Optimization Theories of the Transition from Foraging to Agriculture: A Critical Assessment and Proposed Alternatives

Authors: Tisdell, Clem; Svizzero, Serge
Journal: Social Evolution & History. Volume 16, Number 1 / March 2017


This article examines how well two parallel behavioral approaches, one in economics and the other in anthropology, explain the economic evolution of Neolithic societies, particularly their transit from foraging to agriculture. Both assume rational optimizing behavior. It is argued that satisficing theories provide a superior explanation of transition (and non-transition) by some hunter-gatherers. Furthermore, many of the concepts associated with neoclassical economics are shown to be inadequate for analyzing the choice problems involved. Moreover, it is argued that all behavioral theories considering the relationship between human behavior and economic evolution need to pay attention to the way that decision-making is embedded in social structures. It is unlikely that a single theory will be able to explain the economic evolution of all societies when social structures and other relevant variables differ between communities.