The Importance of Context

*Excerpt from African Study Monographs, Suppl 25 (March 2001) published on University of Kyoto website: "...Abstract: Anthropological and behavioral ecological studies of living hunter-gatherers have flourished since the 1960’s. Researchers have developed and followed a variety of paradigms, each with its own assumptions and objectives, based on the behavior of hunter-gatherer communities. I argue here that in order to evaluate the validity of the use of a
specific hunter-gatherer group for particular paradigmatic purposes, details of the historical and social context of the group are needed. The use of an inappropriate group, as determined by its context, can call into question the conclusions of a study. A method for classifying hunter-gatherer groups according to progressive stages of historical contact and interrelations with agricultural neighbors is proposed. The use of this classification system can aid in analyzing and answering important questions concerning the hunter-gatherer adaptation: what explains immediate return and delayed return systems? Why do hunter-gatherers persist today? Can contemporary hunter-gatherers be
used as valid models or analogues for prehistoric human behavior? The answers to these questions are related to the ultimate question: Why study hunter-gatherers?..."

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