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Cultural Analysis: !Kung San

Annotated Bibliography

Here's a little bit of background information about the !Kung San.

The !Kung San people that populate Botswana, Angola and Namibia, are what is referred to as a hunter-gatherer society. In anthropological terms, hunter-gatherer societies are relatively mobile, relying on the availability of a given natural environment to provide sustenance to their population. For the !Kung San, the natural environment that they are relying on is the semi-arid Kalahari Desert which mostly consists of brush, grass-covered low hills and flat spaces.

In the winter, temperatures frequently drop below freezing (sometimes as low as 10°F) while summer days will often reach between 110-115°F (dropping to 70-80°F at night). During the rainy seasons, which generally come during the summer months, rainfall amounts can range from 5 to 40 inches while the winters are extremely dry and devoid of precipitation for six to eight months.3 (If you'd like to see the current weather conditions for Botswana, click here.)

The question, of course, is how a group can exist in this type of climate while still living off of the land. In fact, the land of the Kalahari is mostly devoid of any moisture, but living in semi-permanent villages that consist of 10-30 people, the !Kung have adapted to their surroundings. Following reliable water sources, they moving to a new site when the water source that they are located near depletes. For food, they collect roots, berries, fruits and nuts of the few indigenous plants that grow in the Kalahari, periodically adding meat when available.

In the following sections, we will look more closely at the !Kung way of life. Our focus will be on the actual society of the !Kung in their representation of a hunter-gatherer society. Primarily, we'll be looking at their interactions and their overall social structure. In our analysis, we will be using the three major sociological perspectives:

  • Functionalism
    From a functionalism perspective, society is viewed as composed of various parts, each with a function that contributes to society's equilibrium.5:Page 24 For a hunter-gathering type society, this is generally where most of the focus is placed as each member of the society has a role to accomplish for the betterment of the entire group.
  • Conflict Theory
    In conflict theory, society is viewed as composed of groups competing for scarce resources.5:Page 28 For a society like the !Kung San, they are constantly battling their physical environment to provide sustenance for their community. In order to do so, as we'll find, they have found that internal-group conflicts are counter-productive to their reliability on each other. Therefore, internal conflicts are all but extinct in the !Kung culture. External conflicts between other native San groups have also been dealt with over time because all of these groups have found it more beneficial to agree upon land use rather than spend their own resources fighting over it.
  • Symbolic Interactionism
    Symbolic interactionism views society as composed of symbols that people use to establish meaning, develop their views of the world, and communicate with one another.5:Page 23 While the most obvious examples of symbolic interactionism can usually be found in religion, groups like the !Kung, who live in extremely harsh environments, hold one symbol above all else; the group. Made up of everyone in the community and powered by cooperation between all of the parts, it is the group that really helps the !Kung to survive.

Using these perspectives we will be offered a brief look at the !Kung San culture. Their culture will offer a real-life examination into how the hunter-gathering societies worked in the past, and what the impact that the world around them has on their culture.

This site was created for SOCIOLOGY 1 SEC DE1 (21594) FALL 2005.