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4.0 out of 5 stars a textbook, 29 Jun 2013
By 
Gordon Toumaniantz (charente maritime,france) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society (Paperback)
Not easy reading - needs to be read carefully. A very detailed record of several years research living with the san. But the only book to give you the real life of these people.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Equality in hunter-gatherer societies, 4 Mar 2012
By 
P. Webster "Phil W." (Lancashire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society (Paperback)
This excellent book is a detailed account of every aspect of life in the "foraging" (hunter-gatherer) society of the !Kung San people of southern Africa.

For me, the central importance of the book lies in that it shows what is POSSIBLE in terms of human social organisation. Defenders of capitalism tell us that it is futile to try to create a more co-operative and equal society because they claim that human society has always been, and always will be, unequal, class-divided, competitive and driven by the innate selfishness of human beings.

But for over ninety percent of the time that Homo sapiens has existed, until the development of agriculture twelve thousand years ago, all humans lived in hunter-gatherer societies. These societies were classless, egalitarian and co-operative. (Marx and Engels called this type of society "primitive communism".)

Of course, present-day hunter-gatherer societies are not exactly like their prehistoric equivalents. For one thing, none are untouched by more "advanced" societies. For another, the only remaining hunter-gatherers today live in marginal areas of the world: farmers and more developed societies have taken over the best bits. Nevertheless, studies by social anthropologists like Lee, combined with the work of archaeologists, can give us a good idea of how hunter-gatherers lived in the past.

Incidentally, there is evidence from the archaeology of bones that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had a healthier diet and life-style than later farmers. No wonder that one social anthropologist has called hunter-gatherer societies "the original affluent society".

Lee shows that the hunter-gatherer way of life is one which combines co-operation, equality and respect for individual freedom. Hunter-gatherer "leadership" only exists in terms of respect for someone's expertise. Leaders give advice, not orders; they do not accumulate more wealth than anyone else; and arrogance is not tolerated. These egalitarian attitudes are not the result of some abstract moral "goodness" of the people. They arise from the real, co-operative way of life that the people lead.

Another aspect of these societies that should be mentioned is the equality of the sexes. Men do most of the hunting and women mainly do the gathering, because the latter are often breast-feeding or pregnant. But gathering is at least as important economically as hunting, so this division of labour does not lead to inequality between the sexes.

Lee's book is an academic study, but the political lesson that I would draw from it is that only by getting rid of capitalism and taking collective democratic control of society can humanity combine the benefits of modern technology with the co-operation, equality and freedom that we see in hunter-gatherer societies.

Phil Webster.
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The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society
The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society by Richard Borshay Lee (Paperback - 12 Dec 1979)
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