There are many ways of making a living in today’s world, so numerous in fact, that we can only begin to discuss even a few in this introductory series of lessons on Subsistence Practices/Making a Living.
These series of lessons are meant to give students the larger picture of how humanity first began figuring out ways to make a living, and how cultural adaptation is the main way in which groups begin to incorporate new innovations and inventions into the cultural patterns of their everyday lives.
One of the definitions in this lesson has to do with nomadic societies, which we have discussed only briefly. Nomadic societies are those that move around often, either seasonally, or for reasons of better pastures and/or fresh water. The following film demonstrates the nomadic lifestyle of those people who inhabit the Tundra. Remember, the Tundra is one of the ecosystems reviewed in the film on World Ecosystems. Those people who make a living on the Tundra live in tents, eat very basic foods and “the deer is king,” for obvious reasons.
Notice the difference in lifestyles when the children attend boarding school, versus when they live on the Tundra. See their cultural adaptations of clothing, shelters, food, and transportation methods. You can see the modern (snowmobiles) integrated with the traditional ways of herding.
Also, look for the alternative way of education to boarding schools, where the children are taught basic skills for living on the Tundra. You also see children questioning the “old” ways of life, as well as segregated gender labor divisions (discussed earlier) when building their transportation sleds. Religion is also a part of nomadic life on the Tundra.
We cannot learn about ways of making a living without talking about the peasantry, their lifestyles, and how they contributed to the overall health and well-being of entire societies. The peasant societies are hard to get a visual history of their lives, as they left behind little literature describing their plight. As the definition points out, peasants were mostly “rural cultivators,” who gave up their surplus to lords or government entities that owned the land that they farmed.
In all the ways of making a living, which we have discussed, sustainability is a common denominator. As peasant societies became the norm in medieval times (1100-1500), sustainability was often only the main goal for the elites who made their wealth off of the peasants’ labors, and not the sustainability of the peasants’ lives who produced the agricultural products. In the 1300’s, the peasants organized a revolt, to the surprise of their landholders. Many peasants lost their lives, and in fact were slaughtered ruthlessly by their governments until the monarchs and lords realized that killing the peasants was cutting off vital sources of food supplies for their lavish tables.
The “rural cultivators” in medieval times may have been peasants, but in the agrarian societies in the 18th and 19th centuries of the United States, in the Anglo-American Global Village, such workers were known as “sharecroppers.” My own great-grandparents lived and worked on lands that were not their own. They were expected to turn over surplus agricultural products to the landowners, and during times of war – to the government. They were also expected to pay taxes on the commodities they produced. These people were extremely poor, and fit the definition of peasant perfectly. They indeed lived in peasant societies on the fringes of industrialization, which is the next topic to be discussed.
There is an advertisement in the middle of the following film about peasantry, which you may click to end the ad; then the film continues uninterrupted.
In this entertaining film you see peasantry lifestyles portrayed in the stereotyped way we most often think of them. Their lifestyles are examined in depth and a different lifestyle, other than the stereotypical, emerges so that we have a more accurate portrayal of the peasants of yesterday, as well as those who may be labeled peasants of today. Ancient peasants are examined both biologically and culturally, in order that we may get a better view of their culture and cultural patterns. This film by the BBC, of course, is just about those peasants who live(d) and work(ed) in the European Global Village before industrialization processes began.
Now we must examine the onset of industrialization and how it has affected the ways of making a living in all cultures in the world. Cultural researchers agree that there are probably no populations now on earth that have not been introduced to some form of modernity and industrialization.
The following film is about the onset of industrialization in the United States, the Anglo-American Global Village, but the same processes were happening across the ocean in the European Global Village as well. Both of these Global Villages have made contributions to other global villages, which has become part of the whole globalization process.
The film is an example of what industrialization has meant to the human family across the globe. And as the film points out, industrialization comes with a high price tag of environmental destruction and exploitation of natural resources, as well as destroying wildlife and human habitats.
In the following decades, with billions more people, humanity must learn to lessen the enormous appetites of consumption. How this will be accomplished lies at the feet of future generations all over the world, not only in the United States. Finding a way to work together cross-culturally in peaceful endeavors of preservation efforts is the only way such problems can be resolved.
Learning about and understanding others’ cultural patterns and practices, beliefs, and worldviews will hasten cross-cultural connections between peoples of all walks of life. This website, in some small way, hopes to contribute to this worthy goal.