they live on islands they don’t have the opportunity to herd animals or make large crops, they have to rely on the ocean and small fertile grounds for their food acquisitions. Another classification that can be made through subsistence styles is the process of specialization and division of labor. You will find that the further you go down in the order of subsistence styles the more the need for specialized labor increases. If your culture has many resources of food, like the Nuer tribe of northern Africa, you start to develop a more specialized way of dividing up labor.
The reason for doing this is because the more complex you get with obtaining these necessities the less you can have a whole tribe knowing how to do everything. For example, the Yiwara hunt and gather, the least specialized group, so therefore the labor is divided up into broad categories. All the women have the same duties and have to perform all these duties themselves or will not survive. All the men have duties that they have to know and perform or will not survive. This is unlike our culture where you are very specialized in what you do and you use that specialization to help those who you can in turn for another individual, who is specialized in the field that you need, to help you obtain what it is you need.
How a group gets enough food to survive depends on subsistence style. How a group deals with the surplus of food forms their economic structure. What the culture does with the surplus is make an abstract value to the real goods that can be entwined within each other. As with subsistence styles, anthropologists have come up with three different styles of economic systems: reciprocity, redistribution, and the market. The same rules follow as subsistence styles in saying that the more compound the subsistence style the more compound the economic system.
For us to better understand our culture, this project was designed for us to look into a subculture group that we are directly involved in. The group I chose was a group of my teammates on the cheerleading squad here at Colorado State University. The group is a stunting group that I participate in also. It consists of three girls and two guys beside myself. Each of the members of this group attends Colorado State University full time. Both of the males in the group live on campus and are 18 years old.
Jenny, a 20-year-old female lives with her fianc and two of the other cheerleaders in other groups in a house off campus. Nichole, who is 19, lives with Elizabeth and one other cheerleader in a home near campus. Elizabeth is also 19 and lives with Nichole. The two men have no jobs and their parents pay for all their extraneous expenses. Nichole and Elizabeth have no jobs as well and their parents pay all their expenses as well. Jenny works part time at a retail salesperson at a local sporting goods store.
Our group lives in a market type of economy. In our market economy, the excess goods and services are bought and sold using a numerical currency system. The currency is given value through exchanges of services. This differs than that of the Nuer tribe in the actuality that they have a more personal exchange system and trade with families and friends. In our society, exchanges of goods and services are mainly with people we have no previous contact with. They do not build their own shelters, make their own clothing and most of the time dont produce and make their own food. This differs immensely from other subsistence groups and how they manage their economic systems.
Production, distribution, and consumption are the three major areas involved in economics. Since our subculture does not produce their own goods and services, it is very important that someone else, who is specialized in that aspect, does produce that good or service. This reinforces the highly specialized division of labor that comes along with an agricultural subsistence. How our culture specializes in certain fields of work is through post-secondary education, which all members of my group are involved with. As economic principles state, the more educational attainment acquired the more wealth they receive and therefore heighten their social status. This differs from the Trobriand Islanders whereas their social status is measured in the output and size of their garden plots. Our group relies on the market to acquire their goods as stated above; this has its benefits as well as its downfalls.
It may seem that our culture is considered superior to others. This may be true in some aspects but we can learn a lot from other cultures and their way of living. Time will continue making new varieties of cultures and make them unique from one another and will help other cultures and their prosperity to learn from past and current cultures.