In this article, Julian Steward attempts to define his theory of cultural ecology. He sees human cultures as closely linked to their environments, but is also careful to differentiate his theory from environmental determinism, which claims that cultures are completely shaped by their environments and assumes that all cultures that develop in the same area will develop in the same ways. Steward points out that this is not the case and he seeks an answer as to why this is. He focuses on pre-industrial societies throughout his article, which I believe is a smart move as they are more reliant on their immediate ecosystem than post-industrial societies.
Steward’s methodology takes into account environmental complexity and cultural complexity in three procedures. The first is to observe the exploitative technologies of the culture and how that interacts with the environment. The second is to observe the patterns of behavior created from different exploitative practices. The third procedure is to analyze how exploitative behavior affects other types of cultural behavior. I believe Steward’s attention to existing cultural complexity with regards to technology does a lot to help explain the differences between two cultures from similar environments, and is a vast improvement over prior theories of human-environment relations.
Steward concludes that cultures are shaped through a mix of their available technology and the environmental factors that directly affect them. This alters prior notions that the environment is the only major driving force of cultural change, and encourages a new focus on existing cultural complexity.