Traditional economy

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Teff millet harvest in northern Ethiopia. The inhabitants of this arid region are traditional agropastoralists , i. H. they live on livestock and agriculture and regularly move their place of residence when the agricultural land no longer produces any yield.
Historical change in the shares of different modes of subsistence in the world economy.

Various traditional economic strategies for securing the livelihood of their operators are referred to as traditional economic form (specifically agricultural form ) . Common names are also traditional form of farming, farming method, subsistence strategy or traditional agricultural operating system . The names mentioned are used in the subjects of geography , ethnology , cultural ecology , and archeology .

The respective form of management is characterized by work in direct engagement of people with their natural environment (what do they live on?), Combined with a typical production of goods (what do they produce?) Taking into account social conditions (who does what?) And one energy-efficient and sustainable adaptation to the natural environment (how is the supply ensured?).

Traditional economic activity is the counterpart to the commercial economy and is primarily geared towards the self-sufficiency of local communities and indigenous groups . It fed around 2.7 to 3 billion people on earth in 2013, over 40 percent of the world's population.

The terms subsistence strategy, type or form (often also without the adjective traditional ) are often used synonymously in ethnology, although strictly speaking only the partial aspect of pure maintenance is named.

Sometimes traditional craftsmen or merchants are also included, but they are not taken into account here.

general characteristics

Wet rice cultivation (here in Java) is family-run, self-sufficient and has a very old tradition. However, it is operated very intensively and is located in very densely populated areas. It is therefore debatable whether it should be counted among the traditional forms of economy.

Traditional economic forms are very diverse due to the geographic and climatic differences in the world. Nevertheless, a number of common features can be identified:

  • Original circular economy with a balanced use of energy and energy yield (see also: energy flow )
  • Focus is on the cover domestic demand without surpluses ( subsistence farming ) also an essential criterion for the classification of a local community is
  • Economic activity is largely an aspect of kinship behavior and is thus in stark contrast to the pursuit of profit in capitalist market economies ; nevertheless, an increasingly market-oriented production due to global influences can be observed
  • Preserving the balance between humans and nature plays an existential role. Mythology and ethnic religions - if they still exist - play the role of moral authorities in this context.
  • slow, sustainable and continuous adaptation of land use to the respective site conditions for centuries
  • Use of tried and tested traditional knowledge
  • additional use of wild plant and animal species for food, as medicine, as raw material or for further breeding of domesticated species
  • large number of traditional plant varieties or livestock breeds used side by side, cultivated and improved for generations
  • under the condition of low population densities (well below 100 U / km²), the extensive forms of traditional economic activity maintain or increase biological diversity ( biodiversity )

Equivalent economic forms

The considerable achievements of traditional subsistence economies are not included in global economic statistics, so that a distorted picture emerges

In the modern scientific perspective, any economic strategy is in principle regarded as equivalent. Nevertheless, one repeatedly comes across texts in which the economic forms in the sequence from hunting and gathering to industrial production are seen as evidence of an alleged socio-cultural evolution from “backward” to “progressive” economic activity. However, this contradicts u. a. the fact that there are numerous examples of peoples who, in the course of their history, have reverted from what was considered to be a "higher developed" mode of subsistence to a "lower" one.

Likewise, traditional subsistence production has been equated with poverty by the ideology of the capitalist world economy since the 1950s and 60s , since no monetary surplus is generated. While science is becoming more and more aware that a largely self - sufficient self - sufficiency and direct marketing of food and consumer goods is more desirable than unemployment and dependence on state support, this is mostly still ignored by business, politics and development aid . Only that which is traded in currencies on the national and international markets and only that which is geared towards technical rationalization, large numbers of items and profits is considered an economy. In this respect, the results of the sometimes considerable subsistence production in developing countries are not priced into the usual benchmarks such as gross domestic product or per capita income and thus lead to a distorted picture of how poor or how rich a country is, how developed or underdeveloped.

Classification of traditional economic forms

The manifestations of the agricultural and land-use systems are extraordinarily diverse, although it is difficult to create a sorting for them that meets all requirements. Classification models were developed according to various principles of order that take different issues into account.

The classification of traditional subsistence strategies presented here is in terminology and sorting a compromise from the following sources: Dictionary of Ethnology , Introduction to Business Anthropology , Introduction to Developing Countries Studies: Farming Systems , the ecozones of the Earth , Dtv Atlas Ethnology and Dictionary of Ethnology . Unfortunately, no exactly uniform classification can be derived from the literature. The differences are explained in the respective main articles, so that they are largely omitted here for reasons of better understanding.

In addition, it should be noted that all of the named forms are ideal types , which in reality often flow smoothly into one another or are combined with one another in different ways (examples: "Arable farming with limited transhumance", "Agrosilvopastoral operating systems", "Animal husbandry in permanent culture and Irrigation systems ”, etc.). People always use all the possibilities available to them within the framework of their culturally shaped values .

Since the prevailing techniques of food production influence both the economy and social structures, some typical cultural features are also mentioned below.

Extractive economic forms (hunters and field hunters)

Wild and field hunters use mankind's oldest subsistence strategies by using wild animals and plants directly without manipulating them in terms of breeding or cultivation. This extractive economic form (also called occupation economy ) is comparatively environmentally friendly and sustainable, since the resources are only used selectively. On average, they only have to spend around three hours a day to get food; this applies even to very barren regions. Nevertheless, hunters have always had relationships with land farmers to supplement their menu. The few people who still make a living from it today are not infrequently in direct or indirect contact with the global economy. In the past, extractive economics was used pejoratively in the sense of "predatory appropriation". Wherever hunting and gathering is used commercially today, one speaks of extractivism .

The composition of the food for hunters and gatherers depends to a great extent on the climatic zone and fluctuates greatly over the course of the year. Some studies in recent peoples therefore come to 60 to 80 percent of collective food (mainly vegetable), while others determined the average values ​​to be 65 percent animal food. The findings of paleoanthropology on the nutrition of the Stone Age people confirm that food is mainly plant-based; Meat consumption did not play a decisive role.

It is very difficult to determine how many people worldwide live from hunting and gathering, as additional forms of subsistence are often used today. The number of people whose livelihood is largely based on extractive activities is a maximum of 3.8 million.

Unspecialized hunters (hunting, fishing and gathering)

Some Hadza from Tanzania still live today as unspecialized, nomadic hunters.

Different prey animals, wild plants and fish are used depending on the “natural offer”. They live largely nomadically in small acephalous ( without domination) organized hordes of 20 to 50 members in very large tail areas of remote wilderness regions . Anthropology assumes that the strength of such unspecialized hunter-gatherer groups was always less than 100 people in prehistory.

At most 60,000 people at the beginning of the 21st century still live exclusively from this highly adapted strategy: the trend continues to fall. The destruction of the tropical rainforests, the expansion of agricultural areas and u. a. tourism also endangers this way of life enormously. On the other hand, a return ( retraditionalization ) to traditional food procurement (e.g. Aborigines and Eskimos ) can be observed among some now settled, former poachers - in some cases initiated by tourism .

Specialized hunters (hunting, fishing and gathering)

Inuit from Nunavut with a harpooned bowhead whale .

Certain, frequently occurring animal species are predominantly used. These are mainly marine mammals and fish (e.g. Chukchi , Eskimo ) or herds of large game (e.g. Gwich'in : caribou ). The best known is probably the bison hunt , which formed the subsistence basis of the prairie Indians until the middle of the 19th century .

Originally, their communities comprised some 100 people organized in tribal societies or chieftains . Due to their sedentariness - and the associated easy accessibility for the market economy - there is no longer an ethnic group, apart from a few fishermen, who only survive as a self-sufficient subsistence provider.

Specialized field hunters (harvesting, hunting and fishing)

Anishinabe of the Great Lakes harvest wild rice from the canoe.

Massive wild mass fruits such as wild rice ( Anishinabe , Menominee, etc.), black oak ( Hoopa , Karok, etc.), tubers or seeds (e.g. of sweet grasses ) formerly formed the basis of collecting activities; but also the unregulated, temporary cultivation of wild plants (cursory cultivation) such as bananas or mangoes in the tropics.

Such specialized gatherers used to be called "harvesters". However, this term is now considered misleading as it was associated with the idea of ​​an evolutionary preliminary stage to soil construction. The term “harvest economy”, however, is harmless. Their way of life was mostly sedentary.

Today there is practically no group of the population in the world who mainly feed on the harvest industry. However, some still use the traditional wild plants as an important supplement to their income or food.

Food-producing forms of economy

These modes of subsistence belong to traditional agriculture , the earliest beginnings of which date back around 14,000 years and are located in the fertile crescent in the Middle East. Around 9500 BC The first evidence of domesticated grain heralds the Neolithic Age .

The following applies to all of the forms listed below: The more extensive the food production, the more extractive components (hunting and gathering) play a role.

Plant cultivation (soil cultivation)

Agriculture in the early Middle Ages would be called traditional farming today

As a rule, any form of plant cultivation is referred to as plant cultivation or plant production. However, the term is often in anthropology Bodenbau used as an umbrella term to confusion between the different meanings of Pflanzbau and planting en construction to avoid.

There are different subdivisions depending on the author. The following distinction is often made:

In most cases, traditional soil farmers supplement their harvest with animal breeding (e.g. pigs, goats, chickens). Up to 2.5 billion people feed on these forms of economy at the beginning of the 21st century.

Traditional farming (planting) and horticulture

Even today, the most important tool in traditional farming is the hoe

Field crops is with hand tools (hence performed hoe ) and is always a repeated alternation of areas (shifting, English shifting cultivation ) connected. The natural vegetation is not cleared , but if necessary "wasted" - d. H. only removed above ground so that the roots and tree stumps remain in the ground. As a rule, waste is wasted using the fire field method . The ash is only fertilized once, but it mainly increases the acidic pH value of the soil. Several types of crops are grown next to each other on the area ( mixed culture ). As a rule, there is no weeding. Sometimes a distinction is made between farming (in the narrower sense) and planting: In cultivation, seeds are sown in hollows and in cultivation, seedlings or cuttings are planted in the field.

The (additional) traditional horticulture probably has an even earlier origin than the field cultivation, as it is a form of small-scale soil cultivation in the immediate vicinity of settlements . The area is completely cleared and often fenced in for this purpose. The plants that have been sown or planted are individually looked after intensively. Furthermore, different species are often grown side by side (mixed culture): in addition to food plants, also ornamental , spice , medicinal , dye or textile plants . In the tropical rainforests and in oases , multi-storey building is sometimes practiced , in which tree, shrub and soil crops (e.g. traditional permanent crops such as bananas, papaya, mango, avocado) are used one above the other.

There are more complex social and political forms of organization in field farmers than in hunters. The ties to the land as well as the need for forward-looking planning and division of labor led to concepts of territoriality (claiming property rights over land) but also to social inequality . Farmers spend about six hours a day producing food. The societies are based on relatively stable kinship groups (such as lineages and clans ) with clear leadership positions (formerly e.g. chiefdom, today nation-state)

Farming can be divided as follows:

Floor extension

The floor mounting or floor mounting is a form of economy of indigenous peoples in the tropical rain forest and in the subtropics , a permaculture in the cultivated areas remain very long.

Extensive shifting agriculture (and traditional horticulture)
Preparation of a field in the forest at the end of the dry season, which can then be used for two years (Sumatra, around 1900)

Every one to four years - when the soil fertility is no longer sufficient - there is a change of location in shifting cultivation , in which both the fields and the place of residence are relocated. The cultivated areas then lay fallow for a few years and are now overgrown again. This way of life is also sometimes referred to as “nomadic”.

The size of the settlements does not exceed a few hundred people. Shifting cultivation occurs today only in the tropics - and there mainly in the rainforest areas. About 37 million people are currently dependent on it.

The accelerated cultural change due to the influences of global society (including strong population growth, increasing overproduction for the market, shortened fallow periods and the "opening" of forests through the aisles of industrial logging) has in many cases made this once adapted form of economy an environmentally damaging form of economy .

Shifting cultivation can be further subdivided into the forms "Urwechselwirtschaft", " Schwendbau " and " Brandfeldbau ".

Semi-intensive land change cultivation (and traditional horticulture)
Wheat harvest from a field in the savannah of Madhya Pradesh (India)

The forms of the changing economy - not to be equated with changing economy - are characterized by a fixed place of residence, but alternately used fields. In this respect, they are also referred to as long-term fallow systems. Originally also purely subsistence-oriented and operated extensively, today there is increasingly a supplementary market orientation, so that these economic forms are classified as semi-intensive .

Traditional forms of land change management with village communities of around 100 to 300 people, like shifting cultivation, occur mainly in the tropics; here especially in the rainy season forests and savannas . Land change construction is carried out by over 260 million people worldwide.

Both rain- fed agriculture (in humid regions) and dry- land cultivation (in semi-arid regions) are largely carried out using the land change procedure. Forms of crop rotation (changing crops over the years) or alternating farming (changing of soil cultivation and other forms of use), which are mainly known from the history of Europe, are rare .

Intensive permanent cultivation (and traditional horticulture)

Since many authors have already referred to permanent agriculture as arable farming and to this extent differentiated from agriculture, see "Traditional arable farming" below:

Traditional agriculture

Most of the time, arable farming is separated from farming by the use of the plow. In the traditional forms, the plow is still pulled by animals
Around 4000 BC The highly efficient oasis culture arose in which since then arable farming and permanent crops have been combined with each other in floor cultivation

As already mentioned, the traditional forms of agriculture are also attributed to intensive farming by many authors: In this sense, three terms are essential: use of technology, fertilization and permanent use of the fields . The original vegetation is cleared above and below ground before it is worked with plowing equipment. The seeds are sown in the furrows and the fields are fertilized.

Sedentary permanent cultivation is basically adapted to climatically favorable regions, as the same areas are largely used permanently. A transfer to other regions is possible if the adverse natural conditions are overcome through the use of technologies (e.g. various forms of irrigation). However, especially in the tropics, due to the market orientation, in many cases an unadjusted transition to permanent cultivation without appropriate measures can be observed. This leads to soil degradation and even desertification . Even a deliberately planned, "cautious" introduction of modern agricultural techniques is often judged negatively due to the complex and difficult to calculate consequences (accelerated cultural change).

It is difficult to distinguish between modern (industrial) and traditional farming methods. Sometimes the limit is drawn when using motorized agricultural equipment. It is also disputed whether permanent farming should still be viewed as a traditional economic form. The intense expression, the often priority market striving and the large population densities are often not ecologically sustainable ; thus essential characteristics of these economic forms are not fulfilled.

The socially very different organized peasant agriculture companies today form usually the basis of States , as the dense population with their complex social ties (division of labor, specialization), the surpluses (achieved Surplus require) and market events complex control and distribution mechanisms. The complex production method requires people to work up to ten hours a day.

For permanent cultivation / traditional agriculture one counts u. a. " Various classic rice cultivation methods" , " oasis management " and "short-term fallow systems". The latter often replace the adapted forms of land change construction.

With up to 2.2 billion people, permanent agriculture is by far the most common form of classic subsistence strategies today.

Animal production (livestock farming)

Around a quarter of the land surface is unsuitable for soil construction. The livestock industry secures the livelihood of the people here

Pure livestock farming requires production that exceeds the company's own needs in order to be able to exchange or buy plant products for it. Sometimes a very simple form of agriculture is practiced, in which useful plants are sown in suitable places, which are harvested on the next visit, provided they have reached fruiting maturity.

Extensive remote grazing

If the climate is too dry or too cold, no soil construction can be carried out. Long-distance grazing has been the livelihood of people in these areas since ancient times
In addition to riding animals, motor vehicles are often used today in mobile livestock farming

Remote pastoralism (or "mobile pastoralism ") is an umbrella term for the extensive forms of pasture farming , in which the forage grounds are changed several times a year, which, moreover, are usually not due to a permanent residence of the owner.

It is estimated that 200 to 500 million people on earth live mainly from traditional forms of remote grazing. Since these farming methods are very often combined with soil construction, a more precise figure cannot be determined.

Pastoral pastoral farming is subdivided as follows:

Shepherd nomadic animal husbandry

(Shepherd) nomadism is an umbrella term for the traditional cultures of the shepherd peoples of dry and cold deserts, steppes and tundras, who, depending on the condition of the pastures, practice a recurring relocation of their mobile camp. The term is used both for the cultures and for the economic system. “Real”, unattached, purely subsistence-oriented nomadism has become very rare and will probably disappear sooner or later.

Regardless of this, nomadic livestock farming is still the only promising, environmentally friendly and ecologically sustainable subsistence strategy of the climates mentioned , because it is based on the extensive and traditional knowledge of the nomadic peoples, which has matured over thousands of years. Many authors meanwhile use the term "mobile animal husbandry" to differentiate the modernized , more market-oriented remote grazing management from nomadism. This includes the most varied forms with semi-nomadic to semi-sedentary, as well as year-round or seasonal migrant grazing - depending on the existing ecological and economic conditions and requirements.

At the moment, however, there is a significant intensification of mobile animal husbandry in the vicinity of the permanent settlements and the transport routes: For the additional market-oriented production and due to the increasing population numbers, larger herds and rapid availability of the animals are required. At the same time, the creation of wells and the sedentary way of life lead to significantly shorter hiking distances. This trend is reinforced by the increasing use of trucks as a means of transport for the animals or drinking water. This leads to soil degradation.

Pastoral nomadic communities were originally organized as segmentary societies or tribes with up to tens of thousands of people. The tribal associations - also within the nation states - are still of great importance. The daily time spent on food supply averaged seven hours.

Around 40 million people on earth are counted among the mobile animal owners today.

Seasonal migration (transhumance)
Transhumance is one of the few traditional economic forms that still exist in Europe

Wandering pasture management (transhumance) is a predominantly market-oriented strategy under the care of shepherds with a climate-related, seasonal change in pasture areas at different altitudes. In the cold or dry season, the cattle graze (mostly) close to the permanent home of the settled owners, while the rest of the time they spend on distant pastures at a different altitude (usually in the mountains). The owners themselves farm or pursue other professions.

Today, a distinction is mainly made between the rare traditional transhumance and the much more common new forms, which have arisen from the semi-nomadic herding of the former pastoral nomadic peoples reduced to seasonal migrations. However, a model is used here that is not adapted to such dry regions. This development results in significant soil degradation everywhere and the danger of desertification (desertification). Against this background, these forms are often not assigned to migrant grazing, but to mobile animal husbandry.

Similar to permanent agriculture, it is a matter of dispute whether transhumance - which in most cases has been market-oriented for a long time - should be added to traditional economic forms. Incidentally , the same applies to alpine farming , which is “ traditional ” from a historical point of view , but not in the sense of a traditional subsistence strategy due to its strong integration into an intensive, market-oriented system .

Animal and plant production

Provided that both strategies contribute to the livelihood to the same extent , an assignment to this mixed strategy takes place. The generic term here is:

Extensive agropastoralism

If farming is combined with livestock farming on natural pastures (so-called "pastoralism", see below ), one speaks of "agropastoralism" . While grain cultivation takes place in favored regions and can usually be practiced for a few years in a sedentary manner, livestock husbandry sometimes requires a change of pastureland in some years or in dry rooms .

Many former pastoral nomads now live as semi-nomadic or semi-sedentary agropastoralists in order to be closer to “global events” and to be able to better market some of their products. The majority, however, is still consumed by the customer.

160 to 460 million people worldwide live on traditional forms of sedentary or semi-sedentary animal and plant production. Since these economic methods are sometimes attributed to soil construction and sometimes to pastoralism, depending on the survey, a more precise number cannot be determined.

Economy and ecological stability

Low population numbers, high mobility and extensive traditional knowledge protect against droughts and bad harvests, as they occur again and again today on intensively used areas in unsuitable regions
The mobile life of the nomads is an economic strategy that ensures an ecologically appropriate and sustainable supply with a minimal use of energy and resources

The "development goal " ( climax ) of an ecosystem is often in conflict with the goals of modern economic activity: While the natural processes inevitably lead to a state of greatest possible stability, which is primarily characterized by high biological diversity (biodiversity), humans strive for maximum Production of biomass, which, however, mostly leads to a reduction in diversity. Agricultural measures require constant work in order to largely prevent natural development ( succession ). The state of agricultural ecosystems ( anthromes ), which humans can keep stable for a long time, is what the internationally renowned ecologist Eugene Odum describes as the “anthropogenetic subclimax”.

In the case of traditional economic forms, however, the ecosystem approach leads to a different picture: Original local communities developed much more slowly. Interventions in traditional systems were usually carried out with greater caution, since the dependence on the directly neighboring environment could be reduced far less than under market-economy conditions. Serious wrong decisions could not be compensated and the members of traditional communities were therefore forced to subordinate their wishes to the possibilities. In this way, humans were harmoniously integrated into the natural ecosystems.

Largely unchanged traditional forms of economy therefore form stable and permanent - in the original sense sustainable - systems that are networked with natural ecosystems in a variety of ways. This effect is more and more reversed when rapid economic and social change creates problems whose effects cannot be predicted.

According to the studies of evolutionary ecology, all living beings strive to optimize their survival in the given environment so that survival can be ensured with the least possible use of energy and with the greatest possible probability. This approach, known as “ optimal foraging ”, has been proven in hunting communities: They always choose resources first where the food energy obtained exceeds the energy used to procure food as far as possible. Only when such resources are no longer available in sufficient quantities do they fall back on plants or animals, in which the energy yield is only slightly higher than the energy expenditure. Of course, this simple principle also applies to ethnic groups who practice traditional forms of mobile animal husbandry or subsistence-oriented agriculture (although the effort here is usually significantly higher than with the hunters). It was only industrialized agriculture that abandoned this elementary principle, as the use of additional energy sources (wood, coal, crude oil, water power, nuclear power, and many more) for the operation of machines increased. The primary energy consumption of the entire high-tech way of life is today around 70 times for the USA, around 33 times for Europe and at least five times higher for Peru than the average energy consumption of the human body. It is obvious that this development must have negative effects on the overall ecological budget.

In the Convention on Biological Diversity of the United Nations refers specifically to the dependency traditional economic forming communities of intact ecosystems, which they have taken since time immemorial, all vital. The convention recognizes that their way of life is particularly sustainable and does not reduce biological diversity. In contrast to industrialized societies, which are not directly dependent on a specific area, such communities have a direct interest in maintaining and protecting these ecosystems, the stability of which they have never endangered.

Present meaning and future developments

Backward at first glance, adjusted on closer inspection, sustainable and efficient - if you don't just think in terms of market economy
In the Andes, the surplus of traditionally produced goods is sold in large indigenous markets

The peoples who do not live in isolation will not be able to permanently oppose integration into the world economy; If only because they weren't even asked whether and how they wanted to take part in it. For example, as a result of the increasing commercialization of tropical agriculture, shifting cultivation is increasingly being replaced by large-scale permanent and monocultures (oil and coconut palms, cocoa, coffee, tea, rubber, spices, bananas or sugar cane). Many farmers who also want to benefit from it have been in dependent employment on the plantations of multinational corporations for the last few decades; Very few are able to make their own production fit for the world market. If the buyer then dictates the price - as is the case with the banana - the working conditions for the plantation workers deteriorate and the independent farmers are no longer competitive and lose their livelihood. (In these cases there are examples of a return to subsistence production (e.g. from Tanzania), provided that the circumstances still permit.)

The members of local communities often have a rich traditional knowledge of their native flora and fauna. As a result of economic globalization, these people are increasingly becoming the target of research projects in industrialized nations, for example in the search for new medicines or food crops. Unfortunately, the authors are massively defrauded or have no use at all from the patented "discoveries" of the western world. Since the beginning of the 1990s, efforts have been made to protect such knowledge in order to enable (indigenous) authors to share in the profit from any profits. So far, however, there is still no binding legal basis, so that the industry generally makes high profits, while the benefits for the original sponsors do not materialize. (→ see also: Biopiracy )

Recognizing traditional economic forms is extremely difficult in view of the global economic ideology ( see above ). The state of Brazil makes an exception - at least administratively - in this regard. There is a very developed debate there about so-called "traditional peoples and communities" . Triggered by the successful protests of the rubber tappers in the 1980s, more and more local communities made demands for the protection of their subsistence interests. In 2007 this led to the legally binding “Decree for Traditional Peoples and Communities” (Decreto 6040). Despite this undoubtedly positive development, Brazil's development policy continues to rely on the destructive exploitation of natural resources .

Ethnological considerations


The stone Moai figures of Easter Island bear witness to the dramatic environmental destruction of the once completely forested island: Even traditional systems were never safe from undesirable developments

The core thesis of Karl Polanyi on the subsistence economies of the so-called “ indigenous peoples ” is generally recognized in ethnology : The economy serves exclusively for survival and ranks behind social and cultural requirements. In most cases there is therefore no pursuit of profit, wage labor or competition. Even in traditional arable cultures - which are familiar with trade and markets - the economy does not have a formative influence on everyday life, as is customary in modern societies.

Based on the philosophy of the ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss , modern economics represents the “hot” side of the cultural spectrum : Driven by an unlimited belief in human abilities and the will to progress and risk, it is subject to permanent change, increasing mechanization and automation as well an exclusively market -based objective.

In contrast, there is the traditional - “cold” - economy: These are the supply strategies that have been tried and tested for many generations, are not very mechanized, but are efficiently adapted to natural conditions and are primarily geared towards self - sufficiency . Traditional economic forms are therefore originally based on a belief in nature and a doubt about human abilities, so that here the will to adapt and to be secure is crucial for action. In the past, changes were only permitted if they showed a harmonious benefit in the overall context. However, the influence of the modern way of life often leads to a greatly accelerated cultural change , as a result of which these traditional values ​​are called into question. In this respect, almost all of these economic forms are now threatened cultural assets .

Traditional economy and worldview

The modern reindeer economy in Lapland is already so market-oriented that ever larger herds have to be kept in ever smaller spaces in order to remain competitive

“A Saami myth says that the goddess got into trouble over the reindeer pastures because the reindeer herds had become so numerous that they ate all the lichens to the ground, so that there was soon no more food, the reindeer perished and for them People began a time of misery. Another goddess came to her aid and created the wolf, which the Saami call "forest dog". But she gave the dog to man. From then on they all lived next to each other: human, reindeer, wolf and dog. The Saami didn't kill the wolf, they just chased it away. "

- Wolf-Dieter Seiwert

Ethnology has shown that traditionally sustainable economic activity in many indigenous cultures (before contact with the Europeans) was anchored in the cultural memory of animistic worldviews , myths , rituals and taboos as a moral guideline of a "holy connection to the earth" (→ see also: Wild thinking ) . According to Odum and Cannon , all stable systems have mechanisms that keep their state of equilibrium as constant as possible and compensate for fluctuations in the environment. The anthropologists Roy Rappaport , Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff and Thomas Harding have independently established that the myths and ritual cycles of the so-called " primitive peoples " fulfill precisely this task and enable the communities to adapt to changes in the environment as much as possible and the stability of the Impairing ecosystems as little as possible .

However, this knowledge must not lead to people of nature-adapted cultures generally being stylized as “environmental angels”. Presumably, there has never been a society in which there were not “traditionalists” and “modernists” who had contrary opinions about change. Today one has to assume that local groups that have already taken part in the market economy and have adopted modern values ​​will only play a role with the traditionalists. The modernists, on the other hand, stick to traditionally sustainable economic methods only if it gives them short-term advantages. Where this economic calculation prevails, the environment is only harmed as long as the low population density, the predominant self-sufficiency and the use of modest technical means are maintained. However, the trend towards further cultural change and thus towards more intensive use of nature is usually unavoidable.

See also

Individual evidence


Determination of the population figures used in the article per economic type (in million people)

Economic form from to Quote / calculation
Hunters and collectors 0.06 3.8 “Around 1500 AD the share of gatherers and hunters in the world population shrank to 1 percent, today it is just 0.001 percent. [...] " (based on 6.2 billion people in 2000, tendency decreasing, numbers rounded to a full 10,000) " It is extremely difficult to say how many hunter-gatherers there are in the world today. [...] Table I.1 contains data on the estimated numbers of hunter-gatherers in the contemporary world. [...] Grand Total (Foragers and former foragers) 3,829,500. "
traditional floor construction total 2,500.0 2,500.0 “Over 80 percent of the rural population in developing countries depend directly on family farming (note: traditional, small-scale agriculture). That is 2.5 billion people. Seen worldwide, this percentage is 40 percent. [...] "
Shifting cultivation 300.0 300.0 "Giardina et al. (2000) reports that 300 million people annually practice shifting agriculture [...] "
Shifting cultivation 37.0 37.0 "Dixon et al. (2001) report that 37 million people, or 2 percent of the agricultural population of the tropics, practice some form of shifting cultivation in about 1 billion ha or 22 percent of the tropical land area. [...] These numbers do not include people practicing more intense systems in the humid tropics that were originally established by slash-and-burn practices. [...] "
Land change management > 260.0 > 260.0 Calculation from and
Permanent cultivation 2,200.0 2,200.0 Calculation from and
Pastoralism 200.0 500.0 "Pastoralism is practiced by between 200 and 500 million people worldwide, encompassing nomadic communities, transhumant herders, and agro-pastoralists [...]"
Mobile animal husbandry 40.0 40.0 " Günther Schlee from the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle / Saale [...] According to his estimate, there are still around 40 million nomadic cattle breeders in the world."
Agropastoralism 160.0 460.0 Calculation from and
Trad. Economic f. total 2.7 billion 3 billion Calculation, off and
A. rounded calculated from: Giardina et al. (2000) minus Dixon et al. (2001)
  1. calculation result
  2. calculation result
B. calculated from: Frankhauser (2014) minus Giardina et al. (2000)
  1. calculation result
  2. calculation result
C. calculated from: UNEP (2014) minus Schlee (2010).
  1. calculation result
  2. calculation result
D. rounded calculated from: Rakelmann (1991) plus Frankhauser (2014). and UNEP (2014).
  1. calculation result
  2. calculation result

Other sources

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  1. a b Corrected figure, because adding the table on p. 5 in the book by "Schweitzer, Biesele, Hitchcock" resulted in an incorrect total of 5.2 million, because Adivasi and Indians are already included in the total for South Asia and North America .