Re: Four fields and teaching intro courses

wilkr (wilkr@INDIANA.EDU)
Tue, 4 Apr 1995 09:59:47 -0500

Mike - Have you seen Barbara Bender's work on the origins of
agriculture? She suggests that agricultural surplus was desired for
political, religious and social purposes, and says intelligent things
about the ways that gender may have been involved in struggles for
control of labor and surplus during the early development of
'terraforming' too.

I am leery of trying to argue that "men invented X" or "women invented Y"
- it strikes me as the kinds of arguments the US and USSR used to have
about who invented TV first.

First, a PROCESS like food production was not really "invented" in the
modern sense of the term. It was lived -- the product of thousands of
years of human ingenuity and perseverence in many places at once.

second, this process clearly implicated both sexes in many ways, and I
suspect that the growth of food production was as much a process of
redefining and renegotiating gender as it was a process of domesticating
plants and animals - perhaps - genders domesticating each other! Now,
wouldn't it be an interesting twist if agriculture was an incidental
BY-PRODUCT of redefining gender roles and the basis of cooperation?

Androcentric anthropology has always privledged technological innovation
as a driving force (look at engineering departments in this country and
count the female faculty - its pretty depressing). A less gendered approach
might balance agriculture as a technological/manipulative process with
agriculture as a fundamental social transformation in work, reciprocity,
gender and authority. My suspicion is that the fundamental innovation was
not the plow, the planting process or the genetic changes in plant and
animal - I believe the fundamental change that ushered in food production
on a large scale was the HOUSEHOLD - a corporate unit based on implicit
contracts involving labor, produce, property and insurance. Much of the
theoretical basis for this can be found in Netting's "Smallholders,


Rick Wilk

Richard Wilk Anthropology Dept.
812-855-8162 (voice) Indiana University
812-855-4358 (fax) Bloomington, IN 47405