The Meaning of Progress and Development.docx

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January 24
The Meaning of Progress and Development
A Way of Life Disappeared
10,000 years ago, all human beings lived in small-scale, nomadic groups
There were between 30 and 100 people in each group, living by hunting,
gathering, and fishing
There was a high yield of food relative to the labour expended
Hunters and Gatherers
Had an informal and flexible political organization
Lived in kinship groups, cooperated, shared their food
Distinctions based only on sex and age
Today, very few remaine.g. the Kayapo
Over time they began to plant crops and domesticate wild animals
They became sedentary or lived in semi-permanent buildings
Lived in larger groups (200-2000 people), practiced swidden agriculture
Slash-and-Burn (
High yield relative to labour
Political organization is more formal
Leaders assumed more authority and power
Beginnings of occupational specialization
Clans and Settlements
Sedentary villages emerged comprised of several bands living together
Clans consisting of several groups claimed descent from a common ancestor
Groups were ranked according to importance
Over time, settlements combined forming state societies with populations in
the thousands
Population increase and scarcity of land led to new agricultural
techniquesthe plow and irrigation agriculture
Labour management became necessary to construct public works (roads,
defense fortifications, religious structures, armies)
Society became more complex, and leadership became hereditary (Pharaohs)
Settlements became flourishing urban centers (cities)
Specialists with different tasks and skills priests, warriors, potters, etc.
Trade developed and with it a class of merchants (Mesopotamia/Egypt)
Also, Mesoamerica (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize) saw the cultivation of corn
(maize), cassava, and potatoes
The first civilizations in the world emerged near rivers with rich deposits of
soil (e.g. MesopotamiaTigris/Euphrates, Ancient EgyptNile, Ancient
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Mesopotamian civilizations emerged around the Tigris and the Euphrates
Various civilizations included Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, and
The Mesopotamian plain was called the Fertile Crescent
The Sumerian civilization was the first in history (5000-4000 BCE)
It was called a ‘civilization’ because it had an urban culture and developed a
writing system
Writing began there in cuneiform, using reeds as pens on clay tablets
The Sumerians developed sophisticated irrigation techniques (drained
Also, accounting systems, or record keeping systems, were based on the
numeral 60
The Babylonian King Hammurabi was the first to write codes of law
Sumerian city-states had a bureaucratic system consisting of priests,
craftsmen, and peasants
Gilgamesh, the oldest epic written about a flood is Mesopotamian
Gilgamesh was the King of Uruk, a city state which he ruled c. 2700 BCE
Many of the valuable archaeological remains were destroyed during the US
invasion of Iraq
Ancient Egyptians developed hieroglyphics, agricultural and irrigation
techniques, pyramids, and mummification
Contemporary State Societies
Around 300 years ago, some of these state societies developed into large-
scale, industrialized states
They are class societies with a high degree of occupational specialization
Used warfare for conquest, and had courts to resolve conflicts
Nuclear family/patriarchy, private property, and inheritance developed
Is this progress? Progress is sometimes defined as “the idea that human
history is the story of a steady advance from a life dependent on the whims of
nature to one where human beings take control over natural forces”
Hunters and GatherersWhy change?
Older theorists believed that hunter-gatherers had harsh lives and toiled to
satisfy their basic needs
This was the motivation for seeking more efficient ways to live
However, more recent research revealed that hunter-gatherers had abundant
food and did not work overly hard
Women’s gathering produced the greater share of food
So why did societies change?
L.H. Morgan: all societies go through the same stages…savagery, barbarism,
and civilization
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According to this theory, only some societies achieved civilization while
others lag behind trapped in previous stages
White: the driving force of change is technologyit harnesses more energy
to produce things, encourages trade and commerce, but requires the
development of state institutions
States organize armies to protect the growing wealth
Cohen: hunter-gatherers switched to sedentary agriculture due to population
Sedentary agriculture occurred when labour involved in travelling to food
sources surpassed labour in growing crops
Not technology, but population growth is responsible for the transition to
From slash and burn it was necessary then to switch again to irrigation
Population increase meant the same plot of land had to be used more
frequently, which meant less yield
Swidden agriculture is efficient as long as the population and the amount of
land available remain constant
Carneiro proposes the increase in population has consequencesmay lead
to conflict over resources, and intensifying methods to grow crops results in
greater societal organization
In both cases this leads to a higher degree of stratification and state
o The transitions have less to do with efficiency than population
o Modern food-producing technology increases the amount of
nonhuman energy required
Why are some societies more industrially advanced than others?
Is most of the world ‘uncivilized’ having not ‘progressed’? How do we explain
the vast differences in wealth and power?
Our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers, would be surprised to see how we live
Every 3.5 seconds, a person dies of hunger
Over 3 billion people live on less than $2.50/day
The GDP of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is
less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined
Less than one percent of what the world spent every year on weapons would
have put every child in the world into school by the year 2000
640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe
water, 270 millions have no access to health services
10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (roughly 29,000
children a day)
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