Under the Sea and Society

Little Mermaid Eric and ariel

Julian Steward brought together the study of cultural ecology into a different light. Cultural ecology is the way of viewing the cultural practices around a society and seeing how the individuals of the society alter their previous behavior to their newly changed environmental surrounds. Julian Steward says that cultural ecology “distinguishes different kinds of sociocultural systems and institutions, it recognizes both cooperation and competition as processes of interaction, and it postures that environmental adaptations depend on the technology, needs and structure and on the nature of the environment.” (Moberg 2013:229) With this in mind we can recognize that Steward looks at the environmental factors that could shape our way of adapting to new areas. This can be applied to many different situations, especially in Disney movies.
I like to relate Stewards work to Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”, as ridiculous as this sounds, let me just explain…the easiest way to view Stewards work is to look at Ariel’s transformation from mermaid to human. She desperately wants to change so she can be with her beloved Prince Eric and experience everything that human’s experience. So what does she do? She makes a deal to get legs, but at the cost of her own voice. I can say that this can also be related to many choices that people make while changing their environments, they might get what they want, but in the end lose something else in its place. It was Ariel’s culture to live in the sea even though she changed environments she still had to adapt to the land. With her new surrounding Ariel had to learn now to walk, dress and eat like a human. Ariel adapted well to her new surroundings, well after a few issues with getting her voice back, but all in all I believe this a good comparison to use with Stewards theory.
Steward also stated that the culture core of a society has an affect on the society, as well as the cultural ecology. The culture core is looking at “…two societies that have adapted to similar environments with similar culture cores, other aspects of their environment should be similar as well.”(Moberg 2013:220) Back to the Ariel, the different environments she was apart of both have similar parts, although one is underwater and the other is on land, both ecosystems have individuals living and using the environment for survival.

Although I sure Steward didn’t intend for his work to be associated with a Disney movie, it’s a comparison that can be used to explain his theory from a more recent time and generation, plus it’s just fun to watch Disney movies in general!

*Helena Biehn

Why did Steward cross the road?………Due to the environment he had to culturally adapt to a migratory pattern!

eric and arialReference-

Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory: A Social and Political History.

London: Routledge, 2013.

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4 thoughts on “Under the Sea and Society

  1. I thought that you made a good connection between Steward’s belief that the environment causes society, or in this case Ariel, to adapt to their surroundings. It worked well to represent the change. I thought that the interaction between Ariel and Ursula, the exchange of legs for Ariel’s soul, could also be thought of in terms of Barth as well. There is an an equal value exchange happening between the two and they are acting in their own self interests, which is very Transactional.

    1. I didn’t think of that exchange for a Barth view, I’m glad you brought that to my attention, that just goes to show you can find examples for many different theories in just about any Disney movie!

  2. I think this could also be interpreted from a transationalist point of view. Ariel is clearly breaking away from the cultural norms in order to be with person she wants to be with.

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