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Environmental anthropology is a sub-specialty within the field of anthropology that takes an active role in examining the relationships between humans and their environment across space and time.
The sixties was a breakthrough decade for environmental anthropology, with functionalism and system theories prevalent throughout. The rudiments of the system theories can be seen in
The main focus of system theories in the sixties, as conveyed by
The new focus of environmental anthropology was cultural variation and diversity. Such factors like environmental disasters (floods, earthquakes, frost), migrations, cost & benefit ratio, contact/ associations, external ideas (trade/ latent capitalism boom), along with internal, independent logic and inter-connectivity's impact now were observed. Roy A. Rappaport and Hawkes, Hill, and O'Connell's use of Pyke's optimal foraging theory for the latter's work are some examples of this new focus.
This perspective was based on general equilibriums and criticized for not addressing the variety of responses an organisms can have, such as "loyalty, solidarity, friendliness, and sanctity" and possible "incentives or inhibitors" in relations to behavior. Rappaport, often referred to as a reductionist in his cultural studies methods, acknowledges, "The social unit is not always well defined" exhibiting another flaw in this perspective, obfuscation of aspects of analyze and designated terms.
The contemporary perspective of environmental anthropology, and arguably at least the backdrop, if not the focus of most of the ethnographies and cultural fieldworks of today, is
Critiques on this modern perspective and non-governmental organizations' (NGOs) influences and effects on social groups is usually that they "generalize" and "obscure" local discourse and message. Often resulting in environmentalism by bureaucrats, PR firms, governments, and industry. An example of negative effects can be ascertained in the Malaysian Rainforest, in which NGOs and other outsider activist deflected the issue, ignoring the locality of the problem.