Syllabus: Cultural Ecology.
GEOG  3301 Section 005; Soc 4396 Section 005
Murray J. Leaf                                                                            Office: GR 3.128
Time: Tuesday-Thursday 11:00-12:15                                            Place: GR 3.318
Geog CRN 11070                                                                      Tel: 972 883-2732
  Soc CRN 12345                                                               email:

 Cultural Ecology is one of those peculiar fields that combines elements of many other fields, so that looked at one way is part of Anthropology, another way it is part of Geography, in another part of Biology, and so on.  The most general and important underlying idea is the distinction between an ecology and an environment. An environment is what surrounds something—a community, a group, or an individual. It is the natural or physical situation in which such a community or group or individual finds itself, and to which it has to adapt.  But with adaptation, such an environment is very often changed. With human adaptation, environments often change a great deal.  An ecology is what results, the environment as modified through adaptation.  Since we recognize that humans adapt mainly through culture, the human ecology is also especially a cultural ecology. It contains innumerable features that are both natural in the sense that they are biological and physical, but also cultural: a result of accumulated human experience, reflections, and decisions. These include not only such things as domesticated crops, domesticated animals, but also the city and rural landscapes they live in and the environments they produce, even including the polluted or de-ionized or odorized or de-odorized air we breath.


Bates, Daniel G. (1998) Human Adaptive Strategies. Allyn and Bacon.

Lansing, John Stephen. (1991)  Priests and programmers : technologies of power in the engineered landscape of Bali. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Thomas, Elizabeth Marshall (1989). The Harmless People.  New York: Vintage.


 The grade will be based on two in-class examinations (30% each) and a research paper (40%).   The examinations will be short answer format, designed to test the breadth of your grasp of basic concepts and terms from the readings and lectures. The paper is to go into depth on some aspect of cultural ecology of particular interest to you personally.

Course Schedule:

We will have five main units, and will go through them in order. The first three are each based on one of your readings: a general introduction and two case studies. The last two will be based on information on the web, and will involve discussing the various perspectives and interests in two major current ecological policy issues. The units are:

Unit                                                      Source and approximate timing.
1. General  Introduction                          Bates.  Videos in class. Film on the Bushmen.
There are seven chapters. We will go through the text chapter by chapter, one chapter a week.  Seven weeks.
2. Midterm                                               One hour, in class. Click here for sample questions.
3. The Bushmen of the Kalihari.    Thomas. Three sessions. The people Thomas describes are the same as in the film.
4. Balinesian agriculture and Buddhism. Lansing. Video in class.  Two weeks.
5. The Newfoundland Codfish Collapse:

The following materials are on the web, click on the url to go.
An introduction to the problem prepared for schoolchildren by a Canadian fisheries study group.
"The Political Ecology of Crisis and Institutional Change: The Case of the Northern Cod." Article by McCay and Finlayson:
An additional good site with lots of links to others:
Probably two weeks.
A bibliography on the issue:
More relevant sites:
Sierra Club Home Page
Greenpeace on Cod collapse.
FAO fisheries section home page
FAO fisheries information system
1999 marine fisheries information bulletin, Alaska.
Coastal Communities Network  Home Page.
 Coastal Communities bulletin
Welcome to IMMA inc.
Cape Cod Times article that containst incidental information on cost of nets.
Biography of the Atlantic Cod.
Oceans Without Fish (article)
 Earth First
Network For Change.

6. The Collin County Landfill and Lake Lavon:

At the present time, two landfills are proposed in central Collin County, near McKinney.  The Collin County Board of supervisors seems to be in favor, because it will bring in revenue. Many citizens are opposed and two groups have formed to present the reasons. Among other things, both landfills will be in the watershed area of lake Lavon, which is the water source for Plano and most of the rest of the county. We will finish the course by investigating the various sides to the issue. Most relevant information is not on the web at the moment, although it may be. Two weeks. Click here to go to an index and links page for the issue, started 13 April 2000.
7. Review Last class day. Click here to go to sample questions from Spring 2000 final.

Study Guide.

Click here for a study guide. I will try to keep it updated as we move along, with reminders of what we do in class.

 Detail of Paper  Assignment.

The assignment for the paper is to analyze a piece of research and see how it might be improved.   Expected length is about twelve pages. It isn’t a page number requirement as such, however, it is just that my experience is that this is what it takes to cover all the basis in a reasonably thorough way.

1. Select a monograph on some topic in cultural ecology. Then, within this work, identify a major thesis. A thesis is a factual claim that can be falsified or supported by evidence. For the Cod collapse, an excellent example of a monograph is Lament for An Ocean.  A classic study that was very influential in the beginning of the concern for ecology and ocean health as a world-wide problem is Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.   If you are using websites and the papers in them, they still should be treated as you would a monograph. They also present theses.  A thesis can be something the author says they are arguing or it can be something they just assume.  But either way, any important thesis has a theoretical purpose, which means something the author believes or argues for about what theory is or  should be, as well as about what appears to be the subject matter. A "major work" may be an important and substantial article or, more likely, a monograph like the two case studies we will use, or a substantial and well documented web site.  In general, the more descriptive material the better. It is very difficult to analyse speculation.

2.  Describe the thesis. How is it related to the rest of the argument in this particular work? What important idea or problem is it related to in general? How is this related to the author’s idea of theory? What else is not true if it is not?  What follows from it if it is true?  Exactly what evidence is relevant to proving or disproving the thesis?

3. Criticize the treatment of the thesis in the work at hand.  Does the evidence collected actually support the thesis.  If not why not?  (If it does, completely, then this is not an area where more work is needed, so you should pick another topic.)

4.  Reformulate the problem.  There are two major possibilities.  Either the thesis is actually provable, but the author has not collected the right evidence.  Or the thesis is not provable and is false, on the evidence presented.  In the first case, you should be able to say what kind of evidence is really needed, how you would get it, and what it would show exactly. In the latter case, you should be able to reformulate the thesis to show what is correct and what does fit the data on hand, or other data you can reasonably expect to obtain.

5. Say what your reformulated problem means for the author’s idea of theory.  Be sure to use what you have learned in class—the idea is to apply it and mobilize it, not set it aside.

It is strongly recommended that you come in to discuss  possible papers with me before you start.  I will also be happy to look over outlines or drafts and advise you.

I do not care what kind of footnote or endnote style you use, but recommend the American Anthropologist style (same as Modern Language Association Style or American Psychological Association Style).  The AA is in the journal section of the library, and it will only take a few minutes for you to go and look.   It is an extremely simple and logical style that will save much time compared to more common systems.  You can use another system if you want to, but whatever you use be sure it is consistent and complete.

 Whenever you use someone else's words, you should indicate them with quotation marks; whenever you use quotation marks, you should have a reference that will allow another person to locate that quotation quickly and efficiently.  If you use someone’s words without quoting, it is plagiarism, and will be treated as such.   If you paraphrase someone, it does not relieve you of the need to give credit, although it does not have to be in a formal footnote (ie: as Bates says in Chapter 4. . . , or as Author X argues repeatedly.. . ., or "as my mother said when I asked her about her experiences in Bali").  As a student, you should own and use a style manual. Chicago is the most widely accepted standard.  No serious writer can survive without one.  Giving credit to others is an essential part of making a scholarly context for yourself.

 If you get something off the internet, you need to give the full http// address to reference the site as well as the document. But do not under any circumstances think you can rely on the internet entirely and still do a decent job. Whenever you quote something, you are responsible for it. If you quote junk and do not recognize that it is junk, you become responsible for junk, and there is an enormous amount of junk out there. Unless you have substantial subject matter expertise and/or personal knowledge of what it is about, or unless it is a journal source through a library data-base, don’t trust it. If you do site something, give your reasons for taking it as reliable.

 If you get a book or a journal article from the library, the journal will be a scholarly journal and the book will usually be from a recognized academic press, which guarantees that it went through a refereeing procedure before publication to assure that it is at least sane and scholarly. There is no such procedure for the internet.

Downloading material or otherwise copying it and editing it so that it seems to flow along is not research. Why not just give me the references and let me read them for myself?  Research, at a minimum, is taking information, digesting it, and applying it to some new issue or question.  Beyond that, it is discovering new information.

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