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Social Change, Culture, and Economy

Sample student paper by Jeff Shelton

The means by which a group of human beings choose to sustain their lives is a basic corner stone to the doctrines of survival. The methods or methods used play a major role and some would argue the main role in the making and passing of culture. If we look at culture as the ways and means by which a group of people survive and grow as a society we can easily see that the economic system that is used is a key block in the social structure. What happens when a society changes its economic base or when the economic model is changed for them by force or coercion?

Whether a society barters or trades the products of their labors or simply keeps the products they produce an economic system is in place. Horticulture , pastoral , industrial societies alike have a means for producing and distributing the fruits of their work. Inherent in the system used is vital cultural elements that may be overlooked. These pieces may not be seen simply because they are so much and intricate part of the society and in many ways define the society itself. Let us take the example of a horticulture society that operates off of a mainly matriarchal structure. The women play a vital role in keeping up the family gardens which is the main source of food while the men also help in this endeavor while also spending time hunting and maintaining the structures of the house. For the young girls of the group the time spent with their female elders in the gardens is a time to hear of the connections that are in existence between different members of the group perhaps through gossip. They also learn what to plant when and what does not grow well and why. Perhaps this is where they will learn the lore of the group and gain an understanding of the kinship groups that are important to their survival. For the young men the hunt can play an important role in how they are looked at as a man. This can be where they learn the terrain in the area in which they live . How and where to find water and the stories and faith that contain the understanding of their connections to the group and to their ancestors. Doing the actions needed to obtain the things one requires to live and survive are not tasks that are simply done with no interaction with others. It is this interaction done around the actions for survival that play the vital role in the building and transferring of culture. As I have discussed in my example this is the time where values and important information not to mention the building bonds that are necessary for social cohesiveness are formed.

When a society changes its primary economic system what it also changes is its primary method of building its culture and maintaining the culture that is built. We read about societies having grave difficulties after changing to a system that is mainly capitalistic. Where the goal is to produce and sell your products to others for money to buy what one needs. Where once the people basically grew or collected and or bartered for what they needed no they have a completely different system to operate in. This new system I purport is not only a change in how they grow crops or how they distribute them it is a change in how they define themselves and how the defined their society.

It is also not necessarily true that the new way of surviving with the use of capital is bad but that it is such a change in fundamentals that the culture will have little choice but to change it basic identity and world view which could cause very serious growing pains so to speak. I seem to have heard a simplistic viewpoint often in my life that some third world cultures are just not able to “make it” that perhaps they are no intelligent enough and that they are backwards etc. This ethnocentric view point is missing the whole point . For if a person of middle class status from a first world country was flown one night to the villages in Papa New Guinea and told that today you will go out and start to clear jungle for the growing of crops I sincerely believe that the person would have a very difficult time. Why? Because they would have been stripped of
the culture they are used to . Culture is something that perhaps is taking so much for granted that we do not notice that culture and its counterpart of social institutions are with us constantly similar to how our skin is with us. So when institutions are changed and added and basic modes of sustaining life are altered or dramatically abolished what we are seeing is a destroying of a society. It often seems that the sad truth is that the building of a new and cohesive society does not happen as fast as the destruction of the old one. Leaving many to fall in the cracks of change and be displace into a world between cultures.

In our culture in the United States we use the phrase “going to work” as the means used to get what we need to live life. In this country however “going to work” is part of our culture and no matter what one does for work culture is still passed on and built in correlation with the work done.

In places of work people often find other people that become friends. These friends can become one's spouse or even lead to meeting ones spouse. The getting of gossip and knowing what is going on in the world can come from ones work. Knowledge is passed on from person to person in any given field that can be very useful in the future. I was in Humbolt County California in the late 1980Â’s and early 1990Â’s. This was
a time when there where many lumber mills that were starting to close up. When NAFTA was signed the final nail was hammered in and the main paper mill in Eureka was closed. This whole cycle of closing plants displaced thousands of workers. Many whom where 5th or 6th generation loggers. No matter what oneÂ’s beliefÂ’s are about the logging industry these people had lost their main source of employment. However they lost more than a job they lost a way of life. They lost the stories that they told to each other . They lost the basic common thread that keep them together as a community. There where towns where one could say 90% of the people where either in the logging industry or serviced those that where in the industry. This was not just a situation of jobs lost this was a situation of whole communities , generations of cultural connections being severed.

When we speak of the loss or gain of jobs ,when we speak of a changing economic system in any part of the world what we are speaking of is also a change in the cultural fabric and in the social institutions and
therefore the society at large. It is not an issue that can be over simplified. When methods of farming are drastically changed when bullets and guns are given to a people for the first time in order to help them “hunt better” , what has happened is the basic structure of that society will be altered. It does not have to be altered for the worse but the understanding and acknowledgement that the society will be changed is crucial to any endeavor .If problems arise ,and they will, it will take action to stabilize the society and bridge the old
with the new in a way that benefits all. Perhaps it is hard to see or hard to understand for many because what is being lost is the fact that usually it takes a very long time for a society to change . At least historically this can be seen to be true. But the wave of capitalistic globalization is analogous to a huge earthquake or natural disaster or war that forces a society to change almost overnight. In the case of any of these disasters it is expected that there will be an upheaval and difficulty. However this current type of change is known. People plan it , it is not an act of god. Therefore the needed actions to help the people in these areas that are undergoing change should and needs to be available. Of course the other option is to not allow the manipulation and change to occur at all. Never the less what needs to be made very plain is that societies are living entities and that if any one part is drastically changed the whole organism will also change. This is a fact that I am sure many governments and corporations know and use to their advantage. However the general populations of this country and the whole world for that matter should look at the
change of economic systems as a change in the whole society that will need support and a guiding hand to ensure they do not get lost and or manipulated in the transition.