Foraging Bands: Defining Features

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  • 0:01 Variance in Cultures
  • 0:49 Foragers
  • 1:24 Nomads
  • 1:53 Bands
  • 3:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson defines foraging and bands and explores the distinguishing features of foraging bands. You'll also learn about concepts of customs and egalitarian societies.

Variance in Cultures

As a woman living in the Westernized world, I seldom spend lots of time thinking about where my food comes from. I simply check out my food budget for the month, then go to the store and pick up what I need. I also don't shop for my extended family. My cart holds just enough for my kids, my husband and I. Although this may sound very familiar to most of you, many societies around the world put way more effort into obtaining their food, and they share it with many others. In today's lesson, we'll highlight one of these societies known to social science as foraging bands. In order to explain foraging bands, we'll break down the concept, first defining foraging and then explaining bands.


For starters, foragers are defined as people who survive on the collection of naturally occurring resources, specifically wild plants and animals. Studying foragers, also known as hunter-gatherers, can be a rather difficult undertaking since so few true foraging societies are in existence today. Also, since the foraging societies that do exist come from places as varied as the Arctic and the Australian Outback, it's sort of hard to nail down specifics about them. For this reason, the remainder of our lesson will definitely have some generalities.


With this being said, most foraging societies usually live a nomadic lifestyle. In other words, they tend to have no fixed home and move from place to place in search of food and water. In simpler terms, they follow their food; they do not grow it or raise it. Great examples of this are the Aboriginal people of the Australian desert who move about in very small groups, seeking active water holes. With this reference to small groups, we transition smoothly into defining our second term, bands.


A band is usually a very small, often nomadic group that is politically independent and connected by family ties. Now when we say small, we really mean small. Some social scientists assert that bands seldom have a population of over a dozen people. With bands now being covered, we can put the two together and define foraging bands as very small communities based on kinship that hunt and gather food, while being politically independent.

Due to their small size and their tendency to be nomadic, foraging bands usually lack any formalized political structure. Decisions like where to hunt and when to break up camp are usually made by group consensus. Unlike our very Westernized structures, they are also very egalitarian, considering all persons of the same age and gender to be equals. In other words, they lack social classes or stratification. Everyone simply pitches in to meet the same goal, finding food.

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