Pub. date: 2006 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412952453 | Print ISBN: 9780761930297 | Online ISBN: 9781412952453| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Societies survive and successfully reproduce themselves only insofar as they meet the elementary material needs of a certain minimum of their members. This observation is the starting point for cultural materialism, a living theoretical tradition founded and defined by the American anthropologist Marvin Harris (1927–2001). Of cardinal importance, in Harris's view, is the fact that people pursue their needs in the context of intimate dependence on the natural environs for their energy requirements. It follows that we may expect the most important causes of the similarities and differences between societies to arise at the sites where humans maintain their most immediate commerce with the natural world. The realms of demography, technology, and economy best answer to this description. Of all sociocultural realms, these are also those most subject to law-like regularities and therefore to scientific investigation. Harris draws the conclusion that if anthropology is ever to rescue itself from the ...